(first posted 1/29/2014) Those who follow the auto industry know of all the lazily rebadged cars used to fill different manufacturers’ model line-ups. The derisive term “badge engineering” was coined for cars like the Suzuki Swift and Geo Metro; the same car, but with a different badge on the grille, steering wheel and maybe some minor trim differences.
This strategy differs from platform sharing, although the two are often mistaken; the latter often involves manufacturers changing sheetmetal, dashboards and mechanical components, like the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS or the Toyota Camry and Lexus ES. The cars in this article, however, are simply badge swaps or cars built under license. Let’s see why the featured automakers took the easy way out.
Mitsubishi Proudia and Dignity
The Proudia. Photo courtesy of Ceficefi .
Oh, how Mitsubishi has fallen. I’m not talking about its current lineup of vehicles lacking crucial models, and being populated with a mixture of aging and/or mediocre cars. Rather, I’m talking about something considerably less important and yet very symbolic: they don’t make their own flagship model.
The curvaceous sedan you see in these pictures is simply a rebadged Nissan Fuga/Cima, better known as the Infiniti M or Q70. Mitsubishi, after all, had nothing bigger than compact-size in their lineup, unless you count the aging Pajero/Montero SUV. This is the first of a series of tie-ups with Renault-Nissan, and soon you may see the Renault Fluence and Latitude at your local Mitsubishi dealer, badged as Lancer and Galant, respectively.
The oddly-named Proudia and long-wheelbase Dignity aren’t the first Mitsubishis to bear those monikers, however. The first-generation siblings were a joint development with Hyundai, who manufactured a version in South Korea known as the Equus. It was released as a rival to the Toyota Celsior (Lexus LS) and Nissan Cima/President (Infiniti Q45) but despite its niche market, it was a failure. Mitsubishi had anticipated combined sales of 300 a month, but in its inaugural year of 1999, the Proudia achieved 383 sales for the entire year; the Dignity just 15. And you thought the Acura RL sold poorly!
While its Celsior and Cima rivals were rear-wheel-drive, the Proudia/Dignity/Equus differed by having a transversely-oriented engine and front-wheel-drive. Proudia A and Proudia B–you have to appreciate those simple trim level designations–came with Mitsubishi’s G674 V6, a 3.5 mill used in the Diamante. It put 240hp and 253 lb-ft of torque through Mitsubishi’s INVECS-II automatic transmission, with five speeds and a tiptronic-type feature. Proudia C and Dignity, however, utilized a brand new V8 engine co-manufactured with Hyundai and unique to these models.
I can’t think of any other non-American FWD V8 cars, can you? Torque steer may have been an issue with the V8’s solid 280hp and 304 lb-ft of torque, similar outputs to the Cadillac Northstar V8. Both engines were modern direct-injected units, and the V8 extensively used aluminum. The big Mitsus were equipped with various high-tech gadgets like lane-change cameras and laser-activated adaptive cruise control, and interiors were conservative but luxurious, with plenty of woodgrain.
Proudia and Dignity sales doubled for 2000, but the paltry volumes weren’t worth the investment from a now financially-struggling Mitsubishi, and they axed their flagship sedans after only fifteen months. The Equus, however, lived on until 2008 when it was replaced by an all-new, rear-wheel-drive successor, engineered and built exclusively by Hyundai.
How ironic that Hyundai would have its own home-grown flagship after years of selling only co-engineered luxury sedans (1980s and 90s Grandeur models were also joint-ventures with Mitsubishi). With Mitsubishi and Hyundai no longer working closely together, the former sought out another manufacturer. And that is how we get to the new Proudia and Dignity, launched in 2012. The latter again rides a longer wheelbase, shared with the Chinese-market, long-wheelbase Infiniti M. The new Infiniti-based Mitsubishis are very similar in size to the old models, although they are slightly narrower in width.
However, there are no V8s this time around. Instead, Proudias come with the choice of an RWD-only 2.5 V6, with a subpar 222hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, or an RWD or AWD 3.7 V6 with a much more competitive 328hp and 270 lb-ft. Dignity buyers–that sounds like some kind of sick criminal–can only have the Q70 Hybrid’s engine, a 3.5 V6 mated to an electric motor. As you can see, there are very few changes from the Q70 and visually there is nothing different except for new logos and the fairly elegant grille.
Oh, and what does “Proudia” mean, you ask? It is a portmanteau of “proud” and “diamond,” referencing Mitsubishi’s logo. Yes, the explanation is as stupid as the name.
