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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Badge Loyalty

Badge Loyalty. I'm willing to bet that more than some of you will think of that guy with the Ford logo tattooed on the back of his head (true story, this guy actually exists) or the family with a mailbox in the shape of the ubiquitous Bow Tie. Today, I submit a different definition- A marque's loyalty to the essence of the badge they place on the hood of their automobiles.

I will freely admit that it took me a good portion of my conscious life to find myself getting into automobiles. I started off with a 1989 Plymouth Reliant LE, moved to a 1994 Ford Explorer, then a 1992 Ford Bronco, followed by a 1989 Toyota Supra Turbo, 2004 Triumph Daytona 955i (yes, i know it's not a car) and now on to my 1985 Porsche 928S. With the exception of the Reliant and the Explorer, I still have everything I just mentioned, as well as some other projects that are currently in work like a 1972 Datsun 240Z (ok, that one is my father's...) and a pair of Jaguar XJ-S' (1976 and 1986). Barring something tragic, I will still have everything I just mentioned until the day I die. From that hodgepodge list, you can see that I lack loyalty to one marque over another (except for motorcycles, and I think Danny Chin knows what I'm talking about). The badge loyalty that I'm talking about, however, is one of my automotive pet peeves.

I'll start off with Toyota. I'll be quick with this, since it's been mentioned and discussed at length- here on FPH being no exception. Toyota lost its soul, born with the Toyota Sports 800 (look it up, it's adorable) and the legendary 2000GT. It took a beating when the MR2 became the softy MR-S and then got canned. It slipped into a coma when they axed the Supra with no viable flagship replacement (no car company should feel proud of having a tool like the Camry as your flagship model). Then it lost what little life it had left with the death of the Celica. I'm sure diehard Corolla and Camry owners will disagree with me about this, and I also suppose it shows my inner Clarkson coming through, but Toyota has abandoned the vigor behind the badge and become pedestrian. Pedestrian. Hmm. That's odd, we seem to use a word that by definition refers to someone who walks from place to place as a substitute for common and plain. Yet, I can't really think of a word that better describes Toyota's lineup at the moment. A caveat though- I can't fault the FJ Cruiser for trying to be a little funky even if they are a departure from the originals (and as a sidebar, one of my earlier memories is wrapping up in a blanket in the backseat of a '77 FJ sans rear window on our way to grandmother's for Christmas dinner...).

I apologize, that bit about Toyota was longer than I meant, but it illustrated part of my discussion on badge loyalty- abandonment of a previously established pattern of excellence.
The next facet of badge loyalty (or lack thereof) is what some might call selling out. As a Porsche driver, I'll lay into them first. There was a segment a while back on Top Gear- Hamster was described by his cohorts as a man who believed that when you went into a Porsche dealer with the intent to buy, the salesman's response should be, "Of course, sir. What color would you like?" This, of course, refers to the legendary 911. I agree with the sentiment, though I am perfectly willing to make exceptions for the Cayman, Boxster, Carrera GT, 944, 968, and 928 (the latter which, I am only too happy to point out, outperformed the majority of its contemporary 911 brethren). As a Porsche fan, the Cayenne and Panamera prove problematic to me. With my 928 being a similarly front-engined and water-cooled leviathan, I can't claim to be a Porsche purist. I'd need a 993 for that. The Cayenne and Panamera, however, commit one of the gravest sins an automobile from a company such as Porsche can commit- they have more than two doors. You might say that this is a petty argument, and that a car can have four doors while being stylish and fast (the Cayenne and Panamera only get one of those qualifications, sorry to say). I would agree with you. I would not argue with an E39 M5 in my driveway, four doors though it may have. But when you get down to a four-door from a company like Porsche, you've changed the nature of the beast. You're compromising. You're saying "I want the Porsche badge. Whether or not it's a true-blooded Porsche is irrelevant." Technical merits aside, if you want a fast four-door, get an M5. Get an XF-R. Get a car from a company whose history, soul, and reputation was built on something other than gorgeous two-door rockets with wheels.
NO. Wikipedia
Nicht einmal wenn ich betrunken! Wikipedia
Wait a minute, what am I doing blaming you, the consumer, for this? I humbly apologize, you were just buying what was available. Shame on you, Porsche. I'd call you a sellout if I didn't truly believe you were peddling these moving monuments of heresy to support your core trio of Boxsters, Caymans, and 911s.

