Was The Detroit Auto Show The Beginning Of The End Of Overpaying For Badges?


Yep, we're fine with Ford and Honda supercars. Build more, please.

About 12 years ago now, I used to work for a certain German luxury automaker. In those days, we used to think highly of our brand for resisting the urge to overcharge customers for the privilege of the "prestige" associated with the name, something we obviously believed rival brands to be doing all of the time. Whether I would still believe this if I worked there today is open to speculation.

Cars are obviously expensive things to build, some more so than others, but to think that no carmaker is inflating prices based on the weight their logo carries would be naive. But one has to wonder how long this kind of thinking will be able to hold out if thoroughly mainstream and decidedly un-exotic brands continue to produce cars that challenge much more expensive brands. With new generations of the GT and NSX debuting in Detroit, Ford and Honda/Acura moved from the realm of carmakers that once made a fluke halo model into the realm of actual supercar makers that learn and evolve ideas.

These are very mainstream brands of cars to be doing something like this, and here the timing is significant as well. The two nameplates have practically no production overlap, save for a brief period in 2005, by which point the NSX was very much on the way out. Now the choice will no longer be the Ferrari or the Ford, it will be the Ferrari or the Ford or the NSX, and that is a very different kind of thing. The more brands that can offer up similar performance (not to mention looks that are just as exotic) for a lower price, the more obvious it will be that Ferrari is overcharging.

Chevrolet and Dodge have had similar ideas for a while with the Corvette and Viper, but these have always involved compromises, mostly in the form of any sophistication at all. This is less true today, but a better example of this would probably be the Camaro Z/28, and the fact that it is now being seriously compared to the Porsche 911 GT3. Porsche has long been the master of charging more for putting less on your car, and people have lined up to buy them simply because it was a Porsche. But how many of those people will keep doing it after being passed on a track day by a Camaro?

Now, I am not suggesting for a moment that any of this is going to change tomorrow, and it is entirely possible it won't change at all. Not to mention the fact that there will always be plenty of people willing to pay more as a means of proving that they are capable of spending a lot of money. But the kind of growth that premium brands are experiencing might become difficult in less brand-conscious markets like China with competition from more mainstream brands. Detroit also saw a new Shelby GT350R, an M3 killer if ever there was one. So it's just possible that Detroit was the tipping point.

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