What Is Rebadging When It Comes To Cars?

If you’ve ever bought a car, then you might have heard of the term rebadging, also known as “badge engineering”.

But what rebadging when it comes to cars?

In this edition of Car Facts – our series where we answer your car questions – we are looking at the origins and meaning of rebadging/badge engineering on cars.

If you’ve ever wondered why you see cars on the road from different manufacturers that look basically the same, you’ll find this an interesting story.

In particular, we will look at the economic/business reasons why manufacturers choose to rebadge their cars.

What Exactly Does Rebadging Mean?

Long story short, rebadging refers to a car manufacturer taking another manufacturer’s car, and then selling it as their own.

Badge engineering is most common within larger “groups” of car makers, e.g. General Motors.

Take the Vauxhall Astra VXR “GTC” – an excellent hot hatch from recent years, albeit a slightly quirky choice.

This car was sold in the UK as the Vauxhall Astra VXR:

Credit: Autocar

In Europe it was the Opel Astra VXR

And in Australia and New Zealand, we could but it as the Holden Astra VXR:

Credit: Shannons.com.au (also note the plate “OPLVXR” – this owner is poking fun at the badge engineered nature of their car!)

Short of the badge changes (as well as other requirements like getting the steering wheel on the correct side of the car) these were all the same car.

General Motors ‘badge engineered’ the car to improve sales in the respective markets.

For example, in New Zealand and Australia nobody really knows Vauxhall or Opel as anything other than the “European versions” of Holden, which is a legendary brand … albeit now gone as General Motors pulled the brand in the last couple of years.

Rebadging can go beyond just swapping the badge/model name. There can often be substantial differences in terms of trim levels, external appearance and sometimes even performance, but rebadged cars are generally the same underneath the skin.

What Is The Point Of Rebadging Cars?

Surely you would think that car brands would prefer to make their own vehicles, rather than just copying someone else’s car and slapping a different badge on the front?

Just what is the point of going through the hassle of rebadging a car?

Ultimately, manufacturers undertake badge engineering for economic purposes.

It costs enormous sums of money to design, develop and build a new car. Taking someone else’s car (e.g. from another brand within your “network” or some other car company you work closely with) and sticking your own logo, name and a few extra bits and pieces on it is far less expensive.

Badge engineering can also be a great way to enhance sales.

As per the example we gave above of the Vauxhall Astra VXR, this car simply wouldn’t have sold so well in Australia and New Zealand if it wasn’t badged as a Holden. Now it wasn’t exactly a sales superstar as a Holden either – primarily due to the niche nature of the car and the preferences of the local market – but it would definitely not have sold so well as a Vauxhall.

Badge engineering can also provide an opportunity for a car manufacturer to sell into new markets.

Your brand may not be well-established in a particular market (this is probably not so much the case in 2021, but certainly in the 1980s/1990s/early 2000s) and therefore if you could partner with another manufacturer or brand that was recognised and respected in a given market and allow them to sell your car in a rebranded package, then this could represent a great “joint venture”.

Selling a car takes more than just designing and building the vehicle – you have to factor in how the car will be distributed in a particular location, what the dealer and service network is like and so on. It may be that your brand has very little presence in the market, but a “sister brand” under the same group has a lot more recognition and existing infrastructure, so it makes sense to let them sell the car under a different badge.

Types Of Rebadging/Badge Engineering

There are a few key rebadging strategies that car manufacturers employ (we’ve already touched on a couple above, but this is a simple explanation).

Market Localisation/Regional Brands

This is in the vein of the Astra VXR example we gave above.

At the time of sale, General Motors had a range of different brands for different markets (e.g. Vauxhall for UK, and Holden for AU/NZ). It makes sense to leverage these existing brands and their dealer networks etc to enhance the commercial prospects of your car.

Basically, where a car manufacturing group/corporation has brands that have a following and presence locally, they will generally seek to leverage that via a rebadged model.

Another GM example is the Holden Monaro, which was sold in America as the Pontiac GTO and the UK as the Vauxhall Monaro VXR:

 

Australia is a particularly interesting example from a regional brand localisation perspective. Historically, Australia had strong protections in place to secure the local car manufacturing industry. There were a limited number of car models available, primarily from Holden and Ford. In the 1980s, the government effectively liberalised the car manufacturing industry by getting Japanese car makers like Toyota and Nissan to team up with Australian car makers and sell badge engineered cars. The purpose was to allow more choice of cars for the consumer, and also attempt to position Australia as a competitive car exporter.

This led to interesting vehicles such as the Holden Nova, which is clearly a 1990s Toyota Corolla, thanks to the Holden/Toyota partnership of United Australian Automobile Industries.

There is sometimes even a lower level of market localisation, where a manufacturer will sell the same car as different model names in different countries. For example, the Subaru Legacy was sold in Australia as the Subaru Liberty.

Joint Ventures

Joint ventures/JVs are another form of rebadging, although somewhat more complex.

This is where one or more manufacturer comes together to share resources and build a new car (that is then often rebadged for their relevant market).

An example that might be familiar to our American readers is the Pontiac Vibe, also known as the Toyota Matrix.

This was a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors, to produce a youth-focused “Compact Utility Vehicle”/CUV.

Perhaps a more popular example among the motoring enthusiast community is the Toyota 86/Subaru BR-Z/Scion FR-S. This car was a joint venture between Toyota and Subaru, with the car being manufactured in Subaru’s Gunma plant.

