For decades car makers have confused buyers by offering models with an array of identities.
It’s a practice known as badge engineering, not to be confused with platform sharing or joint ventures, both of which have become increasingly common in recent years. Some car companies have over-indulged while others know better than to mess with their branding.
Here we bring you more than six decades of the badge-engineered car – and you’ll see that the same car makers crop up time and again while others don’t get a mention at all. They’re the smart ones. The year mentioned references the first year of production of the second model in the family:
Cadillac Cimarron (1982) - 2 MODELS
When General Motors (GM) realised in the early 1980s that BMW and Mercedes were encroaching on its territory at the lower end of the luxury segment, it stuck Cadillac badges onto the Chevrolet Cavalier in a bid to compete. But the high prices and four-cylinder engines made the Cimarron (pictured) a laughing stock; even the introduction of a V6 in 1985 did nothing to make the car more saleable.
Ford F-150 (2002) – 2 MODELS
With the F-150 being the world’s biggest-selling truck, in 2002 Ford decided to take it upmarket with a Lincoln edition called the Blackwood, it couldn’t fail. Well that’s what Ford assumed, but in reality the Blackwood bombed with little more than 3,000 made in a single model year before the plug was pulled.
Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow (1965) – 2 MODELS
Once Rolls-Royce had swallowed up Bentley Motors in 1931, the two brands shared much the same model range, albeit sometimes with significant differences. Not where the Silver Shadow and Bentley T-Series (pictured) were concerned though; the two were interchangeable and because buyers saw the Roller as the more prestigious brand, just 2280 four-door T-Series Bentleys were sold, compared with around 30,000 Silver Shadows.
Toyota IQ (2011) – 2 MODELS
When Aston Martin needed to cut its average CO2 emissions across its range it hit upon the bright idea of rebadging the Toyota IQ as the Cygnet (pictured), albeit it with a few bodywork updates, an interior retrim, and a hefty price-tag.
But the company seriously over-estimated demand and production was wound up after less than three years with just 786 cars built; Aston had predicted 2000 per year. Oops.
Triumph Acclaim (1981) – 2 MODELS
British Leyland signed a deal with Honda in 1979, to collaborate on forthcoming models. The former’s Triumph Dolomite was getting long in the tooth so it rebadged the latter’s Ballade and flogged it as the Triumph Acclaim (pictured).
There were no Triumph parts in the Acclaim at all, aside from the badges – and it was by far the most reliable car the company had ever sold. But you're a brave person if you turn up to a Triumph heritage event in one of these…
Land Rover Discovery (1993) – 2 MODELS
When Honda realised that it needed a 4x4 in its armoury in the early 1990s, it licenced the original Discovery from Land Rover and sold it in Japan and New Zealand as the Crossroad (pictured). Honda reintroduced the Crossroad in 2007, now engineered in-house.
Lancia Delta (2011) – 2 MODELS
When Fiat merged with Chrysler it proved how shameless it could be with its abuse of brands. First we got the Lancias Delta and Ypsilon rebadged as Chryslers for the UK market with hopelessly ambitious premium pricing, and then the Chrysler 200 (pictured) and Grand Voyager were rebadged as Lancias, the former marketed as the Flavia.
All were notably unsuccessful.
Saab 9-2X (2005) – 2 MODELS
In 2005 Saab launched an estate car that should never have happened. Little more than a rebadged Subaru Impreza, the Saab 9-2X came about because GM owned Saab plus a stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, the owner of Subaru. Made for just two seasons, around 10,000 9-2Xs were built.
Opel Omega (1996) – 3 MODELS
GM Europe selling the same car with Opel and Vauxhall badges was to be expected, but less predictable was that this car should cross the Atlantic to wear Cadillac badges. It was a simple enough idea: GM needed an entry-level model that was spacious and comfortable and could take the fight to German imports, so surely a German import of GM’s own could do the job?
When the Catera (pictured) failed to find buyers GM thankfully resisted the temptation to then nail on an array of other US badges such as Buick or Oldsmobile.
