A few weeks ago I bought a car. Let me rephrase that: A few weeks ago I finally bought a car. It replaces the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid on which I’d put about 123,000 miles.
I probably don’t have to tell you that a lot has changed in Auto World in 15 years. Still, it was all a marvel to me. In 2006, I was pretty jazzed that the Civic came with a built-in CD player. Now I own a car that plugs into an outlet and tells me, via a smartphone app, when it’s fully charged. (It has a gas engine, too. It’s this 2018 model, in Midnight Forest Pearl, a luminous shade of deep green.)
People who know more than I do have decreed 2021 the year of the electric vehicle. Sure enough, once I turned my attention to EVs, it seemed I was reading about them everywhere. (Hello, Frequency Illusion.) One recent headline in particular caught my attention, but for reasons having nothing to do with ions and everything to do with history: “China Claims This Is the First Electric Shooting Brake,” proclaimed CarBuzz on April 17. An electric what now? Some sort of trigger-happy semiautomatic stopping device?
The Chinese-built Geely Zeekr, “world’s first mass market pure electric shooting brake”
Nope! A shooting brake is a car-body style: a sleek, aerodynamic blend of station wagon and hatchback, with enough room in the back to carry … well, firearms for the fox hunt, if that’s your pleasure. Famous shooting brakes include the 1972 Volvo 1800ES (“the trouble-free sports car”), the 2008 Volkswagen Scirocco, and the 2011 Ferrari FF (the “FF” stands, redundantly, for “Ferrari Four”).
Here’s what Wikipedia says about the shooting brake:
Like many early automotive body styles, the shooting brake was originally a type of horse-drawn vehicle. A brake was originally a heavy drag chassis with slowing capability hooked to spirited horses, but the etymology is likely related to any rear-facing vehicle such as a railway brake van (UK) or caboose (US). It is also possible that the word 'brake' has its origins in the Dutch word 'brik' which means 'cart' or 'carriage'. The term brake later became broader in definition, being used for wagons in general.
Horse-drawn shooting brake, via Wikipedia
And here’s the OED on the brake in shooting brake:
Derivation not quite certain: apparently < break v., in the sense ‘to break a horse’; but it is said in Knight's Amer. Mech. Dict. to be a general name for the fore-part or frame of a carriage, so that it may possibly be an application of brake n.
1. A large carriage-frame (having two or four wheels) with no body, used for breaking in young horses.
1831 J. C. Loudon Encycl. Agric. (ed. 2) 1002 The training of coach-horses commences with..driving in a break or four-wheeled frame.
1865 Derby Mercury 1 Mar. A horse-breaker's drag, or break, with two horses harnessed to it.
That’s right: If you habitually confuse the spellings of break and brake, no need for shame. They’re probably the same word.
Shooting brake is much more popular in the UK than in the US, according to Google Ngrams. (The blue line is the UK.) It’s also popular among American automotive writers. Here’s what Stirling Mathesen wrote about shooting brakes in a 2014 post for Complex:
The shooting brake, in its modern format, can be thought of as a 2+2 sports coupe with an extended roofline. Properly done, it retains the low roof and sleek lines of a coupe, thus retaining the sex appeal, but adds some of the practicality of a wagon. There’s a ton more cargo space, and the rear seats are suitable for people with heads, but the loss of sex appeal inherent with those two practical concerns isn’t there. Cars like the VW Scirocco can be everyday cars without compromising either fun or running into constant annoyances of practicality.
Despite that, from a critical point of view, they’re fantastic, there aren’t many shooting brakes on the market. In the U.S., the Volvo C30 was axed recently, VW won’t bring us the Scirocco, there’s no point in even imagining that we'd be able to buy a Renault Mégane RS, and the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake is actually just a wagon. The only new shooting brake you can buy in the USA right now is the Ferrari FF, and that’s certainly not attainable.
And what about Geely, the company that makes the new Zeekr EV? It was founded in 1986 in Taizhou City, Zhejiang, as a refrigerator manufacturer. The company began making motorcycles in the mid-1990s and cars in 2002; it’s now a global behemoth that owns, among other well-known brands, Volvo and Lotus.* “Geely” is a phonetic transliteration of Jílì (吉利), which means “auspicious” or “propitious” in Chinese.
As for “Zeekr”—Ji Ke in Chinese—here’s how the parent company explains the name:
The first letter of Zeekr, ‘Z’ represents Generation Z. Generation Z is the new consumer force, born between the mid-90s and the early 2010s, who have grown up in an increasingly digital world. They have new ideas when choosing which products to buy and expect a uniform digital experience that covers their home, office, as well as their car. They also see electrification as the norm and not as an alternative.
The rest of the name is derived from ‘geek’, a term for those that are fixated with and have extensive knowledge of technology, further fitting the technological focus of the brand.
No mention of any relation to “seeker,” which had been my first guess.
For more car-body names derived from the horse-and-buggy era, read Jalopnik on sedan, limousine, and saloon.
* Lotus is a relatively obscure car brand in the US, but I have the distinction of having worked, at different times and in completely different fields, for two deeply eccentric American bosses who drove Lotus sports cars (and could not stop talking about them).