The Art Of The Badge

One car that thoroughly impressed me at this year’s Detroit auto show was the Toyota FT-1 Concept. It reminded me how long it’s been since I got excited about a Toyota.

A couple of weeks after the show, I helped a friend convert a Scion FR-S to a Toyota GT86. What that means is that we swapped the Scion badges for Toyota badges. While doing this logo juggle, I glanced at the vehicle registration. According to the Michigan Secretary of State, the FR-S is registered as a Toyota. The same is true for the just-discontinued Scion iQ still lingering on some dealers’ lots. This got me thinking about badges and the art of how cars are labeled and marketed in various countries.

Three of the cars I owned early in my driving life featured mildly manipulated badges. My 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI was a Golf GTI in Europe. It continues the latter nameplate overseas, despite it now being labeled simply a Volkswagen GTI (no “Golf”) in the USA. My 1983 Audi 4000 was an Audi 80 in other markets. I loved my 1986 Audi 5000 Turbo Quattro; my European friends had the same basic car badged an Audi 200.

Remember the Merkur XR4Ti sold in Lincoln-Mercury dealerships? Few Americans do, but its near twin in Europe, the Ford Sierra XR4i, sold far better. Ford built 500 special-edition Sierras -- the 222-hp, 154-hp Cosworth RS500 -- for the UK in 1987. Those cars are highly coveted to this day. You can’t say the same about the Merkur brand, which quietly fizzled away in 1989.

Acura is another example of a brand created primarily for the North American market. I recently spent time in a nearly flawless 1991 Acura NSX, which made me think about friends in England (and other parts of the world) and their Honda NSXs. I like the idea of having a halo car badged as the primary brand (in this case, Honda) instead of allocating all the special cars for the premium marque. The brilliant Acura Integra Type R also made a lot more sense to me sitting in a Honda showroom—as it did in nearly every other country—versus an Acura store.

Nissan faced a similar situation with the GT-R. The price point of the twin-turbo, all-wheel drive beast led to a discussion about selling the car through the Infiniti dealer network in the USA. Luckily, that didn’t happen. The GT-R needs to be a Nissan, if only to avoid the additional bling and chrome of the Infiniti brand.

Speaking of bling and chrome, did you know that the Infiniti QX80 (the former QX56) is available as a Nissan Patrol in places like Australia? I can’t see the QX80 being offered in the United States with 18-inch non-chrome wheels, cloth seats, a manually adjustable passenger seat, and a six-speaker audio system. Before you start going on about the Nissan Armada, that vehicle is not related to the Patrol. It’s based on the Titan pickup (Nissan’s F-Alpha platform) and lost its connection with Infiniti when the latest QX56/QX80 launched for the 2011 model year.

All this badge craziness brings me back to Scion and Toyota. Don’t you think the rather boring Toyota brand would benefit from youth serum via cars like the Scion FR-S? The Scion xD is called the Toyota ist in Japan. The xB is a Toyota Corolla Rumion. Toyota should drop the Scion brand and sell all the youthful and sporty models that work for American buyers in Toyota stores.

I miss the Celica, the MR2, and the Supra. Maybe that’s why the FT-1 Concept makes me yearn for exciting Toyota models once again.

EMA
I think badging matters.  In the USA KIA and Hyundai have the Cadenza, K900, Genesis, and Equis.  I think they would be better off creating a luxury brand badge (maybe called Genesis) to see these higher priced models.  Kia and Hyundai are not really able to steal customers away from Lexus, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW even though the these vehicles offer more for less.  The luxury buyer does not want a high end Kia or Hyundai that can be associated with the company's sun 20k offerings.

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