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The curious case of Badge Engineering

The curious case of Badge Engineering image

Text: Marcus De Guzman / Photos: Various | posted April 16, 2015 13:00

A look at how and auto brands practice rebadging

Have you ever wondered why a car known by one name in this country is called by a different name and even sold by a completely different brand in another country? Think cars like the Chevrolet Optra and the Daewoo Lacetti as both are essentially still the same car but sold by another carmaker.

No, this is not some type of auto plagiarism as it is a common practice in the automotive industry known as rebadging; though the more politically-correct term is badge engineering.

The Daewoo Lacetti and Chevrolet Optra

Rebadging isn't to be confused with platform sharing where one or two auto manufacturers share the similar mechanical architecture like the previous generation Mazda3, Ford Focus or Volvo S40. Those models shared the Ford C platform since they all belonged under the Ford Group at the time.

Badge engineering is when a car manufacturer purchases the rights from another manufacturer for an existing model, puts their logo on it and sells it as a distinct product. Technically no “engineering” is done on the cars but there are some examples that have slightly altered exterior designs while some even use different engines or transmissions.

Badge engineering is considered to be a cost-effective way of introducing a single nameplate that can be sold in multiple partner brands. In addition, the method also meant that a rebadged car can be marketed in different trim levels which meant better profitability for the automakers while also offering more options for car buyers.

Nash Motors logo

A quick history

It was way back in 1926 when the first major badge engineering of vehicles occurred. Nash Motors was having trouble selling their smaller Ajax Six so they discontinued its production on that same year. There was, however, a problem: the automaker still had unsold Ajax inventory just gathering dust.

Chairman and CEO Charles W. Nash came up with a solution: he decided to 'rebadge' all of the unsold Ajax Six by replacing all of their emblems, hubcaps and radiator housings with their own parts and re-marketing them as the Nash Light-Six. In addition, Nash even distributed conversion kits to existing Ajax owners free of charge so they can own a Nash Light-Six instead of a model that has effectively been abandoned.

Why rebadge?

The research and development (R&D) that goes into engineering, designing and testing a new car is not only tedious but also takes a lot of time and, more importantly, resources. An expensively-developed automobile is not viable as a company may not be able to turn in a profit, especially if the company does not have as much funds to go around.

Some auto brands decide on rebadging cars from sister brands within the same parent company (i.e. General Motors, Chevrolet, Daewoo, etc.) while some even decide to purchase the rights to rebadge existing vehicles from other automotive marques that they have a partnership with (i.e. Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Citroen).

Whichever route a manufacturer goes, rebadging certain vehicles allows them to keep introducing 'new' vehicles speedily and easily without incurring the huge costs of development. It also allows the company that developed the vehicle to recover the costs of development by effectively supplying a customer company.

Another reason that car manufacturers rebadge certain vehicles is that they can improve their market share on a specific region. This type of marketing strategy can also be linked to a scenario where a particular automaker is lacking a specific vehicle for a key market segment.

The Vauxhall and Isuzu

Case in point, General Motors (GM) owns Vauxhall and a percentage of Isuzu (at the time). Back in the 1990's Vauxhall was doing well with regards to passenger cars in Europe but they didn't have an SUV to beef up the line. Since Isuzu was already producing the mu for Japan and other markets, GM decided to let Vauxhall badge engineer the mu for Europe, and the result was the Vauxhall Frontera.

Badge Engineering vs. Joint Development

There is a fine line between a badge engineered vehicle from a jointly-developed automobile and a joint-platform car. While the former is a redo of an already existing nameplate, the latter is a product of a partnership between two automakers that agreed in making the car/components possible.

The Toyobaru

One of the most notable examples of a joint venture nameplate are the “Toyobaru” models: the Toyota 86 and the Subaru BRZ. Both have the same body, engine and other components that were developed and manufactured by the two companies. The only rebadged version of the car is the Scion FR-S as Toyota opted not to market the coupe as the Toyota 86 there. The Scion brand itself is a subsidiary of Toyota which caters to the American market, particularly to younger customers.

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Examples of Badge Engineering

The Mitsubishi and Proton

Mitsubishi Lancer EX / Proton Inspira

Remember the Proton Wira back in the 90's as a rebadged version of the Mitsubishi Lancer? Well, Proton is actually still doing that as they are marketing the a rebadged version of the current Mitsubishi Lancer EX as the Proton Inspira in Malaysia.

