Obscure rebadges can result from many different scenarios. Sometimes an automaker needs to fill a hole in their line-up and they don’t have a suitable in-house product. Sometimes a rebadge is the result of a misguided joint venture. Other times, corporate acquisitions give automakers access to product that’s worth keeping around. Today, let’s look at four examples of how these scenarios led to obscure rebadges.
The automotive industry sometimes creates strange bedfellows. Despite Daewoo’s decades-long dalliance with General Motors, eventually ending in the US behemoth purchasing the Korean outfit, the two companies were on a break in 1992. That was the year their joint venture ended and it was also a time where Daewoo’s flagship, the Imperial, was looking seriously dated.
The Imperial had been introduced in 1989 as an upscale version of Daewoo’s existing flagship, the Royale. Both cars were derived from the Opel Rekord but, while the Royale’s styling betrayed its Rekord roots, the Imperial was treated to a makeover Lee Iacocca would’ve been proud of. Yes, this is a Daewoo Imperial, not a Chrysler Imperial.
Daewoo had been pretty good at nipping and tucking the Royale over the years, keeping it visually fresh, but by 1993 its platform was very old. With GM out of the picture (for now) and no platform suitable for a flagship sedan, Daewoo went looking for a partner. It approached Honda who allowed Daewoo to locally manufacture a rebadged version of its Legend, in sedan form only and with the 3.2 V6.
The new Arcadia, as it was known, replaced only the Imperial; the lesser Prince, yet another update of the Royale, continued to be sold into the mid-1990s. At 44 million won, the top-spec Arcadia Royal was the most expensive Korean car on the domestic market, costing 11 times as much as Daewoo’s entry-level Tico.
At this end of the market, Japanese roots were the norm: Kia’s flagship sedan, the Potentia (top), was based on the 1986-vintage HC-series Mazda 929/Luce while Hyundai’s flagship, the Grandeur (bottom), was a Mitsubishi Debonair. The Arcadia outclassed both of them with its elegant, athletic styling, silky smooth V6, and capable dynamics. In this segment, plush cushiness was the expectation but the Arcadia wasn’t alienating in its ability.
Nevertheless, like all Daewoos, it could never best its rival Hyundai in sales. Still, Daewoo continued manufacturing the Arcadia until 1999. When it came time to replace it, Daewoo’s new acquisition Ssangyong gave them access to that company’s Chairman flagship. This was a W124 Mercedes-derived sedan styled to resemble the W140-series Mercedes S-Class. This meant a Mercedes-derived product replaced a rebadged Honda which replaced an Opel-derived product that resembled a Chrysler.
Well aren’t the Canadians just gluttons for punishment? They had three different versions of the Chevrolet Aveo!
GM had invested in Suzuki and purchased ailing Daewoo and saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: increase Daewoo production volumes and give Suzuki more products to sell. The Daewoo Lacetti became the Chevrolet Optra in Canada and the Suzuki Reno and Forenza in the US while the Daewoo Magnus became the Chevrolet Epica in Canada and the Suzuki Verona in the US. For the most part, these rebadged Daewoos overlapped with similarly-sized models in their respective new lineups.
The Daewoo Kalos, however, represented a greater opportunity for GM who lacked a product in the North American subcompact segment after the discontinuation of the Chevrolet Metro (Mexico, however, had a version of the Opel Corsa). The Kalos received the Chevrolet bow tie and became the Aveo. In Canada, where the Pontiac brand was even more popular than in the US, an arrowhead logo was slapped on the Kalos and it became the Pontiac Wave; this later made a brief appearance in the US as the G3 just before the Pontiac division was shuttered. Finally, there was the Suzuki Swift +.
The Daewoo-based products in Suzuki’s lineup caused the brand to crash to the bottom of JD Power’s Initial Quality rankings in 2005. The Swift+’s nameplate was a misnomer, too: this car wasn’t a patch on the real Suzuki Swift, a new generation of which also debuted in 2004, albeit not in North America. The real Swift was well-built and fun-to-drive; the Swift+ was rather underdone in all areas but, due to the lack of much competition in its segment in North America, its flaws often went unnoticed. And it was sufficiently powerful with a comfortable enough ride to satisfy buyers.
The first few years of the Swift+ were distinguished from their clones by a rather bland grille with a tiny Suzuki logo; only a hatchback was available. When all three hatchbacks were facelifted for 2008, the Swift+ finally received a proper Suzuki logo on its grille. Nevertheless, this was no Suzuki and buyers seemed to recognize it: in 2008, for example, the Swift+ had less than 2% market share in its segment. Suzuki’s smaller dealership network didn’t help it, nor did rivals like the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio which offered longer warranties.
