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What’s the Lamest Automotive Rebrand?

Robert Emslie October 25, 2012 Hooniverse Asks 128 Comments

There’s this great scene in The Simpsons where Homer visits the Duff Brewery where he sees huge vats of Duff Lager, Duff Light, Duff Dry, and Summer Fresh Duff. What we see is that they all are being filled from a common vat of plain old Duff. That’s kind of how car makers with lots of brands spread the engineering costs of a model out among those nameplates, and sometime – just like with Duff – you can get a skunky one.

GM is perhaps the most famous for cranking out the same car under different brands – some indistinguishable from one another – and still keeping a straight face. I mean seriously, the Cadillac Cimarron Toast Crunch and Chevy Cavalier 4-door of the same years are nearly identical. Still, what I consider to be one of the most eggregious and bizzare re-brandings was the car that ended up being the Saab 9000, Fiat Croma, Thema by Lancia, Alfa 164, and Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game. Freaky, I know!

Sometimes the rebranding is almost invisible, such as between the final iteration of the Toyota Supra and first-gen Lexus 300SC. Other times the cars may look almost identical, however their personalities in motion prove they are totally different – the FR-S/BRZ being prime examples. But those are both cool rides, and what  we are seeking is the lamest of the lame. What do you think is the most eye-rollingly bad automotive rebrand? 

Image: [Autofrei]

Currently there are 128 comments on this article:

  1. Maxichamp says:

    The Pontiac/Daewoo Le Mans.

  2. danleym says:

    <img src="http://www.carid.com/images/accessories/cat/1978-1983-dodge-challenger-accessories.jpg&quot; width=500>

    For two reasons. I've never liked the rebadging of captive imports, I'd rather they just called them what they are. Second, it's a horrible use of the Challenger name.

    • Maymar says:

      They still put more work into rebranding the Sprinter than they did rustproofing it.

      • MattC says:

        My father in law ahas had tweo Sprinters. All in all, they are pretty reliable and fuel efficient. But I completely agree on rustproofing, he has had to get several panels blasted and repainted to remove rust. This seems unheard of in the 21st century.

    • BlackIce_GTS says:

      I think it'd be funny if somebody ran over a werewolf with one of those trucks.

      Sometimes I like jokes that nobody else gets.

      • Tiller188 says:


        So, is the ability to run over and kill a werewolf what you're paying for over and above the cost of the Dodge version? (…I actually have no idea which is more expensive, I'm just assuming…)

  3. Maymar says:

    The Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler Neon – no differentiation in the base trims except a couple badges. Granted, the Caravan/Voyager weren't much better.

  4. Mike says:

    Does the Robert realize that the SAAB 9000was a rebrand Lanca? Saab like the crash test result and from there end up building the 9000 apart? Did you ever watch the top gear episode for the farewell of saab? SAAB was the MASTER at avoiding the rebadging silliness going on at GM since the early 70's. I had a NG900, the only GM part I ever found on the car was the latch on the rear hatch…. They used their B203 motors, mistu and garret turbo depending on model, hell ever try and find some parts bin GM wheels for a saab!!! they used their own bolt pattern!

    • Perc says:

      This is part of the reason why Saab is bankrupt. Not enough parts-bin engineering. Developing everything from wiper linkages to side indicators yourself is expensive when you sell so few cars.

      Then again, most people blame GM for forcing too many common parts onto Saab, and that that's the reason they tanked.

    • Slow_Joe_Crow says:

      No, actually Saab had one of the worst badge engineering fails of the last decade when GM decided to slap a Saab badge on a the GMT360 SUV platform to create the 9-7X. Why Saab needed an SUV escapes me and why they didn't use a unit body crossover platform instead of a a second rate BOF platform that set a record for number of nameplates applied to a single vehicle is even more puzzling. (for the record Chevy, Old, Buick, GMC, and Isuzu in addition to Saab).
      That said, the Subaru Impreza based 9-2X was actually an improvement on the contemporary "bug eye" Imprezas.

  5. Joe Dunlap says:

    Four letters. N. O. V. A.

  6. Zzoott Zzootticus says:

    Escort/Lynx "world cars"

  7. lost_and_found says:

    I know they're great cars, but the Subaru BRZ and Scion FRS. All the body panels are exactly the same. I wish they would have tried to differentiate the styling on them a bit.

    • KaZo86 says:

      In the Toyobaru's defense, both marques did do a bit of their own suspension tuning, which I think counts for something. The Toyota variant is better aimed at the drift crowd (stiffer springs, softer damping); the Subaru, at racers (softer springs, firmer damping).

  8. Perc says:

    The Saab 9000, Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema and Alfa 164 weren't actually rebrands, they were four cars developed from scratch on the same platform by two car companies that couldn't quite afford to do it on their own. Not really the same thing.

