What Is A Flagship Car?

Have you ever come across a brand talking about its “flagship” product?

It’s a fairly common term in the worlds of business and marketing.

How about a car company talking about its flagship car? You might also have encountered that term.

For example, on the Lexus website, the LS is specifically referred to as the brand’s flagship vehicle:

But what exactly is a flagship car? This is one of those terms that doesn’t have a standard, universally-accepted dictionary definition, so it’s well worth clarifying the meaning.

In this short edition of Car Facts, I’m going to explain what a flagship car is and give some examples.

Flying The Flag For The Brand

The actual definition of a flagship comes from the nautical world, being a ship that carries the commander of a fleet/group of ships.

Over time, the term has become more of a metaphor for the best/highest profile products/or services a brand offers.

For example, Apple’s flagship product is arguable the iPhone. Airbus’ flagship plane is the A380.

Another way of looking at a flagship product is as being the product for which the brand is best-known. For example, Adobe’s flagship product is Photoshop. Windows is Microsoft’s flagship product.

A flagship car is therefore an automaker’s premier, prestige model – and/or the car for which it is best known.

Some definitions posit that the flagship car of a brand is the one that the manufacturer wants famous people to be seen in. Another way to look at it is the flagship car is the car in a manufacturer’s lineup that buyers really want to own, but cannot necessarily afford. Brands like to put their best foot forward to create a positive association for other products and services.

Traditionally, flagship cars have tended to be high-end luxury sedans; the sort of cars that C-suite executives and wealthy individuals might buy. In fact, some people define flagship car as an automaker’s biggest, most luxurious and most expensive car.

For example, BMW’s flagship has long been the 7 series, or the S-Classs for Mercedes-Benz, or the A8 for Audi.

However, depending on the lineup of vehicles that any given manufacturer offers, the flagship car might not be a luxury sedan. For example, Cadillac’s modern flagship is the Escalade (although the brand was once a byword for luxury American sedans). Porsche’s flagship model has long been the 911 … it’s the Porsche you really want to own, although you might be happy to settle for a Boxster or Cayman.

Flagship Car vs Halo Car

In a recent article, I wrote in more detail about what a halo car is. In that article I explained the differences between a halo car and a flagship car (the fundamental difference being that a halo car is more about developing a vehicle that won’t necessarily sell well or be profitable, but instead draw substantial attention to the brand).

For example, the Lexus LFA wasn’t a flagship car – Lexus’ flagship has always been the LS – the LFA was a halo car designed to draw attention to the brand but not necessarily sell in big volumes.

In the early/mid 2000s, Ferrari’s halo car was the Enzo, while the F430 was probably more accurately described as the brand’s flagship model.

There aren’t specific dictionary definitions of either term, and some people use flagship car and halo car interchangeably.

Recap – What Is A Flagship Car?

Although there is not a set ‘dictionary definition’ for flagship car, fundamentally the term is used to denote a vehicle that is a car maker’s top-of-the-line, premier model.

Historically, the term has typically referred to a given brand’s premium luxury sedan, but it’s possible for a sports car or SUV to be a flagship as well.

A flagship car is what the average customer knows the brand for, and is the car you are meant to aspire to own.

You want a BMW 7-series (the flagship) but your budget only stretches to a 5-series. You want a Porsche 911, but you need something more practical so you buy a Cayenne instead.

A marque’s flagship represents the best the brand has to offer, and is typically an aspirational purchase.

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