Meet the Lonsdale, better known as Mitsubishi trying to be a little sneaky in the United Kingdom. The Lonsdale was a Mitsubishi Sigma manufactured in Australia at MMAL’s Lonsdale factory, thus explaining the decidedly unglamorous name (Fiat named its Mirafiori after its factory, but everything sounds sexier in Italian). Basically, there was a gentleman’s agreement in the UK at the time where Japanese car manufacturers were capped at having 11% of the market. Despite this being entirely voluntary, Mitsubishi decided to utilize its global operations and import an Australian-made mid-size sedan under a new marque to try and circumvent the agreement.
The Lonsdale arrived in May 1983, available in sedan or wagon (“saloon” and “estate” in Blighty) and with a choice of three four-cylinder engines: 1600, 2000 or 2600. It was a conventional Japanese design, with a rear-wheel-drive layout, and the wagon was sold as the Dodge Colt Wagon in the US from 1978-81. The Sigma was one of several Japanese-designed, Australian-made RWD mid-sizers that enjoyed a significant chunk of the Aussie market, and the Sigma, Toyota Corona and Nissan Bluebird (Datsun 810 Maxima) all stayed on sale long after their overseas market contemporaries were replaced by newer, FWD models. Proven mechanicals and conservative styling made cars like the Sigma a safe bet when buying a new car. Of course, UK buyers didn’t know about the Lonsdale’s proven reliability, but it is very interesting to see print advertisements that play up the Lonsdale’s country of origin. It was a rare instance in which a car was deliberately advertised overseas as Australian.
ads courtesy of the excellent Flickr page, Trigger’s Retro Road Tests
Lonsdale dealerships were often paired with existing Mitsubishi dealerships, but before much of a dealership network could be established and after only seven months, Mitsubishi axed the Lonsdale brand entirely. Despite some evidence of advertising–as seen by these sharp print ads–the sales just weren’t there for a Mitsubishi Galant sold by a new and completely unknown brand.
Unsold Lonsdales choking up dealer lots were simply rebadged Mitsubishi Sigma, although that model was similarly short-lived. Another nail in the Lonsdale’s coffin was the pricing: rather than present the Lonsdale as a budget alternative, the smart play considering it was a new brand, the base 1600 sedan was priced only £100 less than 1.6 models of the popular Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Cavalier. It was an interesting experiment, but Mitsubishi clearly wasn’t playing the long game.
I remember flicking through a 1991 edition of the UK magazine “What Car?” when I stumbled across this oddity. The Sao Penza was a rebadged Mazda 323 sedan and hatch–the flimsiest of rebadges, I might add, as they didn’t change any of the trim or lights–manufactured by South African operation SAMCOR and imported by Mazda UK. British consumers aren’t averse to a bargain buy, as evidenced by cars like the Lada Riva and Austin/Rover Maestro lingering on price lists for years, but are understandably skeptical of start-up brands with tiny dealer networks. The Penza was also based on the previous-generation Mazda 323, and due to the lack of any visual distinctions, simply looked like an old car. The Penza came in only a fairly low level of specification, with a 1.3, 65hp four-cylinder being the only available engine. It was priced £2000 less than a new 323 at around £7500, so as an established car with a cheaper price, it made sense.
However, taking into account depreciation, you could simply buy a used 323 and never have to deal with confusion come registration and insurance time when no one has heard of your no-name, blue-light-special car, not to mention when you finally sold it. A former Sao employee on the web going by the user name “Boom’s Dad”–and I think I can trust him, as who would lie about being a Sao employee?–mentioned that he believed the Sao nameplate was either an acronym for “South African Origin,” or coined by the Marketing Director because it “sounded Japanese.” Whatever the name’s origin, it did sound better than SAMCOR, which sounds like some kind of shipping container company.
None of the major auto media outlets in the UK bothered to give the Penza any coverage, not that it really warranted it, and slow sales led to price cuts. Despite being listed at under £7k, undercutting some variants of the popular and smaller Ford Fiesta, sales remained extremely underwhelming. After 20 months and only 1,000 sales, Sao said Sao-nara to the UK market.
Don’t think the UK market is too discerning, though, as the Kia Pride also launched in 1991. Like the Penza, the Pride was a rebadged version of an old Mazda, but vastly outsold it and continued to sell steadily until its discontinuation in 2000, when it still accounted for 40% of Kia’s UK sales. As for the old Penza, thanks to How Many Left? I can confirm there are two still registered in the UK (versus five Lonsdales), and that one of them is still on the roads. That owner probably doesn’t realize the rarity he has in his hands. Worthless rarity, but rarity nonetheless.
