Kia Motors introduced a concept car at the International Motor Show in Geneva this week — the Provo.
Just to be clear, though, the South Korean automobile manufacturer says it chose the name of its experimental prototype to get a reaction from the audience at the show — not to create turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The name Provo comes from the word ‘provoke,’ as the aim of this racy, striking design was to provoke a reaction," Michael Choo, general manager of global public relations at Kia, said in an email.
What that means for those curious in Utah is the moniker is in no way a reference to states’s third-largest city, where the average family size of 3.4 people would seem more suited to a minivan than a mini-sports coupe — even if it does bear the Provo name.
Kia has adopted the names of other Western cities, such as the Tucson and the Sedona, for its model names.
In Britain and Ireland, Provo is generating a response all right, but probably not what the company intended. Many in those two countries contend the name sounds like a celebration of terrorism.
British lawmakers appealed Tuesday in the House of Commons for the carmaker to junk the name because Provo is the street name for the dominant branch of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. The Provisional IRA killed nearly 1,800 people during its failed 1970 - 1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom.
Kia insisted the Provo, which is still years away from production, was in no way named to raise the spectre of IRA bombings and shootings. And in a follow-up statement, Kia said it would be certain not to market any future car as a Provo in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland.
"I accept that this was a mistake made by the company and I know that their decisive action will be welcomed by many people, in Northern Ireland and beyond, whose lives have been affected by the murderous actions of the Provisional IRA," said Gregory Campbell, a British lawmaker.
Not everybody took the matter as seriously as Campbell. The idea of a car called the Provo going on sale in Belfast sparked a rapid-fire battle of Ulster wits across the Internet.
On an Irish news aggregator called the Broadsheet, posters noted that the car’s detailing was in orange, the favored color of the British Protestant majority. "Does my bomb look big in this?" asked one. Another noted the car needs no satellite navigation system, because it "already knows where you live."
A few Utahns couldn’t resist weighing in, either.
"Shouldn’t a Provo be an extra-large, oversized, buffet-style car painted blue with ‘Y’ all over it?" one online commenter said. Another quipped, "It will be easy to sell these things in Utah County. They don’t know that anything in the outside world exists. They will believe it is a celebration of them."
But Joel Racker, president and CEO of the Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, took all the controversy and teasing in stride.
"You can’t control what people will think when they see the word Provo. But it can be beneficial, even if it doesn’t refer to us," he said. "If someone looks up Provo on the Internet and sees that it is a city in Utah and maybe it starts them thinking about visiting — that certainly wouldn’t hurt."
Kia is hardly the first automaker to stumble when picking model names.
In Spanish, Chevy’s Nova meant "doesn’t go," Mazda’s LaPuta translated as "the whore," and the Nissan Moco as "booger."
The Honda Fitta raised eyebrows across much of Scandinavia, where the word refers to women’s private parts. When Toyota launched the MR2, the company soon found that saying those letters and numbers in French made it sound as though the car smelled of excrement.
And of course, to the military-minded or excessively nervous, Kia’s own corporate name suggests "killed in action."
The Associated Press contributed to this story
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