/ Motoring

Identikit cars: do you buy in to badge-power?

Car with badge covered

How aware are you of identikit cars and do you think they’re easy to spy? We put some Which? readers to the test in a game of spot the difference, and discovered just how much impact a badge can have on a car.

So what are identikit cars? The term refers to two or more cars that share the same chassis and set of components, including anything from engines, brakes, transmissions, suspension, electronics and steering.

For our small test, we selected the trio of the Seat Mii, Skoda CitiGo and VW Up, all built in the Volkswagen Group’s Bratislava factory in Slovakia.

While these three cars look subtly different to one another on face value, underneath the tweaked body shells, they are almost identical. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the same price! In fact, you could pay anything up to £1,000 more to have the VW instead of the Skoda. But how easy is it to tell them apart when you take away the badge?

Identikit cars: spot the difference test

We asked five Which? members to help us put this to the test. Before they arrived, we covered up all branding and identifiable markings on the cars to see what impact it had.

Identikit cars

All the readers identified the clear similarities between the models, including interior layout, overall dimensions and like-for-like body panels. But only one of them identified the disguised VW as the more premium model of the three.

But it was a different story once we unveiled their true identity, with favour quickly swaying towards the Volkswagen. And the reason was clear – brand identity. Those who changed their mind all said they had a stronger affinity with the VW badge, with one claiming the VW emblem itself enhanced the look of the Up.

Why do identikit cars exist?

Identikit cars have been around since the 1960s and they’re all about one thing – reducing production costs. Manufacturers are able to use almost identical parts in different branded models to create a wider range of cars that will appeal to different types of buyer.

And as long as some of these savings are passed on, it can be good news for us with cheaper cars and more brand choice.

Should you pay extra for a premium badge?

We also looked at value retention and discovered that the more expensive VW Up would depreciate faster over a five-year ownership period than the CitiGo, meaning better value overall from the less-desirable Skoda badge.

And this three-car example is by no means a unique case of badge-based pricing. Take the VW Golf, for example. It has the same 105bhp 1.2 TSI petrol engine as its less-desirable Seat Leon identikit-car equivalent. And yet, in its most basic spec it costs £2,490 more.

But with all this said, I still expect the VW-badged models to outsell the sister-car equivalents, despite the purchase-price premium.

How much do you believe in badge power? Identikit cars show that a desirable emblem can not only dictate price, but also make a certain car more appealing through brand recognition.

Now that you’re armed with the identikit-car knowledge (of which you can find out more in the July issue of Which? magazine), would you be happy to pay the additional costs for what appears to be just a different badge?

 

Comments
Member

Robert, I buy new galvanised cars and keep them a long time because the zinc coating prevents rusting. Are the 3 identikit cars you mention galvanised or is it the case that perhaps only the VW Up has this first class bodywork protection? PS My vintage steel, galvanised watering can is still 100% rust free! It has taken the better informed part of the motor industry many decades to learn this chemical trick.

Member

It would be good if someone can provide the answer because a galvanised body is obviously very important for anyone intending to keep a car for a long time.

I wonder how many others have managed to find suppliers of outdoor benches when trying to find out if Seats are galvanised. 🙂

Member
Em says:
18 June 2013

I bought an Audi 80 in 1986. I believe it was the first galvanised mass-produced vehicle from launch, so I agree about the benefits. I hated rust.

From my brief spell at TRRL in the mid-1970’s, I seem to recall the problem with introducing galvanized bodywork was simply down to economics and practicalities.

It is almost impossible to spot weld galvanized steel sheet, because zinc melts at a much lower temperature than the steel you are trying to bond. So it generally requires the car body to be manufactured and then galvanized. This might seem a simple requirement, but bear in mind that companies like Standard Triumph at the time didn’t even have the production line capability to manufacture a monocoque chassis, let alone hot dip one after assembly.

The second issue was with paint adhesion and quality. It is quite difficult to paint galvanised steel and get a smooth finish. I guess manufacturers overcame both these issues by the mid-1980s.

Member
Em says:
17 June 2013

I seem to remember it was BMC that first took re-badging to the limit of absurdity. Basically the same car, with a different grille and some interior accessories, sold as Morris, MG, Austin, Vanden Plas, Wolseley, and Riley 1100 / 1300.

There was nowhere to fit in-car DVD players in those days. No headrests and the Vanden Plas even had folding picnic tables in the backs of the seats, so you could pretend you were Lady Penelope whilst Parker* served up the Champagne and cucumber sandwiches.

*Not included.

Member

I remember that. You are showing our age. 🙂

Member
Em says:
17 June 2013

Not really – I’ve only seen the repeats of “Thunderbirds”. 🙂

Member

I recently bought a Skoda CitiGo – looks really like the VW Up except slightly nicer, has better reviews and is cheaper!

Member
Simon says:
24 June 2013

We looked at various new small cars to replace our second car (Ford Ka). We wanted a 5-door ‘super-mini’. We looked at Audi A1 sportback – too small in rear: VW Polo ditto: settled on Skoda Fabia. Same fabulous engine (1.2 86ps TSI) – but, with a deal – and new, at least £5k cheaper than the Audi. Our other car is a 15 year old BMW – bodywork is good , so all the time I can replace parts that wear out, that cost is still less than one quarter of the depreciation of a new car.

Member

I bought a Skoda Octavia 7 years ago. it now has almost 300,000 miles on the clock. 54mpg, £240 annual servicing (by a Skoda dealer) and very little gone wrong. Look at the cost of VW and Audi servicing for what is basically the same car. I’m happy.