Hey Aston Martin, where do you think you're going? I saw your Rapide out in the parking lot, don't think this doesn't apply to you as well. The fact that your Rapide is quite honestly almost every bit as beautiful as the DB-range doesn't excuse you. Your heritage is built on two-door bruisers with the personality to boot (including my all-time favorite piece of automotive excellence, the 1977-1989 V8 Vantage). What place does the Rapide have in your lineup? I liked it better before you failed to follow through with your plan to revive the Lagonda badge with the Rapide. If I had the scratch, I would have bought an (Aston Martin-) Lagonda Rapide. But no, it's an Aston now and therefore I can't bring myself to consider it. My future hypothetical children will have to learn to cope with the nominally-termed rear seats of my future hypothetical DBS. Like Porsche, you are betraying your badge with the addition of models contrary to your reputation.
Take that silly badge off! What would mother think? Autoblog

Pictured: Mother. Wikipedia
A caveat to this- I take no issue with marques such as Hyundai improving the breed (i.e. Genesis, etc.)...

I'm not letting Aston off the hook yet. The final form of badge betrayal I want to bring to light right now is brand dilution. In a sense, I touched on part of this in the preceding paragraph. the most salient example of what I mean comes in the form of the Aston Martin Cygnet. If you haven't heard of the Cygnet, here is the basic idea. Take a Smart car (OK, not an actual Smart, but the ideas that it embodies). Change things around a little bit, stick a "Toyota iQ" badge on it. Immediately take all Toyota badging off, and replace with the legendary Aston Martin badge. Redo the interior with some fairly posh leather. Add a dash of classic AM grille. Place on menu for roughly $35000-$40000 (or more, my pounds sterling-to-USD is a little rusty at the moment). I'm sorry, Aston, but really? I know why you did it. You just want a sacrificial lamb in your lineup so your company as a whole can meet Euro emissions standards. And, you're keeping the embarrassment in the family by only offering it to current Aston owners. I can appreciate this. However, could you not have done it with something more fitting- perhaps a Tesla? Maybe a Fisker when they come out? Somewhere, at some point, you'll end up with a little kid who's first tantalizing glimpse of an Aston Martin wasn't the nostalgia of a DB5 motoring down a B-road, the grace of a DB7 on the streets downtown, or the fury of a DB9 Volante cruising down the highway with a Toyota Supra Turbo Targa giving chase (OK, the last situation was my first encounter with an Aston in the flesh...). Rather, this hypothetical child is going to see the Cygnet. And it's going to make the wrong first impression. He (or she, I'm not sexist) is going to spend his/her formative years with the image of that Cygnet burned into his/her brain. For him/her, an Aston is going to be a size 5 sneaker on wheels rather than the expression of automotive sensuality that Astons are at the core. Actually, the Cygnet might not even make an impression on him/her since size 5 sneakers on wheels aren't typically the sort of thing that remain in the memory unless we're talking about those awful Wheelies young rapscallions are wearing in the mall these days.
I need to stop writing this post before my head explodes from the heresy. Wikipedia
I'll sum it up briefly- I hate change. Companies need to evolve their products into something that will sell in the volatile marketplace, and everything that I mentioned above is doing relatively well in that respect. There is, however, a phrase I like to use for things like this- "At what cost victory?" Now, if you'll excuse me, I mentioned the "old-school" V8 Vantage while writing. I must now run away to have some automotive crises.


  1. Nice post Pat. One more I'd like to add is Chevy getting sloppy with their "SS" badging. There was a time when those letters meant something, aka Chevelle SS, Camaro SS and the like.

    Skip ahead to more recent times, Cobalt SS, FWD Monte and Impala SS, hell they even went on trucks! Shame shame GM

  2. Also companies putting "GT" on the end of things, more or less the same point. I'm sorry, a Pontiac G6 GT is not a GT car...