QotW: What’s the worst example of badge engineering?

nissan ute xf

Badge engineering. It’s one of the dirty little schemes of the auto industry that continuously surprises us, not by the Mitsubishi parts when you thought you were buying a Dodge, but because it continues to fool the average consumer.

What’s the worst example of badge engineering?

One of 2014’s greatest tragedies will surely be the fact that the Toyota Cavalier is less than 25 years old and thus ineligible. We also considered the Dodge Challenger-badged Mitsu and Chevy Nova-badged Corolla, but we think the 1988-91 Nissan Ute takes the cake here. It was actually a XF Ford Falcon, a real 1970s old school sedan. Up front sat a 4.0L, 110hp straight six with a 4,500 rpm redline while a live axle and leaf springs supported the rear bed. It was a total sales flop, since no self respecting redneck is gonna drive a Japanese truck. Smart people realised that the three year Nissan warranty was better than the one year Ford warranty. Wiser bogans were buying Nissan Utes, then going to Ford to buy a $25 blue oval badge to stick on the grille. Imagine if, in the 1980s, Nissan USA slapped Nissan badges on a Ford F-150 and tried to sell it to rednecks.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a toy. Click through to see the winner of the last QotW, “What’s the greatest JNC rivalry?

freeway speedway

Choosing this week’s winner was a rivalry of its own. Gary came in a close second with his nomination of Mazda vs every Australian V8s in CAMS, but like his mighty rotary in the end this week’s winner was pstar, with his meandering but entertaining thoughts.

This is a rich subject and a great question. I’d enjoy it if there really was a vibrant Nissan-Toyota rivalry, with 2 fiercely loyal camps. Instead, there is just boring mutual admiration and respect. The material is definitely there, but where is the boasting, bench racing, and illogical superiority/inferiority complexes? That stuff is FUN. Toyota-Nissan rivalry should be like Ford vs GM. but its not…yet.

Mitsu vs Subaru was great for a time, and had massive potential, but then they both just gave up. Quitters who just walk away don’t deserve greatness. Also it is very un-Japanese of them; apparently neither company had anybody to do that whole GANBARIMASU!!! thing. But then again, there was at least a real rivalry there, you liked one or the other.

I’ll go with the Supra vs 280ZX/300ZX. Model loyalty was pretty high with owners, and both were the halo sports cars of their companies, and this competition happened during the bubble economy and beyond when Japan was in juggernaut mode. Which was “best” kept changing with the release of every new model from either company. Plus all models involved are just awesome and will be very collectible one day.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

JNC Decal smash

Image: Screenshot from Freeway Speedway

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50 Responses to QotW: What’s the worst example of badge engineering?

  1. cesariojpn says:

    The 1984…….Datsun Nissan Maxima. Okay, so which one is it? A Datsun or a Nissan? I guess around at this time someone higher up didn’t want to confuse people, so this was a compromise. And this little badge mixing endeared a really crappy joke from Xzibit of Pimp My Ride about an “identity crisis” for one pimped Maxima Station Wagon.

  2. Jim-Bob says:

    The Ford Festiva. It’s a Mazda 2 that was built by Kia in South Korea (and sold there as the Kia Pride) that was then sold in the US. After it’s short stint in the US market, it went on to stay in production in Iran until a year or two ago where it was sold as the Saipa Pride. Now, it wasn’t actually a bad car in that it was fairly well built and made good use of space. However, it’s odd international nature makes it my pick for the worst.

    My runner up would be the Suzuki Swift. The 1989 and later ones were styled in Detroit with drivetrains made in Japan and assembly in Ontario, Canada. It was sold in the US as both a Swift and the Geo Metro, in Canada as the Pontiac Firefly, in Australia as the Holden Barina, in Europe as the Subaru Justy, in Japan as a Suzuki Swift or Cultus, in India as the Maruti 1,000 (IIRC), and is still sold today in Pakistan as the Pak Suzuki Cultus.

    Now the most badge engineered car of all time would probably be the GM T Car chassis (Chevette and it’s MANY clones), but as it is not a Japanese design (but it was sold by Isuzu) I decided against it. If memory serves it was a : Chevrolet, Vauxhall, Opel, Holden, Daewoo, Isuzu (I Mark and Piazza/Impulse), and Pontiac.

