In some of his best known words, Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Perhaps those words were not targeted at the automobile industry, but they certainly do apply, and it would be wise to keep them in mind when next you are buying a car.
Honesty, the car market is chock-full of close-copy cars going by different brand names, and for different prices. This system is ironically known as “badge engineering.” Companies source models from their counterparts in the industry, and so they save on having to model the cars themselves. This is much different from “platform sharing” which is a system whereby different car models share a basic framework. Instead, rebadged cars are the same in all respects, aside from some small cosmetic details like the placement of headlights or the trunk shape. But even so, the prices depend on what logo is crested on the grill.
Let’s take, for instance the Aston Martin Cygnet. In its most basic version, it is priced at over $45,000. But the model is actually designed by Toyota, completely identical, except for some internal accessories. And it sells for less than $17,000. With a price difference of about $30,000, the “classy folk” among us would still go for the outrageously three times more expensive Aston Martin – for the exact same Toyota engineering.
I really can’t understand the logic behind such extravagance. In my several years of financial writing, I have seen a lot of fakeness and foolishness, but the height of this brand name snobbery, I have not seen the likes of. The closest to this might be the “gamier” practice in the fashion industry, whereby a Chinese official asserts that the Armani labels be sewn externally on the sleeves of his suit. The only difference would be that the Cygnet owners surpass this level of vulgarity by leaps and bounds.
It was in an attempt of compliance to European standards on emissions that Aston Martin decided to market the small-engined Toyota under their brand name. This effectively explains the odd team-up, but it most certainly does not explain why car owners are willing to part with so much money just for the sake of snobbery and vanity.
Another variant of the badge engineering method is one whereby one company sells the very same car under different in-house brand names. This is one phenomenon that has been happening for so many years. One notable example is the 2012 model of the SUVs released by General Motors. The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD 1500 LS went for $43,010, while the 2012 GMC Yukon 4WD 1500 SLE, with basically the very same features and accessories, was sold at $45,090.
Although badge engineering is not so rampant, it is obvious that General Motors isn’t the only US company involved. Companies like Ford and Chrysler (now a subsidiary of Fiat) are taking part, and Japanese and Korean companies are also well-versed in this trade.
For more information on this subject for the next time you’re getting a car, you would do well to look up the list on Wikipedia. It’s nowhere close to comprehensive, but it’s an okay starting point.