Badge Engineering

A look at trends in the motor industry of yesteryear…

Over the last six decades, our motor manufacturing industry has seen many changes. Perhaps the greatest of these changes is the demise of former well known British marques at the expense of Japanese manufacturers, with most of the major names from Japan now building cars in this country. However, this is a look back at some of the once proud names to adorn British-built cars and the subtleties engaged by manufacturers to offer what appeared on the surface to be completely different models.

During the 1950s Ford produced a three-box design which appeared under the guises of Popular, Prefect and Anglia. In effect, these models were exactly the same car and literally the only differences were to levels of trim and the possible option of having a slightly more powerful engine in the so-called luxury model which was the Ford Anglia. Similar treatments were applied to the Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac in the same period, although in the late 1960s, the models began to assume greater differences.

The former British Motor Corporation, subsequently British Leyland, Austin Rover and finally MG Rover, probably offered the greatest number of models under different guises. BMC had the advantage of owning several different brand names and unlike Ford, this meant that customers could utilise a certain element of snob value depending upon which brand they purchased. At the lower end of the market were the Austin and Morris brands, whilst the more up-market products were sold under the names of Wolseley, Riley and even MG. When the original Mini was launched in 1959, it was marketed as the Austin Seven and the Morris Mini Minor, but apart from a different grill and badging, the cars were identical. In the early 1960s, these two Minis were joined by a Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf, both being differentiated by a rather incongruous boot extension to the rear. All other engineering was identical to the base models.

The same badge engineering was applied to the BMC family range of cars in the early 1960s. This practice was brought about by the need to economise on models yet continue to offer a perceived choice to buyers. The company offered the Austin Cambridge, Morris Oxford, plus Wolseley and Riley derivatives, and also launched the MG Magnette which was a more sporty saloon. The body shell, platform and running gear were all identical. Furthermore,  the company introduced a mid range model, initially branded as the Austin 1100 and Morris 1100. These eventually had 1300cc engines fitted and were joined by a Wolseley variant, the Riley Kestrel and an MG. As the company’s fortunes began to fail as a result of continued industrial unrest in the late sixties and early seventies, new models were rationalised and the Wolseley and Riley marques discontinued. Furthermore, the Austin brand offered completely different models from the almost defunct Morris brand.

Another former manufacturer to adopt a similar practice was the Rootes Group. They manufactured under the brand names of Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam and Humber. Unlike BMC, they didn’t use all marques for every model, therefore duplication was not as plentiful. However, in the 1960s they produced the Hillman Imp and its posher sister, the Singer Chamois. Mechanically and bodily, the vehicles were identical. They also marketed the Hillman Minx and Singer Gazelle, both of which would be resurrected in the 1970s with the launch of a new model called the Hillman Hunter. The Minx name was re-introduced to signify a slightly lower specification than the Hunter, whilst the Gazelle was more upmarket. In this instance, they also encompassed the Humber marque producing a top of the range Hunter called the Sceptre. The Sunbeam name was reserved for a rakish coupe model based upon the Hunter platform.

The other major British manufacturer at this time was Vauxhall Motors, now a subsidiary of GM. They also adopted a system of badge engineering, most notably with the Vauxhall Velox, Wyvern and Cresta during the fifties and early sixties. However, these names were dropped as new models were introduced during the sixties and seventies, which reflected a positive change in the fortunes of that company.

So what about badge engineering in the early part of the 21st century? Quite simply, it is still very much in practice, but changes are far greater than simply some trim detail and badge names. Nowadays, different marques owned by the same company will produce their own design of vehicle but utilise the same platforms, gearbox, engines and sometimes, switchgear. A prime example of this is the Volkswagen group. The modern VW Polo, Seat Ibiza and Škoda Fabia are identical vehicles under the skin, but as they all appear completely different in design, many purchasers are swayed by the style or brand name. Likewise, the Audi A3, VW Golf, Seat Ibiza and Škoda Octavia all share a common platform. Whilst some of these may be well known, there are less obvious modern day pairings. For example, both Peugeot and Citroën share all common parts as they are actually one and the same company. The Renault Modus and Nissan Note are also on the same platform as Renault owns a 25% stake in Nissan. Another surprise may be the Ford Ka which is actually a Fiat 500 under the skin. Manufacturers need to collaborate nowadays as research, design and tooling costs are so high. For companies like VW, it makes economic sense to cross-fertilise their model range and for others with limited brands at their disposal, a link with another manufacturer can be a crtitical point as to their continued success or impending failure. The truth of the matter is that you may not be driving exactly what you might think…!

A future blog will take an in-depth look at three popular hatchbacks from the VW stable to illustrate both the similarities and differences in the models marketed under different brand names.