    Development wasn't quite without its problems, such as deciding which gauge of sheet metal to use for certain parts. Saab engineers were horrified at the outcome, while the italian engineers thought it was fine. Saab wanted the tooling to be made for slightly thicker steel , which the italians didn't agree to. Etc, etc. I found a PDF with a really interesting read if you're a car nerd, too bad it's in Swedish. :)

  9. JayP2112 says:

    Ford Capri to Mercury Capri to Mercury Crappy

    <img src="http://hallmarkford.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/ford-capri-1.jpg&quot; width="450">
    <img src="http://www.allfordmustangs.com/forums/attachments/5-0l-talk/50980d1220452092-black-magic-model-mercury-capri-82_capri_black_magic.jpg&quot; width="450">
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/21/Mercury-Capri.jpg&quot; width="450">

    The rebadge for the Fox Capri wasn't that bad really. It was that last one that killed the name.

    • OA5599 says:

      "I mean seriously, the Cadillac Cimarron Toast Crunch and Chevy Cavalier 4-door of the same years are nearly identical."

      I saw a Cimarron registered with classic car plates the other day. Who could have predicted?

    • JayP2112 says:

      The Saabaru was a pretty cool rebadge in that it had just a little more than badges.
      More like a civilized WRX.

    • P161911 says:

      A 9-7X Aero is about the only Saab I really want.

    • rennsport964 says:

      My point is, they didn't even try. Oh sure, some of the interior bits had changed, but from the exterior, you're not fooling anyone. Remove the front bumper cover and what are they? A Cavalier twenty-five years in the future.

    • HoondavanDude says:

      If you're a Subaru fan, the Saabaru was full of WIN: It's a great instance of lipstick on a (rally) pig. They generally sold for quite a bit less than an Impreza when new (way under list). Better yet, some of the Aeros also had a LSD and an STI steering rack. When used, they are easily 20%-30% less expensive than a comparable Subaru (wrx or 2.5i)…I bought a used one and loved it. I even swapped in a 6-disk CD/MP3 player from an STI…direct fit.

      However; if you're a Saab fan, this was a terrible idea. The interior still reeks of economy car. All they did was change the fabrics, color, and add a little more sound deadening material. The seats were still too small (for my taste), armrests were hard and stubby (center armrest wasn't even standard), etc, etc. The ride on the 2.5i was a bit too bouncy to be considred a Saab.

    • LEROOOY says:

      A Japanese car affixed to an ostensibly European brand but under the umbrella of an American company. That gets you instant cred on every car forum on the Internet, right? I want it!

    • salguod says:


      The oddest thing about these for me was how both manage to be decidedly better looking than the cars / trucks they were based on.

  10. Alcology says:

    So Jaye Davidson in crying game is a bad rebrand, is a bad project car jaye davidson in stargate? Looks normal, seems kinda fun, really a parasitic alien who wants to take your life away?

  11. Raphael Orlove says:

    I will admit to having deep, deep feelings of love for that Mercury at the top. I think it was the hooker's blood interior that got me. Also, NorCal is really pretty.

  12. Tanshanomi says:

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cb/Buick_Terraza_–_09-26-2009.jpg/320px-Buick_Terraza_–_09-26-2009.jpg"&gt;
    The Buick Terraza. If there was ever a vehicle that should have died with its division, it was the Olds Silhouette.

    And while we're on the subject of deathbed rebrands:

    <img src="http://www.craigvetter.com/images/Motorcycle%20Designs/Hurricane/Don%20Brown%20story%20images/1972-CV-on-BSA-Houston-400-.jpg"&gt;
    The Triumph X-75 Hurricane. A BSA at its conception, a BSA as a prototype, a BSA in pre-production, it was christened a Triumph only as production was commencing, because NVT decided to kill the BSA brand. The engines had already been built, and the background behind the serial numbers are all stamped with the BSA logo.

  13. Van_Sarockin says:

    First of, Rob, I don't understand why you're trying to coin a new terms for what is properly and well understood for a very long time as Badge Engineering. Badge engineering is despicable, and GM's X-type family is perhaps the most egregious of them all, as the different models are differentiated hardly at all, and share nearly all of their components.

    The SAAB 9000/Fiat164/Lancia Chroma example you make a large point about, really isn't badge engineering at all. Three companies joined together to develop an entirely new platform, splitting the development costs that no single company could have absorbed on its own. The result was 2.5 highly differentiated car lines, with substantial variations in body, engine, driveline, interiors and components. There aren't too many 9000 parts that you can bolt onto the 164 to make running repairs.

    And the real badge engineering at SAAB happened after GM got full control, with the 9-2 and 9-4. The nicest Imprezzas and Trailblazers you could ever hope to find (especially the interiors), but with exactly the same underpinnings and sheetmetal.

