Who Really Made Your Car: The Truth About Badge Engineering | Donut Media


– An American Toyota? A Swedish WRX? A Mitsubishi from the States? What the hell is going on? Badge engineering, the
process where a company sells a vehicle made by
another company as their own, often changing the name, badges, and sometimes the mechanical components. Badge engineering is usually
seen as a sly attempt to make a few extra bucks (diving board whapping) (coins clinking)
– Ah! – Or save a suffering brand, and that’s exactly what
we’re gonna talk about today. One of the first cases
of badge engineering was surprisingly early in the
history of the automobile. This guy names Charles Nash
had a car company called Nash. It was really successful,
but he wanted more, so he started another company called Ajax, named for the fearless
warrior in Greek mythology. I mean, he was Zeus’s great-grandson, not a bad guy to name your car after. Anyway, the Ajax was basically a Nash, but people didn’t like
it, and it didn’t sell. The company started an
advertising campaign saying that Ajaxes were
literally Nash cars, but that didn’t help either. So Mr. Nash decided to shut down the Ajax
factory for two days, and spend that time rebadging
all the remaining Ajax cars with Nash hood ornaments and hubcaps. Nash even gave away
conversion kits for the Ajax so owners wouldn’t have
to live with the shame of owning a car that went under. So the first rebadge wasn’t successful, but the practice of badge
engineering continues to this day. But why? Well, a couple of reasons. The first is cost. It can cost billions
to develop new models, so companies like GM will
take a car from one brand, put new emblems on it, and maybe switch up the
styling a little bit, and sell it under another name. I mention GM specifically, because they really like doing this, to varying degrees of success. As we learned in the Saturn episode, the Saturn VUE was a
rebadged Chevy Equinox, which was a rebadged Opel Antara. Most of the development
behind the Antara platform was done in Korea by GM’s Daewoo division, which produced their own Winstorm SUV, the coolest SUV name ever. – [Announcer] Winstorm Xtreme. – Man, that was so (beep) extreme. – So in GM’s case, they were
able to design something that made sense in markets
all over the world, and that’s great from
a business perspective. GM only had to develop one
platform to make four cars. It succeeded because small SUVs
work pretty much everywhere. What doesn’t work is adapting one car for
a market where it won’t. Back in 2004, the Pontiac brand was losing
a little bit of luster. They were no longer known for the sporty nature under
which they were founded. They needed a fast car. Lucky for them, GM had
a fast car in Australia. Holden had been a
subsidiary of GM since 1931, and one of the most
famous models, the Monaro, was one of the few cars
that the company made that wasn’t a badge job. The Monaro had been in
production since 1968, and amassed a cult following
all over the land of Oz. It has a comparable fan base to the Camaro or Mustang over here. It’s a legend. Naturally, people would
love it over here, right? Wrong, because we don’t know
what the heck a Holden is. The only Australian things we knew in 2004 were Kylie Minogue and Steve Irwin. – They kill both of the– (snake smacking) Son of a gun! – Anyway, Pontiac needed a fast car, and GM thought the Monaro
would be the perfect fit, but what should they call it? The Monaro name didn’t mean
anything in the States, and coming up with something new might hurt the chances of selling it. So they dug up a nostalgia-filled name that hadn’t been seen since the ’70s, arguably the most important three letters in all of Pontiac history, GTO, and people liked it. Pontiac sold over 40,000 rebadged Monaros in a short three-year run, but it wasn’t enough to save
the Pontiac brand from folding. The main critique was that
the new GTO wasn’t a true GTO. Sure, it was cool. It had a V-8. It had a Pontiac badge,
but it wasn’t a Pontiac. There was nothing about it that said GTO, except the badge they glued on the bumper. Another reason manufacturers
turn to rebadges is competition at home. One company might have
a gap in their lineup that their competitor is filling. Obviously, you can’t let that happen, but as we learned earlier, it’s expensive to develop a whole new car. I’m not trying to make this about GM, but they found themselves in
this pickle back in the ’80s. General Motors wasn’t known
for making economical cars, but now they needed one, because consumers were rushing
to buy gas-friendly commuters like the Toyota Corolla. So they went to Toyota and asked, hey man, can I borrow your Corolla? It’s really good, and
we wanna sell it too. Lucky for GM, Toyota wanted to start
