Why Is The Volkswagen Golf Also Called ‘Rabbit’?

The Volkswagen Golf is one of the most popular cars ever produced, with over 30 million cars sold since the mid 1970s.

Loved by drivers worldwide for its excellent blend of performance and practicality, the Golf is one of the all-time greats.

In a recent edition of Car Facts we looked at why the Volkswagen Golf actually carries the ‘Golf’ name – you can read that article here for more information.

But there’s another question related to this that we thought deserves its own article, and that is why the VW Golf is also called the VW Rabbit in some markets, particularly the United States and Canada (referred to variously in this article as ‘North America’ as in North American Market).

The MK1 and MK5 VW Golf were sold as the VW Rabbit in North America – but why?

In this short edition of Car Facts we take a look at why the VW Golf was also sold as the Rabbit in America.

The first thing to note is that the Golf is – and always has been – the Golf, everywhere in the world except for North America (although the Golf has also been sold in Mexico as the Caribe). The only other name to note is that the Golf has been sold as the ‘Citi Golf’ in South Africa in the past.

The Rabbit name was used in North America from 1975-1984 for the MK1 generation, and then again from 2006-2009 for the MK5 generation.

But why?

There is little ‘hard evidence’ we can find to explain the decision to rename the Golf to Rabbit.

However, from our research there seem to be a couple of key points that influenced Volkswagen’s decision-making:

  • The word ‘Golf’ carries a fairly obvious association with the sport of golf, which was popular in America at the time (and remains popular to this day, of course). This is despite the word actually relating to the ‘Gulf Stream’ wind, with Golf being the German spelling thereof. VW were possibly concerned that naming a car after a sport might put off buyers who weren’t interested in golf. There is a great deal of logic here in our view – even now many people think that the Golf is named after the sport. Limiting your car buying market to golf players only is probably not the wisest commercial decision.
  • Rabbit – as a word – evokes connotations of agility and nimbleness, which were characteristic of the first-generation Golf/Rabbit. Every generation since has been near the top of the pack when it comes to driving dynamics. In some respects, ‘Rabbit’ suits the nature of the car better than ‘Golf’ as a name.

Ultimately, the decision to name the Golf the Rabbit was driven off a belief that this would yield superior sales in the North American market.

Why Did VW Bring Back The Rabbit Name For The 5th Generation Golf?

As mentioned earlier in this article, VW dropped the Rabbit name for the launch of the second generation Golf in 1984.

But why did they bring it back for the 5th generation? (you can read our buyer’s guide here of the 5th generation Golf/Rabbit GTI)

The reason for this is rooted in the original sales success of the MK1 Rabbit in the US market.

The Rabbit arrived in the mid 1970s – a time of surging oil prices leading to pain at the pump for Americans, who were generally accustomed to driving domestic ‘gas guzzlers’.

The Rabbit was highly economical, but also offered a great blend of performance and practicality.

Because of this, the MK1 Rabbit was a sales success – with 1.3 million units sold from 1975-1984 (peaking at around 220k units sold in 1979).

However, the second-generation Golf onwards never recaptured the same success in the American market as the MK1 Rabbit, with Golf sales always falling short of expectations (especially considering that elsewhere in the world it has been a top-seller for decades!).

Volkswagen made the decision to sell the MK5 Golf as ‘Rabbit’ once again in an attempt to recapture the nostalgia and “magic” that led to the MK1 being such a runaway success.

We found this quote – from 2006 – from a senior Volkswagen executive (Kerri Martin, director of brand innovation) that explains the situation well:

“The reintroduction of the Rabbit represents Volkswagen’s commitment to this market and is a nod to the passionate North American enthusiasts who have an emotional connection with the Rabbit name … Volkswagen customers want a relationship with their cars. Names like The Thing, Beetle, Fox, and Rabbit support this.”

Long story short, VW hoped to pull a Rabbit out of a hat and make sales magic once again!

What Is The Difference Between The VW Golf & Rabbit?

Beyond the badge/name – and any other ‘market localisations’ e.g. putting the steering wheel on the correct side of the car or having lights that comply with requirements – there is no difference, at least from an underlying mechanical perspective.

You can use Golf parts on a Rabbit, or vice versa.

Conclusion

To recap, the VW Golf was originally called ‘Rabbit’ in America because Volkswagen believed that the association with the sport of golf might hamper sales of the car (even though we know the car isn’t named after the sport – as per this recent article we released).

The name ‘Rabbit’ evokes connotations of agility and nimbleness, which perfectly match the characteristics of the Golf – which has always been a class leader in terms of driving dynamics.

Although the Rabbit is once again the Golf in the American market, many people still refer to the Golf by its animal moniker, either for nostalgia’s sake or because they prefer the name.

If you’re interested in learning more about the MK5 Golf/Rabbit GTI (which was just sold as the ‘Volkswagen GTI’ in markets where it was called the Rabbit), then read our buyer’s guide here for more information.

We also have a dedicated buyer’s guide for the VW Golf R32 – which was perhaps the most desirable MK5 Golf/Rabbit model.

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