    The US, Britain, Europe and Asia are replete with magnificent turpitude and badge engineering. I'm surprised you, with your encyclopedic knowledge, didn't make use of the many far better examples of this crime. And I'm also dumbfounded that you couldn't call a spade a spade. We have enough complicated jargon, and your new term does not advance the state of the art or provide greater precision, it simply confuses things further. Disappointing, really.

  14. OA5599 says:

    When is a Plymouth Truck (PT) not a Plymouth Truck? When Chrysler kills the Plymouth brand before bringing it to market.

    <img src="http://jesda.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/wpid-800X600-Chrysler-PT-Cruiser-01-2011-03-9-15-10.jpg&quot; width=500>

  15. Devin says:

    As I understand it, once upon a time GM wanted to sell a luxury SUV, but Cadillac didn't want it, so they made the Yukon Denali.

    <img src="http://images04.olx.com/ui/1/20/22/f_531822_1.jpg"&gt;

    Then, Cadillac noticed that people were buying Lincoln Navigators, and decided they did want it, so the Escalade came along, and was exactly the same.

    <img src="http://images.automotive.com/review_images/99escalade.jpg"&gt;

    • OA5599 says:

      At that point, Cadillac had never entered the truck market (excluding aftermarket flower car conversions for the funeral industry), so they wanted to tiptoe into the market to be sure their customer base wasn't upset. They did something similar in 1940, when they let Oldsmobile have the automatic transmission first–if it turned out to be failure-prone, it would not have tarnished the flagship, and when it didn't, Cadillac embraced the technology the following year.

      Similarly, but less effectively, they marketed their downsize FWD offering as "Cimarron by Cadillac" instead of "Cadillac Cimarron".

      • Devin says:

        I always got the impression that they didn't want to enter that market at all until the Navigator forced their hand, and the first Escalade was such a slapdash quickie rebadge that it lends some credence to that.

        • OA5599 says:

          Had the Denali sold like the Blackwood, the Escalade wouldn't have been put on the market, though. But it sold well, heaping extra profit on top of an already profitable platform, and the rest is history.

          • Devin says:

            Did they really have time to judge the Denali sales? The first-gen Escalade didn't take too long to show up after the Denali arrived on the market, and it was definitely a stop-gap product since it was coming right before the GMT800 was introduced.

            • OA5599 says:

              Escalade started a model year after Denali. I don't think there were many differences that would have taken very long to tool up for–a grill, some badges, interior trim, and things like that. Certainly Cadillac could see by then that the GMCs were flying off the showroom floors.

              Don't forget also that Section 179 was very generous during that time period, and the dotcom bubble was putting lots of startup cash in people's accounts, making a perfect receipe for the "Hummer loophole"
              . http://www.section179.org/awesome_vehicles_that_q

              • Devin says:

                It might have been a model year after, but it was way sooner in actual time. I think the Denali was there for maybe six months before the Escalade showed up, possibly less, they definitely both started production within a year. I think there were even statements that Cadillac was offered the Denali but didn't want a truck until they noticed they very much did, but I'm going on half-remembered magazine reports from the time.

      • mdharrell says:

        True, they called it a commercial car, but arguably Cadillac participated in the early truck market:

        <img src="http://www.earlyamericanautomobiles.com/images/advert855.jpg&quot; width="450">

  16. mdharrell says:

    When it comes to badge engineering, many would acclaim this as the ultimate Triumph:

    <img src="http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4063/4343643390_bb5b7228aa.jpg&quot; width="450">

  17. DemonXanth says:

    The Toyota IQ/Aston Martin Cygnet:
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b6/Aston_Martin_Cygnet_(82).JPG/280px-Aston_Martin_Cygnet_(82).JPG">

    This thing says "Aston Martin" like Helen Keller says "You know, I really like the color purple."

    • Devin says:

      The best part is that in Canada, the Mercury brand was disbanded, but they still sold the Grand Marquis, because the Crown Victoria was a fleet only model. So they sold it and marketed it as the Ford Grand Marquis. Which would be fine, but they didn't change a single badge, so it was still Mercury branded on the actual car.

      • TurboBrick says:

        Not the first time that's happened… GM used to sell Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles etc. in Europe until sometime around '99 they decided that all export models are "Chevrolets". So, the end result was a Chevrolet Alero with an out-of-place looking bowtie on the hood and an Oldsmobile logo on the steering wheel.

  18. facelvega says:

    Congratulations, Packard: you get the only ugly version of the Studebaker Starlight/Starliner/President coupe/Hawk family!

    <img src="http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/3/2823/223/32055111213_large.jpg"&gt;

  19. Tomsk says:

    Chevrolet Alero, because apparently GM couldn't be arsed to sell Oldsmobiles as Oldsmobiles in Europe.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/44/Chevrolet_Alero_front_20080121.jpg&quot; width="500" />

  20. Rust-MyEnemy says:

    <img src="http://www.parts-specs.com/photos/0222039-Chevrolet-Matiz-0.8-Spirit-2005.jpg&quot; width=500>

    The above should never, ever have been allowed to become a Chevrolet.