The Suzuki brand as a whole was struggling just as badly in Canada as it was in the US, shedding half its market share up north between 2007 and 2011; during the same period, Suzuki’s US sales declined 74%. The Swift+ was discontinued from the Canadian market in 2011 and the entire brand was withdrawn just a couple of years later. Although Canadians never got to enjoy the real 21st century Swift, the brand did go out with a range of distinctive, in-house Suzuki models like the Kizashi and Grand Vitara.
This VW 1500 certainly doesn’t look like any other VW 1500. And it shouldn’t, because it doesn’t share any parts with them or indeed with any other Volkswagen. This is actually a Hillman Avenger treated to a modest 1980s refresh by Volkswagen after the German giant purchased Chrysler’s Argentinian operations.
Chrysler’s financial troubles in the 1970s led them to sell off all their overseas operations. Mitsubishi bought Chrysler’s Australian operations, for example, while PSA bought Chrysler Europe. While Mitsubishi didn’t stamp their three diamonds on the Aussie Valiant, PSA slapped the resurrected Talbot name on Chrysler’s European products including older models slated for discontinuation. This resulted in a couple of particularly obscure rebadges like the Talbot (née Simca) 1100…
…and the Talbot Avenger, formerly the Chrysler Avenger and, before that, the Hillman Avenger. This utterly conventional, rear-wheel-drive sedan and wagon had already worn so many different nameplates including the Sunbeam badge in continental Europe and the Dodge Polara nameplate in Brazil and Colombia.
Although the Avenger had quickly disappeared from the North American market, where it was sold as the Plymouth Cricket, it was a linchpin of Chrysler’s various South American lineups. When Volkswagen bought out the remaining shares in Chrysler Fevre Argentina SAIC in 1980, they kept the 1500 on; it remained a Dodge until 1982 upon which it officially became the Volkswagen 1500. Unfortunately for obscure rebadge enthusiasts, Volkswagen didn’t continue production of the Argentinian Dodge Coronado, based on the 1969 Dodge Dart. That would’ve made for an amusing Volkswagen.
Volkswagen’s 1980 facelift brought a new, more modern front end, a revised interior, and plenty of black plastic trim inside and out, doing a commendable job of disguising the Avenger’s early 1970s roots. The coke bottle kink below the C-pillar, however, betrayed its origins.
If the 1500 still looked old in 1980, it looked positively ancient by its final year of production in 1991. Nevertheless, the car’s reputation for reliability and durability kept its sales steady throughout the 1980s even in a showroom surrounded by more modern and authentic Volkswagen products.
The story of the Proton Tiara involves a formerly state-owned manufacturer with global aspirations, a plane crash, and an old Citroen.
Proton’s then-CEO, Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad, was hoping to reduce his company’s reliance on Mitsubishi. Proton was still a young company, having been founded in 1983. As part of an equity joint venture with Mitsubishi, Proton introduced its first model, the Saga (above), based on the Mitsubishi Lancer. The 1990s brought even more Mitsubishi-based models like the Wira, Satria and Putra. However, Mitsubishi was reportedly unwilling to share anything further with Proton.
To complicate matters, Proton had a formidable new rival in Malaysian brand Perodua which had chipped away at its gigantic market share (at one stage, Proton held 75% of the domestic market). Perodua’s range of small Daihatsu-based vehicles had become a force on the lower end of the Malaysian market and Proton had nothing below the Saga in size.
Enter the joint venture with PSA. To the French automaker, this deal was solid. They exported the recently discontinued AX in completely knocked down kit form, a similar arrangement to what they were doing with the defunct ZX in China. Proton had been hoping to get the newer, larger Peugeot 306 but PSA gave them only the AX. Proton had also hoped to get access to some of PSA’s diesel engines but was rebuffed. At least the Tiara finally gave them a rival to Perodua’s subcompact offerings.
The Tiara debuted in 1996 in one five-door hatchback body style and with one engine, a 1.1 petrol four from PSA. Exterior trim resembled the AX GT although Proton made some tweaks to the front and rear to align it more closely with their indigenous products. Although this joint venture didn’t yield all that Proton wanted, Ahmad was enthusiastic to continue exploring partnership opportunities with PSA.
Then he died. A tragic helicopter crash in March 1997 opened up the CEO position at Proton, which went to Tan Sri Mohammed Saleh Sulong. He was less enthusiastic of the PSA joint venture and the Tiara wasn’t making a strong case for ongoing cooperation. It had acquired a reputation for subpar quality and sold poorly, even in a market where rival automakers were slapped with import tariffs and cost much more. Blame the better-built small cars coming from Perodua. Ahmad had targeted 20,000 annual units but the best the Tiara could manage was 14,297 units in 1997, sales slumping thereafter. After a dismal performance in 1999 of only 118 units, Proton pulled the plug on both the Tiara and the partnership with PSA. Around 30,000 units were sold during the Tiara’s entire run.
There’s still a bevy of obscure rebadges yet to be featured in this series. Stay tuned for the next instalment.
Tiara photos courtesy of Two Hundred Percent.