Mini (1961) – 3 MODELS
BMC didn’t always get carried away and nail every available badge to every model; sometimes it held back. The poshed-up be-finned Riley Elf was an example of this; it was sold under only the Riley and Wolseley brands (as the Elf and Hornet respectively).
BMC had done the same thing with the Riley 1.5 and Wolseley 1500; there were no Austin, MG, Morris or Vanden Plas editions of these either.
Autozam AZ-1 (1992) – 3 MODELS
Here’s one for all you geeks out there; this is about as obscure as it gets. The Autozam AZ-1 (pictured) was sold by Mazda but it was actually engineered by Suzuki, which sold its own version called the Cara.
Volkswagen Up (2011) – 3 MODELS
The Volkswagen Group rule the roost when it comes to repackaging; its MQB platform underpins a mind-boggling array of models. But sometimes we get the same car wearing different badges instead, with no attempt to separate them – which is why the Volkswagen Up (pictured right) also comes in virtually identical Seat Mii (pictured centre) and Skoda Citigo (pictured left) flavours, most of them sold in most markets apart from North America.
Mitsubishi 3000GT (1991) – 3 MODELS
Sold in Japan as the Mitsubishi GTO (pictured), this junior supercar was marketed as the 3000GT in most markets around the world. That included the US, where confusingly, buyers could also buy it as the Dodge Stealth.
Opel GT (2007) – 3 MODELS
One of the sharpest-looking sports cars of the past 20 years deserved a wide audience and that’s exactly what the Opel GT got. It was sold across Europe wearing Opel badges while in the US it was the Saturn Sky (pictured) or the Pontiac Solstice.
Ford Escape (2001) – 3 MODELS
When the first-generation Ford Escape arrived in 2001 it was developed in conjunction with Mazda – which is why the Mazda Tribute was the same car, along with the Mercury Mariner because Ford just couldn’t resist a bit of badge engineering.
Vauxhall/Opel Zafira (2001) – 3 MODELS
Depending on the market, Subaru means different things to different people. While many love its WRX STi rally car for the road, for many Subaru is all about tough workhorses such as its Forester and Legacy.
What it isn’t is a purveyor of ultra-dull seven-seat MPVs – but that’s what Subaru created when it stuck its own badge onto the Vauxhall/Opel Zafira to come up with the Traviq (pictured).
Daewoo Lanos (1997) – 4 MODELS
Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and introduced in 1997, the Honda Civic-esque Daewoo Lanos (pictured) was quite a neat-looking small hatch, so no wonder an array of companies queued up to build it under licence.
These included Polish company FSO and Russia’s ZAZ, and while building under licence isn’t the same as badge engineering we just had to include this because the Lanos was also sold as the unfortunately-named Assol by Doninvest in Russia.
Suzuki Vitara – 4 MODELS
Depending on the market the Vitara (pictured) was sold as the Suzuki Sidekick, Chevrolet Tracker or Geo Tracker. GM’s Geo brand (1989-2016) consisted entirely of rebadged cars made by other companies; the Prizm was really a Toyota Sprinter, the Storm was an Isuzu Impulse, the Spectrum was an Isuzu I-Mark and the Metro as we’ll see was a rebadged Suzuki Swift.
Buick Terraza (2005) – 4 MODELS
GM was at it again, bamboozling buyers by offering four versions of this minivan, each differing from the others only by its badging. As well as a Buick Terraza option there were also Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6 and Saturn Relay editions (pictured), all of which were as forgettable as each other.
Plymouth Town & Country (1983) – 5 MODELS
When Chrysler launched the world’s first people-carrier in 1983, buyers could choose between Dodge Grand Caravan, Plymouth Town & Country or Chrysler Grand Voyager editions. Later on, despite having the perfectly good Sharan MPV at its disposal, VW licenced the Chrysler minivan and sold it as the Routan (pictured) while the Fiat-Chrysler tie-up also led to it being sold as a Lancia for a while.
