The Name of Nissan’s New Car Comes From an Unlikely Source: a Marketing Exec’s Niece

The Ariya will retail for $40,000

nissan ariya
Nissan hopes to reclaim its electric car market dominance with the Ariya. Nissan

Allyson Witherspoon might be the world’s greatest aunt.

That’s because Witherspoon, Nissan’s vice president of marketing, was able to name the Japanese automaker’s all-new electric SUV after Ariya, her 7-year-old niece.

Unveiled last week, the Ariya is set to become one of the world’s first all-electric SUVs, made to compete in the growing electric auto market, including Tesla’s Model Y crossover.

A prototype of the Ariya was shown at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show last October. With a full battery, it can drive for about 300 miles and will retail for roughly $40,000. “It has an incredible amount of performance, power and technology, but in a very sleek design,” said Witherspoon. “It’s very elegant.”

After compiling more than 100 names submitted from across the company globally, slowly but surely, Ariya started inching its way to the top of the list as it cleared hurdles like trademarks and global recognition tests.

“We were struggling a little bit with the name initially; we went back and started from scratch,” she said, declining to name some of the other top contenders.

Ariya means “noble” and “lioness,” a fitting title for a vehicle Witherspoon calls a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Nissan’s nepotistic choice isn’t the first time a vehicle has been named after a family member. In 1956, Ford Motor Company named its new car brand after Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, who had died in 1943. The first Edsel was produced in 1958. But it was a flop, and Ford ended production in 1960.

(Witherspoon wasn’t familiar with the infamous Edsel, though presumably she hopes the Ariya will avoid a similar fate.)

Although Nissan won’t be launching a full campaign for the Ariya until 2021, the brand has already invested in digital and social media advertising, targeted to users interested in electric vehicles.

Nissan already has a history in the category: The Nissan Leaf, unveiled in 2010, was the first mass-market electric vehicle sold globally, becoming the world’s top-selling electric car until being overtaken by Tesla’s Model 3 earlier this year.

“We have a long, rich history with electric vehicles, and we want to reinforce that credibility,” Witherspoon said.

And until she’s old enough to drive, the real Ariya has a poster of the car that bears her name, soon to be sold all around the world.

Clarification: The original name of the vehicle was Aira, but it was unable to be trademark so Nissan instead went with Ariya, the name and spelling of Witherspoon’s niece.


@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.