Automotive translation: Its importance to the industry

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The automotive industry is heavily globalised. This means it relies on language services like few others. To understand why automotive translation is so vital to the sector, we only need to picture how most modern cars are built: 

Some parts may be manufactured in China or South America. Others in Korea or Germany. The final vehicle could be assembled in the UK, France, or the USA. It could then be sold anywhere in the world. 

On top of this, the most successful car manufacturer of the first half of 2023 was arguably Toyota, a Japanese company. 

Linguistic expertise ties this network together. Without it, collaboration between suppliers and partners in different regions is difficult. Vehicle safety is hard to guarantee. Sales numbers will never climb as high as they otherwise could. 

It’s no surprise then that specialist automotive translation services are relied on by all of the world’s leading car manufacturers when they need to do any of the following: 

Enhance international market expansion 

In 2022, global car sales topped 67.2 million units. This was up from around 66.7 million the year before. 

This growth was only possible because modern automobile manufacturers sell their products in diverse markets around the world. In regions like South America, China and South-East Asia, car ownership still has room to grow. And it is. Quickly. 

But with most major manufacturers based elsewhere, there is a significant language barrier between car makers and the most desirable markets. Many of these regions are also multilingual. Most are multicultural too. 

Manufacturers that want to sell to those markets successfully require a native-level understanding of them and the languages they speak. It’s the only way to create marketing that converts and a market share that improves. 

This calls for linguists who are automotive translation specialists with deep knowledge of both the car industry in general and the manufacturer’s target markets in particular. 

Ensure accurate technical documentation 

For all the critical nature of translation in the automotive sector, there are significant challenges too. Chiefly, this is because much of the key documentation is highly technical. 

In schematics and vehicle safety manuals, for instance, there is zero room for misunderstanding. The result of errors could be anything from costly manufacturing problems to deadly vehicle safety issues. 

There is also a need to comply with key safety and regulatory standards. This requires specialist translators who can be relied on to: 

1) Guarantee technical precision 

With the exception of some marketing materials, most of the material the automotive industry needs to translate is complexf technical documentation containing sector-specific terminology. 

Terms can be unique to the industry – something an outsider might take to mean something else. Sometimes, something different to what a direct translation might suggest they do. 

Plus, the importance of locality means terms may vary by region as well as language. Think of the simplistic example of a “bumper” or “boot” in British English versus the American English “fender” and “trunk”. 

The technical documents themselves also include a wide variety of types and challenges: 

  • CAD design files 
  • Schematics and engineering diagrams 
  • Descriptions of detailed manufacturing processes and workflows 
  • Multiple domains, from software development to physical manufacturing requirements 
  • Different units of measurement and expected standards 

Guaranteeing the required level of technical precision can only be achieved by automotive translators who are subject matter specialists with knowledge of domestic and target regions.  

2) Consistent across language versions 

The materials the car industry needs to translate may include multiple language versions (created now or previously) or a chain of communication across regions and disciplines. 

This is because constructing a modern vehicle may require clear communication between: 

  1. Designers who speak one language 
  1. Making technical details plain to manufacturers who speak another 
  1. Communicating with an assembly team that speaks yet another language 
  1. Marketers advertising a vehicle’s capabilities in potentially dozens of markets 
  1. With customer service professionals who need to reference any or all of the above in another 

This demands accurate and – above all – consistent translations across language versions. In turn, this frequently requires an entire team of professional translators. 

That’s because any translator must translate into their native language if the resulting text is to be fluent, compelling, and culturally appropriate. 

Maintain brand consistency and customer trust 

Advertising. Brochures. Websites. Vehicle manuals. Consumers interact with the materials created by car companies every day. 

Every one of these interactions is an opportunity. Either for a successful, brand loyalty-enhancing experience. Or for confusion, distrust, derision, or even danger. 

For instance, translation errors in a vehicle manual will not engender consumer trust in a brand. Picture a user manual filled with: 

  • Awkward sentences and bad grammar – may lead to reduced brand reputation. 
  • Confusing or imprecise language – could prevent consumers from using certain vehicle features correctly. 
  • Mistranslations – might even place consumers in danger through misunderstanding and/ or lead to legal challenges. 

But then consider the reverse situation. A manual with neat, precise language. Clearly explained features. A safe, secure, positive driving experience secured. A brand reputation enhanced. 

Skilled, accurate translation makes this possible. 

Overcome cultural and legal challenges 

The most infamous cultural errors in automotive translation sound amusing on the surface. 

An oft-cited example is when Ford started selling their Pinto model in Brazil. There, the word “pinto” is unflattering slang for a body part that deterred male drivers from making a purchase. 

Of course, the mistake wasn’t that amusing for Ford. This relatively simple cultural misunderstanding was responsible for their otherwise very suitable vehicle utterly failing to sell. 

There is also legal compliance to consider. Most governments require auto manufacturers to translate service guides, user manuals, and other vehicle documentation before they go to market. 

Armed with local cultural knowledge, the right Language Service Provider or even individual translator would have prevented Ford’s issue from arising. These experts can also ensure that translated vehicle documents are fully compliant with local requirements. 

Automotive translation and the future 

The modern automotive sector is in large part enabled by specialist translation services. The globalised nature of the supply chains involved and the need to target a number of linguistically and culturally diverse markets to maintain healthy sales makes this a necessity. 

Yet the industry is effectively globalised at every level. Research and development. Supply and manufacturing processes. Even the second-hand car and parts markets. Experts are needed to avoid cultural misunderstandings and protect against legal challenges. 

This is on top of the intrinsic challenges of car translation. There is a high degree of technical jargon – and a need to maintain terminological and brand consistency across a wide range of languages. 

Like other fields, automotive translation may change if Machine Translation technology develops to the point where it can be used for more purposes. This could be game-changing in an industry with large volumes of material that often needs to be translated to short deadlines. 

For the foreseeable future though, the success of automotive manufacturers around the world will continue to be driven by effective specialist translation. 


What do Bentley, Toyota, and Aston Martin have in common? 

When some of the UK and the world’s most well-respected vehicle manufacturers need ISO 17100 and ISO 9001-accredited automotive translation, they trust Kwintessential. 

Reach out to us today to discover if we can meet your business’s language needs.


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