Toyota and Subaru basically locked heads to develop and manufacture a “pure” enthusiasts car … and we are so glad they did!

JVs are more common in the Chinese market, where state regulations have often required that foreign automakers JV with Chinese automakers in order to be able to sell cars to the local market.

JV rebadging often occurs as the result of one manufacturer/brand investing in another. For example, Ford held a sizeable stake in Mazda during the 1990s and early 2000s (as much as ~33%)

This led to a number of cars being developed and produced under both Mazda and Ford badges. A good example of this is the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute – entry-level SUVs that were designed to compete with the Toyota Rav 4 and Honda CR-V, both of which were proving popular with customers worldwide.

The Escape/Tribute used Ford-sourced engines, but the underpinnings were from the Mazda 626. A classic example of “joint venture” manufacturing and rebadging, spurred on by the fact that Ford had made a substantial investment in Mazda and wanted a good ROI.

Brand Expansion

Another reason for rebadging is brand expansion.

This is where a car brand looks to fill a gap in its lineup with a car from another brand or manufacturer.

Honda and Isuzu provide a great case study of brand expansion.

In the 1990s, Honda didn’t have a good SUV lineup. It therefore went to Isuzu and sold their Rodeo (known also as the MU) and Trooper as the Honda Passport and Acura SLX/Honda Horizon.

On the flip side of the coin, Isuzu didn’t have a people mover. It therefore took Honda’s popular Odyssey and sold it as an Isuzu Oasis.

This allowed the two companies to fill gaps in their respective vehicle lineups by borrowing and rebadging each other’s models, providing a mutually-beneficial outcome.

Others Examples Of Rebadged/Badge Engineered Cars

One of the best examples of badge engineering is the Isuzu Trooper, a now relatively rare sight on the roads (although you still see a fair few of them here in New Zealand).

The Isuzu Trooper was sold as many different cars, in many different markets. All of them were basically the same, just the badge and model name changed.

For example, you could have the Trooper as the following (and this isn’t even an exhaustive list).

  • Isuzu Bighorn (which was the JDM name)
  • Holden Monterey
  • Vauxhall Monterey
  • Honda Horizon
  • Acura SLX
  • Subaru Bighorn
  • Holden Jackaroo

Badge engineering at its finest, all with the intent of maximising sales and utilising existing distribution networks.

Another great example of badge engineering is the Mitsubishi 3000GT/GTO, which was also sold as the Dodge Stealth. Read our Mitsubishi 3000GT buyer’s guide here for more information on this particular example of badge engineering.

What is interesting with the 3000GT/Stealth example is this is a badge engineered car with quite different visual appearance between models. Many people who aren’t clued up on cars would not be able to guess that these are fundamentally the same vehicle underneath the skin!

Rebadging Or Platform Sharing?

One grey area when it comes to rebadging is where rebadging ends and platform sharing begins.

An example of this (from the Ford/Mazda partnership mentioned above) is the Ford Probe.

The Ford Probe is definitely more than just a badge engineered Mazda MX-6 (or is it?), but it does share a lot of components and the two cars are built on the same platform, with the 2nd gen probe being 60% Mazda components and 40% ford.

The Probe GT is generally considered to be the better driver’s car versus the MX-6, with a sharper suspension tune and handling setup, whereas the MX-6 was rather wallowy and more of a “GT Jr” car.

Would you consider the Ford Probe a Mazda MX-6 with a different badge and body, or more of a platform shared model with enough differences to recognise it as its own car?

Ultimately, the answer here is up to your interpretation.

Conclusion – What Is Rebadging In The Car Industry?

Rebadging is where different manufacturers sell the same car (or largely the same car) as their own respective models.

This is done for business/economic reasons, usually using one of the following strategies:

  • Joint venture – Where two or more manufacturers come together to develop a new car that fills a need in their respective line-ups, and then they sell the car under their own brands/nameplates.
  • Brand expansion – Where a manufacturer “borrows” a car from another and sells it in a market with their own badge. This is often done as a bit of an exchange, e.g. one manufacturer needs a people mover and the other needs an SUV, so they trade models and rebadge them.
  • Market localisation – Where a manufacturer (often part of a large corporation/group e.g. General Motors) sells the same car under multiple brands, depending on presence and recognition in the respective local markets.

Ultimately, the point of rebadging a car is to make development and sale more economically-viable, and to increase the profit potential of the undertaking.

Rebadging is not the same as platform sharing, which is more about a car manufacturer – and sometimes more than one manufacturer – using one platform to make multiple cars.

For example, the Volkswagen Touareg, Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne all shared the same platform, which was the PL71 Volkswagen Group E platform, but they are sufficiently different to not be badge engineered – at least in our opinion (and they all had different purposes, e.g. the Touareg was the tough 4×4 model, the Q7 the luxury family hauler and the Cayenne the sports SUV).

Another example is the Jaguar X-Type. Many people refer to it as a fancy Ford Mondeo – in a derogatory sense – as it was built on the Ford Mondeo CD132 platform when Jaguar and Ford had a close relationship. However, the X-Type is sufficiently different in terms of trim, equipment, performance and overall look and feel to be a clearly different car. It just shares some common platform underpinnings with Ford.

Chances are that you have probably driven, or even owned at some point in time, a rebadged car. The author of this article, for example, once owned a Mazda Sentia (which was sold in some markets as a Kia Enterprise!). We would love to hear your experience with rebadged/badge engineered/platform-shared cars. In particular, what oddities and curiosities are you aware of? Leave a comment below!

Leave a Comment