    • ubs_lover says:

      The first generation Isuzu Piazza/Impulse is original design by Isuzu.
      Their later Piazza Nero is the re-badging from GM’s frame. And also their mid-80s car : Isuzu Gemini and Isuzu Aska.

      • Jim-Bob says:

        Well, the styling may have been by Isuzu (by way of Italy’s Guigaro), and so was the powertrain, but the basic chassis is a Chevette. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for the GM T body you will be truly shocked at just how many variants of it there were. I believe it was more than twenty different models that shared that basic architecture. There were even pickup and van variants of it in South America.

        • Bart says:

          The Piazza/Impulse is a different animal than the Gemini/Chevette. Eitehr way, the Isuzu GM lineage is a little confusing. I believe the GM T body was just that, but the Isuzu Gemini was a Japanese car badged as a Chevette in various forms in several countries, much like the Chevrolet Trooper in South America. The tentacle rape that went on between GM and Isuzu through the 80s makes for some confusing heritage. A lot of it just depends on what country you are talking about.

    • Bart says:

      I agree the Opel by Isuzu (which is just a gen 1 Gemini) would be the one that almost instantly pops to mind. But considering the time frame with Isuzu just breaking into the US market, it seems only natural it had to slip in as something else.

      Isuzu cars and light trucks were majorly badge engineered throughout. You had the Honda Passport which is nothing more than an Isuzu Rodeo for a few years. Then the Acura SLX which was just a late model Trooper outfitted with some excessive creature comforts. And who can forget the gen 1 Chevy LUV? This little pick-up screams Japanese when you look at it, but with the bow-tie fore and aft, you were left scratching your head. What kills me is that the old LUV trucks have a pretty decent following, but it still seems like people just think it’s an American pickup that got stuck with some crappy little Jap engine. When in fact, it’s Isuzu through and through.

      Now you have the Colorado masked as Isuzu, when in fact, it is a far cry from the D-Max other countries are getting.

      The Dodge Raider/Mitsu Montero also comes to mind. Again, such an obvious looking Japanese small SUV, and then you have the Dodge badge making it feel ok to own for the die-hard patriots…

      • Jim-Bob says:

        If we’re talking trucks then who can forget the Dodge D50/Mitsubishi twins or the Ford Courier/Mazda REPU (The Ford used a different engine)? Isuzu also gained something from giving the Rodeo to Honda in the form of the Honda Odyssey that they called the Isuzu Oasis. Speaking of Minivans, the Nissan Quest became the Mercury Mariner with little more than a badge and a radio to distinguish the two.

        GM even created an entire division made up of just badge engineered imports. They called it Geo and it allowed American car buyers to actually buy quality small vehicles from an American brand’s dealer network. The cars included: The Suzuki Swift (Metro), Suzuki Sidekick (Tracker), Toyota Corolla (Prism), Isuzu I-Mark (Spectrum) and Isuzu Impulse (Storm). Some of the cars were built with GM’s input (notably the Suzukis), but most were little more than a change of minor details.

        • Bart says:

          Ha! Yeah, forgot about the Oasis, I saw one just the other day too. The Geo Storm is an Isuzu Impulse underneath, but I think there was a slight redesign of the front clip. Looks more like a Saturn than an Impulse to me, lol.

  3. Kev says:

    Alfa Romeo ARNA/Nissan Cherry Europe would have to be up there. Early 80s Pulsar hatchback, with transplanted Alfasud motor. All the blandness of a Pulsar, with the reliability of a 70s Alfa Romeo LOL

  4. Steve says:

    I would posit that the Pontiac (Daewoo) LeMans is the worst. I still throw up in my mouth thinking about those unpolished turds.

  5. r100guy says:

    I guess the “Royal Flush” of badge engineering would be the the “Geo” line of cars sold by Chevrolet. Geo Storm (Isuzu Impluse) Geo Metro (Suzuki Swift), Geo Prizm (Toyota Corolla), Geo Tracker (Suzuki Sidekick) Geo Spectrum (Isuzu I-Mark). I guess GM figured if they couldn’t beat them, they would join them. Not a bad strategy. ha!

  6. E-AT_me says:

    Honda “Crosstour”. It’s a re-badged Land Rover Discovery..

  7. Daruma3gakoronda says:

    Sterling 800. Acura Legend rebadged. It was perhaps the most reliable Rover made though.

