DETROIT -- Relax, Chevrolet fanatics. Turns out you can take your "Chevy to the levee" or any other darn place you please.
General Motors Co. on Thursday backed off what it called a "poorly worded" internal memo that asked employees to refer to the brand only as "Chevrolet" instead of its long-standing and well-known nickname.
GM said in a statement that it "in no way" is discouraging anybody from using the name Chevy. The internal memo was part of an effort to develop a consistent brand name as it tries to broaden its global presence.
"We hope people around the world will continue to fall in love with Chevrolets and smile when they call their favorite car, truck or crossover 'Chevy,"' the statement said.
GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said the statement was meant to make clear that the company is "honored and flattered" that the brand is so popular, regardless of what people call it.
The original memo, he said, "made it look like maybe we were telling other people other people not to use 'Chevy.'
"Mostly this was just trying to train (employees)," he said. "Historically, especially recently, we've tended to use the two interchangeably."
GM said the original memo, obtained by The New York Times, spurred an "emotional debate" that reverberated on social media networks and websites Thursday.
"I don't care if you call it a Chevrolet, a Chevy or a Wookie, just make something that works and is affordable," Kyle White of Sacramento, Calif., wrote on thecarconnection.com.
White told The Associated Press he drives Toyotas but long has had his eye on the Chevrolet Volt, a rechargeable electric car scheduled to be sold in limited numbers later this year. "They should put more effort into designing good products and less effort into silly marketing things," he said.
Chevy has been ingrained in American culture for decades and has been mentioned in numerous pop songs. Among the best known: Don McLean's "American Pie," whose signature singalong chorus begins, "Bye bye, Miss American pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry."
Chevrolet is one of four brands that GM kept as it emerged from bankruptcy protection last year. The company also kept Buick, GMC and Cadillac while deciding to sell or close Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer and Saab.
John Heitmann, an author and automotive history professor at University of Dayton, said he understands what GM is trying to do with Chevrolet. He said promoting the brand by its full name appears to be an effort to get customers to equate it with high quality.
"It's kind of like rebuilding a baseball team that has been languishing in the basement for a bunch of years," he said.
Still, Heitmann said it's worth remembering that in the brand's heyday during the 1950s and '60s, "Working class America bought Chevys -- they didn't buy Chevrolets."