building cars in the States, so they came to an agreement. GM and Toyota would share
a factory in California, and GM would get to sell
the Corolla Sprinter. GM couldn’t call it
the Corolla, obviously, so starting in 1985, GM’s
Corolla would be sold as the – [Announcer] Nova. – Then, in 1988 it would
be called the Geo Prizm. For 16 years there was
essentially a Chevy Corolla. Toyota and GM’s partnership
lasted through April, 2010, when their joint factory had to close. The Fremont, California facility
was bought a month later by an electric car startup called Tesla, who used the factory so they
could stop making the Roadster, which coincidentally was
just a rebadged Lotus Elise. Time is a flat circle. So far, the badge jobs we’ve looked at were either okay or mildly successful, but what about the ones that weren’t? In 1986, BMW unveiled the M3, a coupe that has pretty
much been the gold standard for sports cars ever since. Cadillac saw it and was like,
we need something like that: a stylish, dynamic, rear-wheel
drive, two-door world-beater. What they put out was just a beater. The Cadillac Cimarron was
based off the Chevy Cavalier, which itself was developed in response to the oil crisis of the ’70s. Both the Cavalier and the
Cimarron shared the GM J platform, which was front-wheel drive and powered by an anemic
transverse-mounted four-cylinder. To make matters worse, the rear suspension used a
pathetic torsion-beam design. Any hopes for the Cimarron to
compete with the M3 were dead before it even left the factory floor. The Cimarron was such a colossal failure that it almost killed the Cadillac brand. Auto journalist Dan Neil called it, everything that was wrong,
venal, lazy, and mendacious about GM in the 1980s. I had to look up what mendacious means. When auto writers bust out the thesaurus, that’s when you know they’re serious. The most egregious case of badge
engineering, in my opinion, comes from Aston Martin in 2011. When I think of Astons, I imagine unrivaled grace,
posture, and Sean Connery. (car engine roaring)
(wild music) (ejector seat whooshing) – [Ejected Man] Agh! – Aston Martin is like the
ultimate British car brand. They’re also not great on gas. This was a problem when the European Union
handed down regulations that said every manufacturer
had to improve the emissions of their entire fleet. Aston Martin didn’t wanna
compromise the performance of their current lineup or
turn to hybrid technology, so the easiest way to
improve their average was to use someone else’s car. Enter the Toyota IQ, capable
of 66 miles per gallon. It was the perfect candidate
to boost Aston’s fuel economy. There was a problem. The IQ doesn’t look anything
like an Aston Martin, so Aston grafted their
signature face onto the IQ, gave it a premium interior, and boosted the power by 42%
to a whopping 98 horsepower. Oh, and it cost nearly $40,000. Aston Martin’s CEO, Ulrich Bez, claimed the Cygnet represented
the company’s commitment to innovation and integrity, and satisfied Europe’s demands
for emissions and space. Well, I claim (beep). Come on, you’re Aston Martin. You couldn’t think of
anything better than a Toyota? Aston planned on selling
4,000 Cygnets a year to offset their average emissions. Looking back on it, that
was pretty optimistic. In its two-year lifespan,
Aston Martin sold only 150 of their rebadged Toyotas in the UK. That’s crazy. I can sell more artisan
candles at the flea market in one weekend. You know, the hardest part is
getting the scent just right. People are so picky. The saddest badge
engineering story comes from, you guessed it, General Motors. The Chevy SS was, by all
accounts, the perfect car: manual transmission, 415
horsepower, and rear-wheel drive. (engine roaring)
(tires sizzling) It was the coolest Chevy
in a long, long time. It was also from Australia. It was another Holden, the
Commodore, and nobody bought it. In its four-year run, just
under 13,000 of them were sold. The SS failed for the same reason the GTO, Cygnet, and even Saturn did. The brand identity just wasn’t there. The SS was sick, but only to
enthusiasts like us, online. Nobody else cared. It didn’t fit in. It might have been a Chevy, but it was made for
Australians, not Americans, and Americans didn’t want a Holden. We look at the lesser-known
stories of the car world every week on Wheelhouse, so subscribe to Donut Media
so you never miss an episode. I know I missed a ton of rebadged cars. There’s a lot of them. So let’s talk about them in the comments. There’s some good ones. I wanna hear about it. Buy a (beep) shirt. It feeds James. Follow me on IGN, Nolan J. Sykes, and follow Donut at Donut
Media for more cool stuff. Wear your seat belt. I’ll see you next time.