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Nightmares

Just another month in my life several years ago…

Way back yonder in August 2002, I was brave enough to challenge members of management on their hypocritical policy towards certain people regarding performance, attendance and overall commitment to the business. It was quite apparent that there was one rule for some and another rule for others, and despite giving the company loyal service for many years, I was treated with general disdain and very much taken for granted. Those who took lengthy absences due to alleged sickness, put in minimum effort at other times, and generally showed mediocre commitment, appeared to be the winners in the pay stakes, not to mention being the first to be considered whenever new positions were created. Having suffered for long enough, I was prepared to stand up to some of those dubious management decisions and asked for explanations. I wondered just what plausible excuses management would invent as the company had a clearly defined set of values to which everyone should have been working!

To add to my work frustration, I suffered nightmares when trying to switch suppliers of gas and electricity. Since legislation was changed to eradicate the monopoly situation for gas supplies and the regionalised electricity supply companies, we are constantly being bombarded with the option to change supplier. Whilst previously, I had not experienced many problems when changing, this occasion turned what should have been a simple operation into an administrative feast of incompetence.

I lost count of the number of telephone calls made to my chosen company, during which time I supplied all the relevant information both verbally and in writing. Despite assurances that everything was being processed, I subsequently ascertained that this was not the case. In fact, my then existing fuel supplier gave me a very obvious clue by sending out bills! Needless to say, this meant even more telephone calls plus further assurances that the situation was in hand, despite it becoming apparent that nothing had been done.

Finally, after almost tearing my hair out in frustration, I wrote to the Customer Service Manager outlining the fiasco. Whilst still awaiting a reply, I was forced to make another telephone call after receiving yet another request for information from them, all of which had previously been supplied!  I was eventually assured that my supply would transfer to the new company in the October, nearly three months after my initial request to switch.

Back to the present, and earlier this year I switched my supplier once again, and thankfully the procedure went almost without a hitch. Hopefully companies have finally become more efficient!

In my then continued search for new employment, I also had nightmares over the total inadequacy of Job Centre staff. I suspect nothing has changed to this day, as I often receive snippets of information from people currently in their firing line! Anyway, it would appear that their sole objective is to place people in work, irrespective of skills, experience, suitability and salary. They show no empathy towards people and treat them as third class citizens. The basic skill needed by employment agency staff is that of communication and most fail miserably in that area alone! In fact, I still wonder how they manage to get their jobs in the first place!

In their futile attempts to find me work, I was told to ‘tone down’ my CV so as not to be rejected for positions on the grounds of being over-qualified. I was absolutely horrified by this suggestion and left the clerk in no doubt as to how I felt. I hadn’t worked hard for years and gained all my qualifications and skills simply to discard half of them down the toilet. I had to restrain myself from smacking the clerk across the face for her impudence and lack of common courtesy.

Sadly, this behaviour is indicative of the state of this country today. So many people no longer extend basic human courtesies to each other, and believe solely in their own selfish existences for greed at any cost. Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I’d do anything to turn back the clock some twenty-five years or so when this country still had some standards of which, justifiably, we could be proud.

I share a short anecdote with you which had so much relevance to circumstances that occurred at work way back in August 2002. If I were not so cynical, I would suggest that it had been written especially for the occasion, but obviously I know better than that!

Once upon a time, in a nice little forest, there lived an orphaned bunny and an orphaned snake. By a surprising coincidence, both were blind from birth. One day, the bunny was hopping and the snake slithering through the forest, when the bunny tripped over the snake and fell down. This, of course, knocked the snake about quite a bit. “Oh, my” said the bunny “I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ve been blind since birth, so I can’t see where I’m going. In fact, since I’m also an orphan, I don’t even know what I am.”

“That’s OK” replied the snake. “Actually, my story is much the same as yours. I, too, have been blind since birth, and also never knew my mother. Tell you what, maybe I could slither all over you, and work out what you are, so at least you’ll have that going for you.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful” replied the bunny. So the snake slithered all over the bunny and said “Well, you’re covered with soft fur; you have really long ears; your nose twitches; and you have a soft cottony tail. I’d say that you must be a bunny rabbit.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” cried the bunny, in obvious excitement. The bunny then suggested to the snake “Maybe I could feel you all over with my paw, and help you in the same way that you’ve helped me.”

So the bunny felt the snake all over, and remarked “Well, you’re smooth and slippery, and you have a forked tongue, no backbone and no balls. I’d say you must be either a team leader or possibly someone in senior management”.

The reason for all this? A senior manager, having decided that someone should be dismissed on grounds of pecuniary, subsequently relented and allowed the person to remain in the business. Had it been anyone else, then the situation would almost certainly have been entirely different. Once again, a case of double standards which reflected badly upon the business and demotivated honest and hard-working staff!