Posted by: marcelvotlucka | 14 May, 2009

Lost in Translation? Not Quite…..

A funny and popular story about the Chevy Nova is that it didn’t sell well in Latin America becuse its name, Nova, literally translates in Spanish to “It doesn’t go”.  I always thought it was funny, but I just read a post that debunks this.  It turns out the anecdote is basically an old wives’ tale. (And at any rate, my experience working in the translation industry tells me that no agency and certainly no translator worth their salt would ever let something like this slip through the cracks!)

For one thing, the name “Nova” does sound to the untrained ear like Spanish “No vá” but (and I hadn’t even considered this) there is a slight difference in pronunciation, for one thing, between these two words, the English is one word while the Spanish is two words with an accented “a” sound.  “NO-va” versus “no-VA”

There’s more:

Pemex (the Mexican government-owned oil monopoly) sold (and still sells) gasoline in Mexico under the name “Nova.” If Mexicans were going to associate anything with the Chevrolet Nova based on its name, it would probably be this gasoline. In any case, if Mexicans had no compunctions about filling the tanks of their cars with a type of gasoline whose name advertised that it “didn’t go,” why would they reject a similarly-named automobile?

”]”]A hot Chevy Nova []

Apparently the legend assumes that General Motors’ marketing team hadn’t checked things out thoroughly before deciding to release the car under that name in Latin America, but they knew about the translation issue and decided to go ahead anyway.

And this just sealed the deal: the car actually sold well despite the finicky name:

T]he Chevrolet Nova’s name didn’t significantly affect its sales: it sold well in both its primary Spanish-language markets, Mexico and Venezuela. (Its Venezuelan sales figures actually surpassed GM’s expectations.)

Oops.  Well, there’s always to fill the loopy-translation void!


  1. I’d always heard that story, too. It came up in conversation yesterday, in fact! Interesting to know it’s not true.

    The Buick Lacrosse, however, GM was skeptical about releasing in Canada where the francophones use the term “jouer lacrosse” as slang for masturbation.

  2. again i se this explanation of the name of this legendary car, and i cant believe you guys think is real, well no we (mexicans) dont believe the name nova means doesnt go, nova in spanish means new one and besides we no longer use this nova fuel about 8 years ago, i own the last version of nova sold in mexico and im very proud of it. is a 78 nova 8 cil 350 engine with a 700 turbine gear box.

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