  8. Kevin says:

    My vote is going to have to go to the Chevy Luv, though in all honesty, it just might be one of the BEST examples of badge engineering.

    I’ve met many-a redneck who drive them with pride, thinking to themselves, “well isn’t that little pickup the darn cutest thing I ever did see?”
    So is it the best or worst? Does redneck love make you a success, or a failure? That’s a highly debatable question.


    I mean it doesn’t really look Japanese at all. It looks to me like it SHOULD be a Chevrolet truck, a mini Cheyenne if you will, like it belongs in the family. And that is saying quite a lot, as this is coming from someone raised through and through on the Golden Bowtie.

    • Bart says:

      I dunno, I disagree. The Chevy LUV is very Japanese looking, imo. For starters, it’s small. And that pointy nose with round headlights? To me, it looks very Japanese, just like the Dodge Raider looks nothing like any sort of American SUV.

    • The Black CRX says:

      Don’t forget that the LUV was based on a car: the Isuzu Florian.

  9. J.A.C.K says:

    the worst example, in my opinion, was the isuzu trooper rebadged as an acura slx (honda horizon). in an effort for for honda/acura to jump on the SUV bandwagon, they made a deal with isuzu for their roll-over prone truck, tarted up a bit for the near-luxury market of the mid-90s buyers. :thumbs down:

    • Bart says:

      Rollover prone…that’s been debunked a few times. Bad marketing is more like it. Troopers are as rollover prone as any tall SUV…

    • The Black CRX says:

      The 2nd-gen Trooper (the one not called Trooper II in the US) might be the most rebadged vehicle in history: Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn, Honda Horizon, Subaru Bighorn, Chevrolet Trooper, Acura SLX, Holden Jackaroo/Monterey, Opel Monterey and Vauxhall Monterey.

  10. Ryan Senensky says:

    Probably the worst example of badge engineering would be the Aston Martin Cygnet which is a rebadged Toyota iQ with an extra $60,000 attached to the price for the Aston Martin grille

  11. Censport says:

    As a native of Tennessee (the buckle of the redneck belt), I think I should point out that Nissan has built their pickups here since 1983. Now they have the F-150-sized Titan, and what is Tennessee’s football team called? And yeah, rednecks (and redneck women, who are a lot of fun) do drive them.

  12. Mr.Northcove says:

    Didn’t Toyota sell the Holden Commodore as the Toyota Lexcen?

  13. Ben says:

    As well as the Ford Falcon XF / Nissan Ute badge engineering, here are some more interesting options we have had here in Australia: Holden Commodore / Toyota Lexcen; Holden Apollo / Toyota Camry; Holden Nova / Toyota Corolla; Holden Astra / Nissan Pulsar; Holden Barina / Suzuki Swift; Holden Jackaroo / Isuzu Trooper; Holden Scurry / Suzuki Carry; Ford Corsair / Nissan Pintara; Ford Laser / Mazda 323; Ford Festiva / Mazda 121 – And I guess there are more…

  14. Mike H says:

    In 1988, GM Canada came up with the name, Passport, to sell Isuzu, Suzuki and Saab vehicles to Canadians who were in the market for small import cars. Another import sold by Passport Optima which was a Opel Kadett (E) built under licence by Daewoo (called the Lemans in Korea). By 1991, GM dissolved the Passport brand but continued to sell the Kadett/Optima as a Pontiac LeMans. But then in 1993, GM Canada came up with another brand name called, Asuna. So in Canada, there was a 1993/1994 Opel Kadett built by Daewoo, named the Passport Optima; sold for 1 year as a Pontiac; then marketed for 2 years as simply, the Asuna SE & GT.

    • Mike H says:


      In 1988, GM Canada came up with the brand Passport, to sell Isuzu, Suzuki and Saab vehicles to Canadians who were in the market for small import cars. Another car sold by Passport was the Optima, which was an Opel Kadett (E) built under licence by Daewoo (called the Lemans in Korea). By 1991, GM dissolved the Passport brand but continued to sell the Kadett/Optima as a Pontiac LeMans. But then in 1993, GM Canada came up with a new import branding name called, Asuna (which was dissolved by 1995).

      So in Canada, there was a 1993/1994 Opel Kadett built by Daewoo, named the Passport Optima; sold for 1 year as a Pontiac; then marketed for 2 years as simply, the Asuna SE & GT.