Mitsubishi allowed Proton to rebadge the Lancer but under no circumstance should Proton make any changes to the Lancer's key features, though Mitsubishi did allow Proton to tweak the suspension with thicker anti-roll bars and altered suspension bushings.

The Ford Ranger and BT-50

Mazda BT-50 / Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 that was marketed in the Philippines were, in many ways, exactly the same. Contrary to popular belief, Mazda actually manufactured the BT-50 first and Ford (the owner of Mazda at the time) rebadged it to become the 2006-2011 Ranger. All the locally sold models came out of the same plant in Thailand.

That changed with the current generation BT-50 and the current Ranger, as this time it was Mazda who based their truck off of the Ford. However, unlike the previous generation, the current BT-50 and Ranger only share the same architecture and platform, but are completely different in terms of design both inside and out.

The Isuzu and Acura SUVs

Isuzu Trooper / Acura SLX / Honda Horizon / Holden Jackaroo and more

One model that surprised us when it came to badge engineering was the Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn. The SUV was so popular that numerous other companies rebadged it in different markets around the world. General Motors was the prime customer for it, as it was sold by their subsidiaries in other key markets. In Europe it was sold by Opel and Vauxhall as the Monterey, by Holden as the Monterey and Jackaroo in Australia, by Chevrolet as the Trooper and even by Subaru (which was also part owned by GM) as the Bighorn.

On top of the GM subsidiaries, Honda even rebadged the trooper as the Horizon in Japan and as the SLX for their luxury marque Acura in the United States.

The Mirage G4s

Mitsubishi Mirage G4 / Dodge Attitude

We may know the Mitsubishi Mirage's sedan brother as the Mirage G4 here (Attrage, or “attractive Mirage”, in other markets), but across the Pacific Ocean it is known as the Dodge Attitude.

In Mexico, Dodge has marketed a model called the Attitude; a purely rebadged version of other cars. The previous two “generations” of the Attitude were actually rebadged Hyundai Accents. Recently, Dodge released images of the new generation Attitude which is essentially a badge engineered Mirage G4. Nothing has been changed to the car apart from the signature Dodge grill.

The Chevy and Isuzu SUV brothers

Chevrolet Trailblazer / Isuzu mu-X / Holden Colorado 7

They may be sold as different vehicles in the Philippines, but in reality the Isuzu mu-X and the Chevy Trailblazer were actually developed together, though it qualifies on this list as they are essentially the same body with minor differences in design details and different engines. Holden, GM's Australian arm, markets the Trailblazer as the Colorado 7.

The Peugeot and Mitsubishi midsize SUVs

Mitsubishi Outlander / Peugeot 4007 / Citroen C-Crosser

For the unfamiliar, the second generation (2005-2013) Mitsubishi Outlander had two badge-engineered French cousins: the Citroen C-Crosser and the Peugeot 4007. All three vehicles actually use the same variety engines and were even manufactured in Europe in the same plant. Peugeot and Citroen altered the front design of their respective models to conform to their design standards at the time.

The Mitsubishi i-Miev and Peugeot iOn

Mitsubishi i-MIEV / Peugeot iOn / Citroen C-Zero

Even Mitsubishi's i-MIEV electric vehicle got badge-engineered for the European market with Peugeot and Citroen as the iOn and C-Zero, respectively. There are some design differences, but the Peugeot and Citroen derivatives still resemble the original Mitsubishi vehicle.

The Honda Crossroad and LR Discovery 1

Land Rover Discovery / Honda Crossroad

It is a little known fact that the Land Rover Discovery SUV was actually rebadged... by Honda. Yes, Honda marketed a rebadged Discovery Series 1 as the Crossroad from 1993 to 1998 after purchasing the rights from Land Rover. It didn't last long as a series of mechanical issues including the acquisition of Land Rover by BMW (at the time) forced Honda to terminate.

The Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute

Mazda Tribute / Ford Escape

One of the most well known examples of badge engineering (at least locally) is that of the Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute. Both vehicles shared the same engines, the same body, the same interior, the same transmissions and were sold by the same company until the closure of the Ford Philippines plant in 2012.

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While there is nothing really wrong with badge engineering, it does have its downsides especially in terms of market perception. Rebadging cars may be an effective way of producing and releasing products to the market quickly, rebadged cars are generally seen as rehashes. Proven technology and engineering are good, but using badge engineered models can reduce the perception of an automaker as a money-saving business that can only offer vehicles that are essentially, well, recycled.