The Life Cycle of Badge-engineered Cars: A Short Story

The Volkswagen Polo Sedan released in Russia: a rebadged Škoda Rapid

The Russian market has welcomed a compact car named Volkswagen Polo Sedan which can’t be described in more honest words than those of Carscoops: “Not a VW, a Polo or a sedan”. Badge engineering is kind of a guilty pleasure in the automotive industry: everyone knows how likely it is to go wrong, yet many makers just can’t help trying it once again. The sequence of events is so constant that it’s possible to draw a template for fun… just like the one you’re about to read.

Midsize sedans do well in China, but the Linea was never a true competitor. Fiat opted for retouching a Dodge Dart, making it more elegant rather than sporty and naming it Viaggio. It even spawned an exclusive hatchback version, the Ottimo

It all begins with a problem to solve

Fiat, for example, ended up with the Viaggio as an attempt to establish itself in the Chinese market. Nissan, on the other hand, relied on the Terrano as a quick way into the compact SUV segment. And Mercedes-Benz, as previously mentioned on Car Design Chronicles, wanted to expand its strong image into the pick-up segment with the X-Class. Car models are usually developed so as to solve problems; badge engineering is only one method for its execution.

The first Chevrolet Omega was never as successful as its predecessor Opala, but it was still a good representative in the segment due to its high overall quality. However, switching it from the Opel sibling for a rebadged Holden Commodore made its sales lose momentum

After crunching the numbers…

The pretty solution is always to create a whole new model: it’ll be specifically tailored to its target buyers, it’ll become a success among the media, and that hype will soon be converted into sales figures. However, Chevrolet no longer sold full-size sedans in Brazil as much as it did in the 1980s, Ford considered the China-sourced Territory more affordable for Latin America than the Kuga or the Escape, and Toyota realized that the North-American isn’t interested in subcompact cars enough to deserve the same Yaris it sells in Europe.

In the 1990s, Chrysler created the Eagle brand to compete with Asian models. What was its strategy? Using rebadged models from… Asian makers. The most famous one, the Talon, was derived from the Mitsubishi Eclipse of the same time

Some cases are more complicated than others

As if dealing with production costs and sales projections wasn’t hard enough, there have been some special cases. GM’s global models are the most famous one, given that they were actually sold in dozens of countries; Aston Martin “borrowed” the car which became the Cygnet because creating a similar one itself would be just too farfetched; and the Chrysler group founded an entire division based on badge-engineered cars in the 1990s, named Eagle.

Lancia had already been ostracized by the time Fiat merged with Chrysler, so everyone was surprised when it suddenly received three “all-new” models. The most iconic was the Thema, a nameplate that came back to life as a rebadged Chrysler 300

Badge engineering suddenly comes to the rescue

The aforementioned guilty pleasure becomes simply too difficult to resist in situations like those. The association with Chrysler gave Lancia a new breath of life, especially by the time it decided to create a new Thema; Dacia’s lineup provided Lada with Largus, the compact station wagon it needed so badly to complete its compact range; Peugeot, in turn, didn’t think twice and released Dongfeng’s truck under license in 2017 with its own badge and with a nameplate as creative as Pick Up.

Compared to its siblings, the Seat Mii has exclusive lights, trim details and special editions. It’s difficult to think that’s enough to make it stand out since it’s available in the very same countries as the other two and for similar prices

It’s easy for greed to get in the way

Sometimes, the desperate need for those cars to prosper leads companies to bend unspoken competition rules. Toyota decided to sell the Glanza in India instead of Etios or Yaris to avoid making any of those comply with the local emissions rules. Seat Mii and Škoda Citigo are pretty much the same vehicle as the European Volkswagen up! and they all exist in the same markets; and the Brazilian Chevrolet became a success in the 1990s because almost its entire lineup was derived from Opel’s.

The Versailles was released during the Autolatina era, when Ford and Volkswagen were partnered in Brazil. Since it was pretty much a rebadged Santana, it was considered an alien by Ford enthusiasts up to the end of its life cycle

Obviousness makes people merciless

Back in the 1990s, Brazilians rejected the Versailles for having poor trim and subpar dynamic behavior for Ford’s standards; the Logan lineup sells well in many countries mostly for its value, rather than honoring Renault’s qualities; by coming as a liftback and an off-road station wagon, the new Buick Regal clearly shows it’s more European than ever. Even when there wasn’t Internet and people could only rely on the industry for information, badge-engineered cars are simply impossible not to spot.

The newly-formed FCA decided to sell the Lancia Delta in RHD markets under the Chrysler badge. Since many possibilities were created at that time, the company also considered selling the full-size hatchback in the US

After the pleasure, the guilt

People and press actually joke about many of those cars, which weakens their image even more. They tend not to sell well and, sooner or later, the maker is forced to remove them to cut its losses. Citroën and Chrysler never managed to make the Chinese C2 and the British Delta for many reasons, the strongest being how different they were from the rest of the respective maker’s lineup. The latest car to get a shot at breaking this trend is the new Volkswagen Polo Sedan. Do you think it has what it takes?

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Danillo Almeida

Danillo Almeida

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Content writer and engineer-to-be who aspires to work in car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.