  15. Stj says:

    Worst and most complicated rebadge ever! The Nissan Fuga badge engineered into the Infiniti M that has now become the Q70 which is also known in Japan as the Mitsubishi Dignity. But it doesn’t end there, you also have the Nissan Cima and Mitsubishi Proudia, both are nothing more than a Fuga or what ever you want to call it with a 20cm longer wheel base!

  16. Randy says:

    Not Japanese, BUT:

    Dodge of Mexico sells the Hyundai i10 and Attitude. Fine, but, THEY DON’T EVEN REMOVE THE “H” BADGES!


    (BTW, I actually like the Nissan Ute up there. Fissan? Nord?)

    Speaking of trucks: Nissan Titan => Suzuki Equator.

    • Ryan Senensky says:

      Yeah but Suzuki is cooler and everyone knows that 😛

    • Randy says:

      I wasn’t crazy about the Equator. It wasn’t different enough.

      Now, I read a number of reviews about the Swift, and how they SHOULD HAVE brought it here.

      The Splash, if it meets/can meet U.S. crash standards, gets around 46mpg. Not my style stylistically, but for that mileage, I’d make the exception.

      Maybe if they’d brought those over here, they’d still be here themselves.

      They’re producing the Hustler. I like it, and with AWD, I’d sacrifice some mpgs, though according to the web page (http://www.suzuki.co.jp/car/hustler/), one version of it gets – get this – almost 69mpg! I’d be stupid giddy with 75% of that! I’d be happy enough with even half. (Mpg calculation by Science Made Simple.)

      Did you see the pix of the ’14 SX-4? WAY nicer than the previous ones (my opinion).

      Thinking about it, not every manufacturer needs to be in every segment.

  17. Tj says:

    The worst case of badge engineering that I can think of is actually one of my own creation.

    I own a 1975 Mitsubishi (that’s what I’m calling it) Galant Hardtop. They’re a pretty rare car here in Australia with somewhere around 1300 being imported and many being neglected in favour of more commercially successful cars from that era.

    In Australia the Galant was built from knock down kits in what eventually became the Mitsubishi plant in Adelaide, except they were all sold under the Chrysler name (the hardtops were imported but had Chrysler badges slapped on as they rolled off the boat)
    This is confusing as Mitsubishi existed in Australia for quite some time before this and it wasn’t until the early mid eighties that the Mitsubishi name came back.

    Here’s where my car just complicates things even more. I dropped an N/A Mitsubishi 4G63 twin cam in to my Mitsubishi (that’s badged a Chrysler). Except it’s not really a Mitsubishi motor but one that’s been sourced from a Hyundai Sonata (my dirty little secret) I’m not sure if these motors, christened G4CP were built by Hyundai under licence or if they’re crate motors from Hyundai but if you look close there may be an “H” motif on it somewhere.

    So to recap, my car is built my Mitsubishi in Japan then called a Chrysler when it arrived in Australia after which I shoved what’s technically a Mitsubishi motor in it which started it’s life between the strut towers of a Hyundai but may or may not have been built by MItsubishi in Japan.

    And to make matters worse, future modifications may include a Toyota W58 gearbox and brakes from a Holden Commodore which are a somewhat bolt-on mod.

    • Tj says:

      *Correction: “crate motors from Hyundai” should read “crate motors from Mitsubishi”

      See? even I’m getting confused and I built the thing!

  18. Craig says:

    Yue Loong Bluebirds. Chinese manufactured Nissan 510’s made under license for the local market. Except instead of having L16 engines and IRS they had an older J series 1200cc pushrod engines from the 411 bluebird and rear leaf springs.

    Yue Loong also made other Nissan vehicles under licence, starting with the 1960s 210 Bluebird and 30 series Cedric, 1970’s Sunny, Violet, 620. 1980s 720, Homer. Cedric 430 Y30, Bluebird 910 U11 U12, Stanza, Sunny B11 B12, Silvia S12 S13, March K10, Caravan E23, Vanette C22 and Cefiro. Right up until the 1990s Bluebird U13, Sunny B13, Silvia S14, Silvia S15, Livina and Serena.

    I can imagine a tourist int the 80s stumbling into a Yue Loong dealer on the way home from a hard night on the Baijiu thinking they must have ended up in a bizarre parallel universe.