Chevrolet Aveo (2002) – 6 MODELS
The original Chevrolet Aveo grew out of the Daewoo Kalos – a car that was as underwhelming as it’s possible to get. Despite its lack of talent the Aveo was sold around the globe as the Holden Barina, Pontiac G3 (pictured), ZAZ Vida and in Canada it was even sold as the Suzuki Swift+.
Hillman Avenger (1970) – 6 MODELS
Britain’s Rootes Group was at it again, with this rear-wheel drive family car that arrived in 1970. Originally sold as the Hillman Avenger, there were also Talbot, Sunbeam and Dodge versions of it, while in the US it was sold as the Plymouth Cricket (pictured); in Argentina it was sold as the Volkswagen 1500.
GMC Envoy (1998) – 6 MODELS
GM has played the badge engineering card seriously heavily over the years, largely because it used to have an awful lot of them and it also reserved different brands for different countries. But it can’t always use that excuse, because the Saab 9-7X, Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy (pictured), Buick Rainier, Isuzu Ascender and the Oldsmobile Bravada were all sold in the US. At least it didn’t produce a Pontiac edition.
BMC Farinas (1959) – 6 MODELS
The British Motor Corporation was formed in 1952 with the merger of Austin and Morris. The latter also owned the MG, Riley and Wolseley brands and the badge engineering began immediately – but it reached fever pitch in 1959 with the arrival of the big Farina saloon, which was offered in every form imaginable: Austin Cambridge, Morris Oxford (pictured), Riley 4/68, Wolseley 15/60, MG Magnette and in six-cylinder form there was a Vanden Plas edition too.
BMC ADO16 (1962) – 6 MODELS
In the 1960s, BMC was one of the masters when it came to badge engineering. The company had so many brands it didn’t know what to do with them all. There was no way each marque could have its own distinct model range so BMC just stuck an array of badges onto each model, which is why we ended up with Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Riley, Vanden Plas and MG versions of the 1100 and 1300.
Mitsubishi Starion (1982) – 6 MODELS
Sold as the Colt Starion in the UK (pictured – known later as the Mitsubishi Starion), this rather neat sporting hatch could be bought in the US as a Chrysler, Dodge or Plymouth Conquest. Or just for good measure, US buyers could also buy theirs as a Mitsubishi Starion.
Humber Sceptre (1966) – 7 MODELS
Whatever BMC could do, the Rootes Group could match. The company’s Arrow range arrived in 1966 and remained in production until 2005 in Iran. In that time the car was sold as the Singer Gazelle and Vogue, Hillman Hunter (pictured) and Humber Sceptre; later there would be Chrysler Hunter and Vogue editions while the car would end its days as the Paykan in Iran.
Chevrolet Captiva Sport (2006) – 7 MODELS
To be fair to GM, it didn’t sell this compact SUV with an array of clashing badge options – but in every territory in which it was sold there seemed to be a unique identity. Australians bought it as the Holden Captiva, Brits as the Vauxhall Antara while elsewhere in Europe it was the Opel Antara. Sold as the Saturn Vue in North America, in South America it was the Chevrolet Captiva Sport (pictured) – while South Koreans knew the car as the Daewoo Winstorm MaXX.
Holden Monaro (2001) – 7 MODELS
GM was at it once more, marketing the same car under an array of badges around the globe. This time the Holden Monaro (pictured) built in Australia was also sold as the Vauxhall Monaro (later the VXR8) in the UK, while in the US the car was sold as the Pontiac GTO and G8 as well as the Chevrolet Lumina, Caprice and SS. Sadly, Holden’s remaining Aussie factory closed in 2017 and GM recently announced that the Holden name itself will die in 2021.
Chevrolet Venture (1997) – 7 MODELS
It’s another GM badge-fest, with this minivan introduced in 1997 and coming with a bewildering variety of identities. For the US market there was the Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Montana and Trans Sport along with the Oldsmobile Silhouette (pictured). It was sold as the Buick GL8 in China while European buyers got it as either the Opel or Vauxhall Sintra.
