GM wasn’t the only guilty party.
Badge engineering never worked. Automakers like GM had to find that out the hard way. It figured it could rebadge a Chevrolet Cavalier as a Cadillac Cimarron and no one would notice. Well, that was years before its 2009 bankruptcy, and its near-death situation was due, in part, to laziness. That’s what badge engineering is. Laziness. Why bother coming up with a fresh design when you can just swap badges, add some plastic body cladding (Pontiac, that would be you), and voila! A brand new car.
But what’s done is done as far as GM is concerned. It’s all in the past. However, it wasn’t the only major automaker to partake in badge engineering, which reached its peak in the 1990s and continued through the first few years of this century. We dug into our archives and picked out some of the perhaps lesser known badge engineering fails, courtesy of several mainstream brands.
What drunk Aston Martin executive came up with this one? The Aston Martin Cygnet was nothing more than a rebadged Toyota iQ ultra-compact city car for nearly three times the price. The Cygnet arrived for 2011 as a way for Aston Martin to comply with Europe’s fleet average regulations. Naturally aspirated V8s and V12s had to be balanced out somehow. But the Cygnet? Really? There was no other way for Aston Martin to find a solution to those regulations? Apparently not.
The Cygnet was not exactly a strong seller. Big surprise there. It lasted for only two model years and became Aston Martin’s second shortest running production car in its history (the 2012 Virage lasted only a single model year). How bad were Cygnet sales? Only 150 examples were sold in the UK. The Cygnet’s only saving grace came earlier this year when Aston Martin stuffed a 4.7-liter V8 with 430 hp into an unsold Cygnet donor car. So much for fuel efficiency.
Wait, isn’t this a Land Rover Discovery Series I? Yes, but it’s also the Honda Crossroad. Honda rebadged and sold the Crossroad from 1993 until 1998 after buying the rights to the Discovery Series I. This came to an end a few years after BMW bought Land Rover. Honda sold the Crossroad in only a few markets, including Japan and New Zealand. The only difference? A Honda badge in place of the usual Land Rover emblem. That’s it.
Under the hood was a 3.9-liter V8 with 182 hp paired to a four-speed automatic. Consider the Crossroad one of Honda’s first attempts at the SUV market. Following its discontinuation, Honda developed and subsequently launched the CR-V as the so-called Crossroad successor.
Yes, this really happened. Saab, the once great Swedish automaker “inspired by jets” completely lacked any new product of its own not long after GM bought it in 2000. Why was GM interested in Saab in the first place? GM didn’t even really know for sure, other than it was trendy at the time for big American automakers to purchase smaller European premium brands, as Ford did with Volvo. Saab was in financial trouble, GM panicked over Ford’s Volvo purchase, and the rest is history.
GM simply didn’t know what to do with Saab other than applying its own doses of badge engineering. Even worse, GM didn’t always use its own vehicles as donor cars. Case in point: the Saab 9-2X Aero. Does it look familiar? It should because it’s a 2005 Subaru Impreza wagon. Perhaps it’s best to refer to it by its nickname: “Saabaru.”
Although Alfa Romeo’s North American market return is still fairly recent, the iconic Italian brand has never stopped selling cars in Europe. But like most non-German European automakers, Alfa Romeo has had its fair share of financial troubles over the decades, which led to some badge engineering to save costs. In the early 1980s, for example, Alfa Romeo and Nissan teamed up to create a 50:50 joint venture. The result was the Alfa Romeo Arna. What the heck is an ‘Arna’? That’s simple: Alfa Romeo Nissan Autoveicoli ('Motor Vehicles' in Italian).
Although the Arna had Alfa’s own engines, transmission, steering brakes, and suspension, the rest of the car was nothing more than a rebadged Nissan Pulsar. The idea seemed good back in 1983 when the Arna debuted, but the hatchback was plagued by crappy build quality and general reliability issues. Production ceased after only four years.
GM had no shame back in the mid-1990s. It simply refused to invest money to improve build quality or refine engineering. This was especially true for Cadillac, the luxury brand that, to this day, is still trying to find its footing against Audi, BMW, and Mercedes.
Back in 1996, the Cadillac Catera was unveiled. It was nothing more than a rebadged Opel Omega, which happened to be manufactured in Germany. Basically, Cadillac wanted to avoid its past Cimarron disaster at all costs and it figured a German-built Opel was a vast improvement over a dull Chevy Cavalier. Well, kind of.
While the Catera was V6-powered and RWD, it still wasn’t anywhere near capable of dethroning the BMW 3 Series. It’s not that the Catera was completely horrible like the Cimarron, but it’s simply another example of why badge engineering never worked.
Anyone remember Eagle? It was part of the package Chrysler acquired when it bought AMC back in 1987. While Eagle was geared towards enthusiast drivers, it was really anything but. Chrysler simply didn’t know what to do with it, so badge engineering was the only viable solution before Eagle was discontinued in 1999. One of its models under Chrysler was the Talon, a rebadged first generation Mitsubishi Eclipse. The only differences between it and the Eclipse were cosmetic, such as unique wheels, front and rear bumpers, and body colors.
The Talon managed to survive for a second generation model which, again, was a rebadged Eclipse. Same engines. Same transmissions. Same everything. Chrysler ultimately did the right thing by putting the Eagle and the Eagle Talon out of their misery.
Wait!? Didn’t I just see this? You did. Consider the Plymouth Laser a rebadge of a rebadge. Like Eagle, Chrysler’s historic Plymouth division was struggling in the 1990s. It had no unique brand identity and consisted entirely of rebadged Chryslers and a Mitsubishi. The Laser was actually the first so-called performance Plymouth since the days of the Barracuda, Duster, and Road Runner. But unlike the Talon, which looked nearly identical to the Eclipse, the Laser had a somewhat more unique racing-inspired look.
We can see how some buyers preferred the Laser’s styling to its corporate siblings, but at the end of the day, the Laser was still a rebadged front-wheel-drive coupe. Unlike the other two, it didn’t live long enough for a second generation successor.