  19. dickie says:

    Without a doubt: Scion. The entire brand started as an attempt to attract a younger audience to inexpensive sub-compacts that had very little in the way of market appeal. Toyota came to terms with its reputation for bland but reliable econoboxes and understood that they needed to do something different and drastic to penetrate the 16-30 car buying segment. There’s no doubt Toyota can make a great car – whether it’s a stripped-down no frills Corolla or a flagship luxury cruiser like the Cressida – but their bread and butter is the mid-segment daily commuter, and there’s nothing inherently sporty or sexy about that.

    In order to set their upmarket offerings apart from their ho-hum breadboxes, they introduced the Lexus brand in 1989. While not strictly an exercise in badge engineering, their LS400, ES250 and other eventual models had siblings across the pond that proudly wore Toyota badging and alternate nomenclature.

    The success of the Lexus brand in differentiating levels of Toyota’s vehicles in the consumer mind must have fostered the idea in the company’s marketing offices that the same model could be applied to the bottom of the line as well. Lagging sales of the Matrix, which had seen some pretty aggressive marketing to the young urban segment, probably played some part in this notion as well. Thus was born Scion, the red-headed stepchild that American buyers didn’t know they would be stuck with when they made Toyota their main squeeze.

    How do you find appeal in cheaply made subcompact boxes on wheels? Where Lexus touted it’s superior engineering, build quality and comfort, Scion models had none of these features to boast. The solution was to create a false sense of camaraderie among potential buyers in the targeted segment, a “lifestyle” that would draw urban youths to the brand and its wares. Scion was henceforth a “movement.” The bB and ist were slapped with Scion’s distinctive badge and given edgy x-ified names and foisted on the hapless kids looking to spend their savings on a down payment. With no real performance potential, dealer add-ons were limited to decal and interior doodad packages meant to evoke the angst, the repulsion to conformity and the desire to be “unique” at any cost that seemed to run deep in Toyota’s perception of their market.

    Looking back, the entire exercise could be considered a moderate success, especially when viewed as a study of how willing the segment in question was willing to toss their ideals to the side and be assimilated by a slick corporate marketing campaign. Is Scion still relevant today? Sales figures seem to be sagging despite the shot-in-the-arm that the FR-S provided, but most would agree that it would have been better with a Toyota logo on its snout. The long-in-the tooth xB has become a hideous mutated version of the interesting box design it started out as. The tC is all but irrelevant today, so much so that its ads are willing to sink to poetry and pleas to the ugly and unloved among us to adopt it despite its obvious flaws and deformities, seeking kindred spirits in pimply burger flippers and obese retail middle-managers.

    Time to pack up shop, turn off the lights and lock up for the last time. Give the keys back to Toyota so we can get the ZN6 refresh with the right badge on it.

    • Randy says:

      Wow… So, how do you REALLY feel? 🙂

      I thought the whole corporate-created “community” was kind of cheesy, too, especially creating a community of non-conformists and individualists…

      “You’re unique; just like like everybody else.”

    • cesariojpn says:

      You forgot that the bB/xB found new fans….with the elderly crowd. Along with the Element, a boxy car with ample cargo space found a new audience with the older set.

  20. gaijinshogun says:

    Mazda Roadpacer AP

    Take the BIG Holden Premier sedan from Oz without an engine
    Send it to Japan
    Install a torqueless rotary engine
    Sell it during the fuel crisis
    Charge a ton for it
    Sell less than 1000 cars

    Well, at least it has the distinction of the only production GM car that received a rotary engine…

    • Ben says:

      We considered this but since Mazda put its own engine in it it’s not a strict rebadge.

      • gaijinshogun says:

        I’ll stand by my choice. Most badge engineered cars are “retouched” by the new brand in some form or another. Mazda’s idea of putting a rotary here illustrates a case of Mazda’s vision creating a truly bizarre car out a competent sedan in its home market.

        Please remember that some badge engineered cars made perfect sense at the time and was successful for both Marques & for the customers who purchased the cars. A good example is the Dodge Challenger you note above, which in today’s lens seems bizarre & sacrilegious. Chrysler almost sold as many of these Mitsu imports as the original namesake at a time when Chrysler was facing bankruptcy & a decent ’70 Challenger R/T could be purchased for $800.

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