Suzuki Swift (1988) – 8 MODELS
The first Swift was sold under various mostly GM-owned badges, but the second generation model of this small car - sold as two-door and four-door saloons, and three-door and five-door hatches - took things to another level. Produced in 11 different locations across the world including Canada, Indonesia and Venezuela, Suzuki sold it under six different model names alone.
But it was also sold as the Maruti Suzuki 1000 (India), Changan Suzuki Lingyang (China), Chevrolet Sprint and Pontiac Firefly (Canada), Chevrolet Swift and Forsa (Latin America), Geo Metro (US, pictured), Holden Barina (Australia), and Subaru Justy (Europe). Production only finally ended, in Pakistan, in 2016.
Chevrolet Spark (2009) – 8 MODELS
The Chevrolet Spark (pictured) wore a multitude of identities including the Chevrolet Beat and Holden Barina Spark while its successor, the current model, is also marketed as the Opel Karl, Holden Spark and Vauxhall Viva.
The original car (from 1998) was even more confusing as it carried Daewoo, Pontiac, FSO, Chevrolet and Formosa badges, among others.
Talbot Horizon (1978) – 9 MODELS
Winner of the European Car of the Year in 1978, this otherwise forgettable hatchback featured Chrysler, Talbot or Simca badges on one side of the pond, while on the other it was marketed under the Plymouth (Horizon (pictured), Scamp, Turismo) and Dodge (Charger, Omni, Rampage) banners.
Opel Kadett (1984) – 9 MODELS
The Kadett badge goes right the way back to 1936, but when the model went front-wheel drive in 1979 GM got quite carried away.
This car would also be sold as the Chevrolet Kadett, Pontiac Le Mans, Passport Optima, and once the car had been reheated once more it also wore an array of Daewood badges (Cielo, Le Mans, Nexia, Racer), as well as the Vauxhall (pictured) and Opel Astra.
Isuzu Trooper (1991) – 11 MODELS
Not for the first nor indeed last time in this story, the prolific nature of this large SUV reflects the imperial scale of GM in its pomp, which bought a large slice of Japan’s Isuzu in 1972.
The second generation Trooper was more luxurious than the first one and filled various gaps in GM’s global SUV lineup, which saw it sold as the Chevrolet Trooper (US and Canada), Opel Monterey (continental Europe), Vauxhall Monterey (UK), Holden Jackaroo and Monterey, and HSV Jackaroo (Australia).
Not to miss out, other companies bought the model in to fill some of their gaps too; Honda sold it as the Acura SLX in the US and Honda Horizon in Japan, while it was sold as the Sanjiu 3-Nine Isuzu Trooper in China.
GM T-Car (1974) – 13 MODELS
The front-drive Kadett was nothing on its rear-drive predecessor, the GM T Series first launched in 1974. Spurred on by the oil crisis which saw fuel prices skyrocket, General Motors determined to use its global empire to the max to make a small car that could be sold anywhere, under any brandname and any nameplate. And in that they seemed to succeed, using the car - with minor physical changes - under a bewildering 20 different names and under 13 badges - almost as baffling as this marvelous GM press photo, in fact.
We can’t include all the names or we’d be here all night but they include the Holden Gemini (Australia & New Zealand), Opel Kadett (Germany), Isuzu I-Mark (Japan), Vauxhall Chevette (UK) and Chevrolet Chevette (US & Canada, pictured) and also including under some brand-names that we more-or-less guarantee you’ve never heard of including Saehan (Korea), Aymesa (Ecuador), Grumett (Uruguay) and San Remo (Venezuela). The T-Series went on being built until 2008, a cool 34-year lifespan. The car that proves pre-bankruptcy GM was truly the king of badge-engineering. Today GM is mainly about US and China only; the T-Car reminds us of a far off time when its ambition was without limit, a few years after we even saw one of its cars on the moon...
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