Did You Happen To Spot The Fraternal Twins In Showrooms?
February 8, 2007
If you are a die-hard car aficionado, you could be one of those who look forward to seeing new concepts and makes. You could also be one of those who would lose their way among the hundreds of models displayed in showrooms.
Why? Because cars are getting more and more alike. The fact seems to be magnified these days so much so that from afar, foreign brands could be mistaken as Detroit’s very own. Some are like fraternal twins so that when you are in a showroom, be very cautious. You may be sitting on a wrong display area.
Consider the Nissan Altima coupe. It looks a lot like the Infiniti G35 and it is intended to be a glimpse of the 2nd generation of the model. Though, the former sells a thousand dollars more. The Altima is said to be the continuation of the Nissan “bloodline” that has started in 1957 with the Bluebird. The coupe competes with the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Mitsubishi Galant and the Toyota Camry.
The Honda Accord, a compact hatchback, could also be confused with some Acura (Honda’s upscale brand) models. The confusion over models from the same car maker exists for decades now. In fact, it is one of the worries that haunt Detroit automakers up to the present time. This fact has forced them to manufacture different versions of vehicles for several brands. On the other hand, Japanese automakers are maintaining their lean lineups. However, the latter is currently introducing new models that may cause unintentional double-takes.
European automakers like BMW are also riding on the hype. BMW manufactures the Mini Cooper and its 1-series cars are also competing in the United States for similar market. Toyota and Lexus are also riding on the trend. The auto trend, according to analysts, is called “brand bumping.” It happens when automakers push one brand or nameplate into a new direction to increase or curb the price in the hope of attracting more customers and improving its standing in the industry. Usually, automakers carry out the process gradually like introducing more powerful engines and sophisticated designs.
“You’re moving the car halfway out of one brand slot and into another brand slot,” said David E. Davis, editor of Winding Road, an online car magazine. “It does have the effect of moving the car up one level to the next price class or the next size class.”
The phenomenon should not be confused with “badge engineering.” The latter speaks of taking the same vehicle and selling it under one or more nameplates. It may entail changes in auto parts and accessories like the EBC Redstuff or using another name.
One good reason why “brand bumping” occurs is because of the continuous evolution of the auto industry. Market is shifting to efficient, stylish and compact cars so the automakers have to entertain changes to be rewarding in their respective segments. “We’re sitting in the lull,” said Wesley Brown, an industry analyst with Iceology Incorporated, a marketing firm based in Westwood, Calif.
Automakers are saying that the similarity of the Altima and the G35 is so striking. However, Nissan officials are insisting that there are clear differences between the brands. "There’s a difference in the way the vehicles feel when you’re driving them,” said a Nissan spokesman, Fred Standish. “It’s very important that these brands be distinct and have distinctive identities.”
Honda, on the other hand, said the company is not concerned about the new Honda coupe bumping into the Acura brand. “There’s very little, if anything, shared between the brands now,” said a Honda spokesman, Chuck Shifsky.
BMW already has the experience of selling the 1-series and Mini in Europe, Michael Ganal, a BMW board member, said in an interview last year. "Their character is so different that they do not overlap,” Mr. Ganal said. But BMW does not sell a hatchback unit in the United States, where such cars have a cheaper reputation than sedans, he noted.
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