Toyota “Spade” Minivan Displays Racy Styling, Insensitive Branding

Calling a spade a spade is one thing, calling a car a Spade is another – and that's just what Toyota has done for its new compact minivan. The choice of moniker raises a few questions... mainly, why didn't Toyota's Japan-based marketing department call their American counterparts and ask them if the name “Spade” would ruffle any feathers.

No matter that the Spade is only to be sold in Japan (where there are no people of color to offend?) with a monthly sales target of 4,000 per month. These days marketing is a worldwide endeavor and Toyota's English-language website trumpets the “Redesigned 'Porte' and New 'Spade' Compact Minivans.”

No matter as well that “spade” can signify many things beyond a slightly archaic yet still potent discriminatory epithet.

Certain types of shovels, an actor-comedian whose first name is David, and the private detective masterfully portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 film noir classic The Maltese Falcon all come to mind. With that said, someone calling out to the star of Joe Dirt in a busy public place will likely shout “Hey Dave!” instead of... well, you see where we're going here.

Judging by the distinctive symbol accompanying the name on the vehicle's nameplate, Toyota has gone with yet another type of spade: the playing card suit – and not one of the red ones. Even that's not cut & dried, though. Toyota's official explanation reveals the name derives from combining the words “space” and “wide,” and since “Wice” is a silly name for an automobile they went with Spade. What could possibly go wrong?

As mentioned, a quick call to an American associate – or an American, period – might have avoided a lot of unwanted publicity that has nothing to do with the vehicle itself. To avoid such issues coming up in the future, we recommend Toyota review the infamous “Word Association Test” sketch from a 1975 broadcast of Saturday Night Live featuring Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor... and take notes.

Will the Spade be, ahem, Coming to America anytime soon? It could – the concept of a small, sporty-looking, front wheel drive, two-door sliding-door mini-minivan could very well succeed being there's very little competition in that market niche. They'll have to change that name, though... not to mention the horn that goes “honky-honky”. (via 3yen and DT)

Jul 28, 2012
by Anonymous

Calling a spade a spade

That is it? The whole article is about the vehicle's name?

There are far stupider names that have come out of Japan, such as the BIG THUMB and BIG HORN, not Bighorn, or HOXY. Seems to me you could either do an article about dumb names, and it would be three or four pages, or you could actually write about a car. Knowing what journalism is becoming, it might be a paragraph or two, but at least it would tell us something more than "Japanese people buy cars with dumb names."

And as far as SPADE goes, are we going to be slaves to our slang dictionaries for the next three or four centuries? Can I have a dog with kraut on it without immediately thinking Heil Hitler, or can I hear a frog at night and not worry about what people will think about what I think of French people if I say... "I hate frogs"? And do we have to make Japanese people slaves to our dictionaries too? I guarantee that nobody in Japan will buy one of these cars will do so because they hate black people. Maybe that should be all we can ask for.

Jul 28, 2012
by Anonymous


Major Japanese companys use whatever demented product names strike their fancy and they always seem to reject outside advice.

One of the software product names my bosses demanded to use was HIMAN(tm), which could be pronounced hymen. I begged them to change it.

A month later, my bosses launched the HIMAN(tm) on stage at an international conference in Switzerland, they were unable to complete their presentation because of the laughing. The audience's giggling got out of control when one of the Japanese bucho/bosses started out: " We have made a HIMAN(hymen) breakthrough...

Aug 5, 2012
by Anonymous

I don't know what you're upset about.

What's so wrong about calling a spade a spade?
I have spades in my garden shed, I have no playing cards, but if I had, I'd have them in spades. If they called the car a heart, diamond, or club, would you be offended?

There's nothing wrong with spades, except in your head.