“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Shakespeare was probably not thinking of the auto industry when he wrote those famous lines, but his point is worth remembering the next time you buy a car.
The truth is the global auto market is now full of identical or near-identical cars sold under different brand names and at different prices. The practice, known — with a touch of irony — as “badge engineering,” enables car companies to source models from competitors, thereby rounding out their product lines without investing in the massive tooling needed to make each model in-house. It is quite different from the better known phenomenon of “platform sharing,” which signifies merely that different car models share a basic skeleton. Rebadged cars are identical in all respects, except perhaps for some tiny cosmetic distinctions such as the placing of the headlamps or the shape of the trunk. They not only come from the same factories but are in many cases made by the same workers on the same production lines. Yet their prices can vary significantly depending on which maker’s badge is on the grill.
Just how significantly is revealed in the new issue of Which?, a London-based consumer magazine. Take, for instance, the tiny European city runabout known as the Aston Martin Cygnet. In its most basic version it sells at more than $45,000. The car is actually made by Toyota and a Toyota version (identical except for some interior accoutrements) can be had for less than $17,000. On an apples-to-apples comparison, Which? reckons the average price discrepancy is more than $31,000. Thus those who prefer Aston Martin’s badge pay an outrageous three times more for exactly the same Toyota engineering!
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