Ever wondered what a Suzuki would like with a Lancia grille and headlights? No? Well, the Pangea sure threw me for a loop when I saw its name online. I thought I’d heard of every Lancia from the past twenty years, from the goofy Thesis to the luxurious Phedra minivan. After some Google-fu, I ascertained that the reason I had never heard of the Pangea was simply because it didn’t exist. A rebadged Suzuki SX4, it was intended for production in Hungary, to be launched in European markets in 2007. For whatever reason, and please enlighten me if you know why, the project was cancelled. There was still an Italian-badged Suzuki launched in Europe, however.
That Italian-badged Suzuki is this: the Sedici. Sedici is Italian for “sixteen”–see, I told you everything was sexier in Italian–and it is so named because it’s a 4×4. More specifically, it’s an all-wheel-drive Suzuki SX4, manufactured in Suzuki’s Hungary plant and launched in Europe in 2005. It looks somewhat convincing as a Fiat, due to the SX4 being designed by Italdesign Giugario. The Sedici even came with a Fiat engine, a 1.9 Multijet diesel four with 120hp and 210 lb ft of torque; the petrol engine available was a Suzuki 1.6 four with 106hp and 107 lb-ft of torque. Sales in Italy were particularly strong, with the Sedici becoming the best-selling car in the Italian market by 2007.
Cars aren’t like fine wine, though, as they do not get better with age. The Sedici received a small nip-and-tuck in 2009, replacing the Audi-like grille with a more conservative egg-crate number. The rest of the car still looked the same, although the 1.9 Multijet diesel was replaced by a bigger 2.0 unit with thirteen more horsepower and thirty more pound feet of torque.
Although it was always intended for the Sedici to account for one-third of the platform’s sales and the SX4 the other two-thirds, Sedici sales have fallen from a high of over 31k units in 2007 to just 8,662 in 2012. Contrast this with the SX4’s sales that have also fallen, but from a high of 50,354 in 2008 to 28,683 in 2012. The SX4 is now being replaced by the bigger S-Cross, but the Sedici has been discontinued in Europe (it was axed in the UK in 2010) to make way for the Fiat 500X crossover. However, Fiat and Suzuki will continue to share technologies.
In the 1980s, Australia saw a raft of badge-engineered vehicles flood the market. This wasn’t corporate laziness at work as seen with British Leyland or the Big 3 Americans in the 1970s and 1980s. Instead, this was government mandated. The Button Plan, as it was popularly known, was a federal government initiative to rationalize the Australian auto industry and was named after the erstwhile federal Minister for Commerce, Trade and Industry, Senator John Button.
The Australian auto industry had been very insular, with high tariffs and restrictive quotas placed on imports, and many foreign manufacturers had set up local assembly. The overarching goal of the Button Plan, first announced in 1983, was to force manufacturers to consolidate resources so that tariffs could be reduced over time. The end game was to increase competition for the local industry so that their products would improve, much like the GM-Toyota NUMMI venture, with local automakers picking up some knowledge and technology in due time. In the short term, this meant some odd rebadged products like this Nissan Ute.
Simply a Ford Falcon XF Ute, the unimaginatively named Nissan differed only in the badge on the grill, the steering wheel center cap and some Nissan stickers pasted around. There were two very utilitarian trims, DX and ST, and only one engine, a carbureted 4.1 six cylinder with 138hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. You could get a three-speed auto, a five-speed floor-shift manual or the standard three on the tree. There were no sporty models as in the Falcon Ute range and the Ute was sold from only 1989 until 1992 in small numbers.
The XF Falcon Ute and its Nissan twin was a hardy design, first launched in 1979. Semi-elliptical leaf springs at the rear, rear-wheel-drive and a carbureted six meant this wasn’t going to perform and handle like a sports sedan, but it had an 1800lb payload and could tow 3500lbs. Although the Nissan Ute was axed in 1992, the Falcon Ute continued until 1999. Like most of the Button Plan rebadges, the Ute was not very successful.
Most people simply bought the original product, although one of the Nissan’s advantages was its 2 year, 40,000km warranty: twice as long as the Ford’s. The people that did buy the Nissan would often simply remove the Nissan badge up front, and peel off the stickers: no one would ever know! I don’t recall ever seeing a Ute with a Nissan badge on it, whereas even the Ford Maverick (Nissan Patrol) and Corsair (Nissan Bluebird/Stanza) were more common. But that’s a story for another time.
Do you want to see more Obscure Rebadges from around the world? What are some of the weirdest rebadges you know of? And would you buy a rebadged product yourself from a lesser-known or lesser-respected brand if it were cheaper?