Detroit 3 Put an End to Badge Engineering

Doug DeMuro wonders if rebadging among automobile manufacturers has died. The money observation:

...I chuckle when I hear people my age or younger talking about 'rebadges.' I heard the other day, for instance, that the Lexus ES is a “rebadged” Toyota Avalon. This is laughable. It’s like saying that central air conditioning is a rebadged ceiling fan.

Yes, the Avalon and the ES ride on the same platform and they share mechanicals. But my God, are these two cars not rebadged. Rebadging was when General Motors had four midsize sedans in the 1980s and literally slapped different badges on each one, while simultaneously changing things like the wheel covers and the shape of the head rests. The Avalon and ES are so different that even a small child could point them out in a parking lot. 'That’s grandma’s car!' he would say.

In modern times, automakers don’t really do the rebadge thing anymore because they’ve discovered that most people are just too smart for it.

The financial crash in 2009 appears to have been the death knell for badge engineering. Through its bankruptcy process, General Motors closed the Saturn and Pontiac brands. GM already closed Oldsmobile long before its bankruptcies. Chrysler jettisoned its Plymouth brand as part of its bankruptcy reorganization. Without benefit of bankruptcy, Ford brought the curtain down on its Mercury brand. All of these brands had morphed into recipients of badge engineered market offerings. In essence, the Detroit 3 received the message that consumers were no longer willing to spend a few thousands dollars more on a brand that offered only different tires.

At one point, the a rebadge vehicle appeared as a different product from its stable mate. Usually, the rebadged effort included a different, nicer interior, a few cosmetic exterior items, and better tires.

Pontiac 6000: The Ultimate Badge Engineering Machine.

The epitome of crass badge engineering could be General Motors' compact front wheel drive (FWD) X-body platform. The cars were badged as the Pontiac 6000, Buick Century, Chevrolet Celebrity, and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera. Body trims and options distinguished each market offering. At first glance, though, the distinguish characteristics were hard to spot.

By the mid-90s, these points of distinction between the original market offering and the rebadged market offering disappeared in a cloud of accounting ledger dust and a different set of tires. Consumers noticed the lack of similarities, leaving thousands of unsold Pontiacs, Mercurys, and Plymouths on dealers' lots.

Thankfully, rebadging seems headed to the auto graveyard along with fins, white wall tires, and manual transmissions.