    The bowtie now means absolutely nothing to an entire generation of Europeans.

  21. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat says:

    Along the same lines…

    The Camry platform is/was used for:

    and I'm pretty certain the Solara

    They've gone native with GM-ey-ness.

    • Number_Six says:

      In Japan the Lexus RX is sold as the Toyota Harrier.

      • Tiller188 says:

        That's awesome!

        *pictures RX300 with BTTF Delorean style VTOL rig*

        …but realistically it's probably just doing like many of its Lexus cousins here — harrying other motorists who are paying better attention to what's going on.

  22. alanbdahl says:

    <img src="http://peacetek.net/saab-rarities/saab-lancia/saab-lancia-600-1.jpg"&gt;

    The Saab/Lancia 600 is right up there, that's for sure. Now if Saab had marketed a version of the Delta Integrale that might have been cool but a plain-Jane Delta? Yuk!

  23. alanbdahl says:

    <img src="http://www.american-automobiles.com/Fins/1952-Allstate-3.jpg"&gt;

    Another lame rebrand was the Sears "Allstate" car which was just a Kaiser Henry J sold through Sears-Roebuck stores.

  24. longrooffan says:

    <img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8327/8122822131_2b03898156.jpg&quot; width="500" height="248" alt="55_DesotoBlue">

    55 Desoto or a

    <img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8046/8122822657_d08b5c1a4d.jpg&quot; width="500" height="322" alt="55ChryslerC300">

    55 Chrysler?

  25. JayP2112 says:

    Never to see the light of day…
    When the MGB was winding down, some within BL tried to justify keeping MG around and in what can only be called a fit of panic, mocked up a TR7. Never flew.
    <img src="http://www.aronline.co.uk/images/tr7_04.jpg&quot; width="600">

    Aston Martin tried to do something with MG before Abingdon was shuttered.
    Modified the bumpers, used the GT's windscreen, moved the fuel filler.
    <img src="http://www.nutleysports.co.uk/AstonMGB-Silver1.jpg.jpg&quot; width="450">
    <img src="http://www.nutleysports.co.uk/AstonMGB-silver4.jpg.jpg&quot; width="450">

    More: http://www.nutleysports.co.uk/AstonMGB-Silver.htm http://www.mgexperience.net/article/aston-martin-

    • mdharrell says:

      The Shape of Things to Come is indeed an example of badge engineering, but from MG to Triumph, not the other way around. The clay mockup was initially called the MG Magna and only later ended up going into production as the Triumph TR7.

      • JayP2112 says:

        I'd read The BL guys were all old Triumph management and wanted to kill off MG. The BGT went away since it was competition for the 7.

        MG went as far as to make a SOHC engine to meet new smog specs but was killed by management.

        My brother had that book- and it's either in storage in Maryland or in Germany. So I'll have to dig deeper to figure this out.

    • Van_Sarockin says:

      Similar story for the Porsche 924 starting out as a VW project, but they backed out and Porsche decided to recoup their development costs.

  26. Zzoott Zzootticus says:

    There are just so, so, so many, but as we're naming the worst of the worst: Ford Pinto = Mercury Bobcat = Mustang II
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a3/1977_Ford_Pinto_Cruising_Wagon.jpg&quot; width="600">
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/1976_Mercury_Bobcat_Villager_hb.jpg&quot; width="600">
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Ford_Mustang_II_%28Centropolis_Laval_%2710%29.jpg&quot; width="600">

  27. Zzoott Zzootticus says:

    And, to be evenhanded, the Pontiac T1000=Opel Kadett=Isuzu Gemini=Vauxhall Chevette=Daewoo Maepsy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Chevette

  28. timmy201 says:

    One of the best examples is the HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) in Australia. They were importing Opel Astras under the Holden brand and selling fine, so the high performance arm decided to bring the Astra OPC in and rebadge it as the HSV VXR. Unfortunately they couldnt afford on such a small scale to put the airbag assembly for safety testing again, so the exterior was badged as an HSV, the steering wheel had an Opel badge!

  29. NothingHappens says:

    I'm not surprised that no one recalls the Mitsubishi Precis!

    <img src="http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/CC-82-056-800.jpg"&gt;

  30. salguod says:

    GM did the Saabs mentioned above just before killing it (death blow?). they did the same for Pontiac, giving them the G5 (Cavalier) and G3 (Aveo).

  31. Bsphillips says:

    There are a lot of BAD badge engineering… But there are some good ones too… The 04-06 GTO and later G8, before the idiots at GM decided to kill off Pontiac in lieu of Badge engineering old Opals and Vauxhalls into "new" Buicks and Chevys…

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