Click Thumbnails to Enlarge
Why badge engineering sucks, by Gavin Green
26 January 2010 14:32
One of the most talked-about cars of the recent Detroit Show was a Chrysler Delta. It sounds like an elite US military unit. In fact it is an idiosyncratic little Italian hatch (a Lancia Delta) with a beaver-like American (Chrysler) grille.
Now there will be those who salute Chrysler’s boldness, by grabbing attention at a motor show in which it had absolutely nothing new (the ‘Chrysler’ Delta is just a concept). They grabbed headlines, certainly. Sergio Marchionne, boss of Fiat, new controller of Chrysler, and one of the boldest and most intelligent leaders in the car industry – Fiat now rocks – reckons that there are some parallels between Lancia and Chrysler (which may be true). Some journalists, whose opinions I normally covet, were nodding sagely, explaining that this is a clever and inexpensive way for cash-strapped Chrysler to launch new cars. (I always worry when car journalists sound more like accountants than enthusiasts.)
Nonsense! Badge engineering is always bad. It deceives the public, an insult to their discernment and intelligence. And it buggers the brand. Successful car nameplates always stand for something. What precisely does a brand (Chrysler) that slaps its badge on a quirky Italian hatchback (as well as on imposing and expansive saloons) stand for, apart from delivering low-cost convenience for itself?
Failing car companies badge engineer, because they cannot afford – or simply cannot – design decent cars for themselves. The bad boys of badge engineering were Rover/BL, GM and old-school Chrysler. You’ll notice they all have one thing in common. They went bankrupt.
Badge engineering is deceitful because it pretends a car is something that it isn’t. The last car to wear the iconic American Pontiac GTO moniker was actually an Aussie Holden. That fooled no-one, especially diehard GTO lovers. Sales sucked. The last saloon Triumph was a Honda and not a very good one. The last MGs were war-painted Rovers. British Leyland used its Austin, Morris, Riley and Wolseley badges so liberally in the ‘60s and ‘70s that it destroyed the brand equities of every one of those once-hallowed marques. BL swapped nameplates like kids trade Top Trump cards.
Most of a company’s worth is its brand. In the marketing voodoo of image, coolness and covetability, those companies who happily slap their names on anyone else’s products – as badges of convenience – are invariably the industry weaklings. You never see Mercedes-Benz or BMW do that.
Badge engineering makes a mockery of all those carefully crafted marketing campaigns that try to imbue brands with coveted qualities. Companies spend millions on ads, sponsorship, the correct corporate colour palettes and type faces. And then slap Citroen badges on a Mitsubishi or Aston badges on a Toyota. So much for ‘brand stewardship’.
Platform sharing can be okay and I’ve no problems with swapping engines and other ‘hidden’ components. But when you simply slap your badge on someone else’s car, it sucks.
Most of all, I hate badge engineering because it devalues the business I love. A Ford is different from a Peugeot is different from a BMW is different from a Benz. They drive different, look different, smell different. Their bosses think different. Such distinction fuels the emotion that drives this business, and makes the car so very different from all other consumer goods.