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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