A False Claim: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish.
Summarised from: www.snopes.com, Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2012 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
I’m still seeing publications and comments with the incorrect and misleading legend of “The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish. I become increasingly concerned about the diligence and responsibility of authors of textbooks and articles. As snopes.com points out, the ‘Chevy Nova legend lives on in countless marketing textbooks, is repeated in numerous business seminars, and is a staple of newspaper and magazine columnists who need a pithy example of human folly. Perhaps someday this apocryphal tale will become what it should be: an illustration of how easily even "experts" can sometimes fall victim to the very same dangers they warn us about.’
Part of the fiction is that GM executives were baffled until someone finally pointed out to them that "nova" translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish. The embarrassed automobile giant changed the model name to the Caribe, and sales of the car took off. Actually Caribe is a Volkwagen model, not a Chevy. The truth is that the Chevrolet Nova's name didn't significantly affect its sales: it sold well in both its major Spanish-language markets, Mexico and Venezuela. (Its Venezuelan sales figures actually surpassed GM's expectations.)
From snopes.com: The original Chevrolet Nova (initially the Chevy II) hit the U.S. market in 1962. (This car should not be confused with the smaller, front wheel drive vehicle which was produced in 1985 as a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota and also assigned the Nova name.) Between 1972 and 1978 the Chevrolet Nova was also sold in Mexico and several other Spanish-speaking countries, primarily Venezuela. Shortly afterwards the great "Nova" legend arose, a legend which a little linguistic analysis shows it to be improbable:
First of all, the phrase "no va" (literally "doesn't go") and the word "nova" are distinct entities with different pronunciations in Spanish: the former is two words and is pronounced with the accent on the second word; the latter is one word with the accent on the first syllable. Assuming that Spanish speakers would naturally see the word "nova" as equivalent to the phrase "no va" and think "Hey, this car doesn't go!" is akin to assuming that English speakers would spurn a dinette set sold under the name Notable because nobody wants a dinette set that doesn't include a table.
Although "no va" can be literally translated as "no go," it would be a curious locution for a speaker of Spanish to use in reference to a car. Just as an English speaker would describe a broken-down car by saying that it "doesn't run" rather than it "doesn't go," so a Spanish speaker would refer to a malfunctioning automobile by saying "no marcha" or "no funciona" or "no camina" rather than "no va."
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?
This legend assumes that a handful of General Motors executives launched a car into a foreign market and remained in blissful ignorance about a possible adverse translation of its name. Even if nobody in Detroit knew enough rudimentary Spanish to notice the coincidence, the Nova could not have been brought to market in Mexico and/or South America without the involvement of numerous Spanish speakers engaged to translate user manuals, prepare advertising and promotional materials, communicate with the network of Chevrolet dealers in the target countries, etc. In fact, GM was aware of the translation and opted to retain the model name "Nova" in Spanish-speaking markets anyway, because they (correctly) felt the matter to be unimportant.
Additional information from snopes.com:
Debunking several urban legends: Ricks, David A. Blunders in International Business. Cambridge, U.S.A.: Blackwell, 1993. ISBN 1-55786-414-4 (p. 35).
Romie Frederick Littrell, BA, MBA, PhD, FIAIR
Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
IV. 1st stanza, War is Kind and Other Lines, Stephen Crane, 1899
A little ink more or less!
It surely can't matter?
Even the sky and the opulent sea,
The plains and the hills, aloof,
Hear the uproar of all these books.
But it is only a little ink more or less.