/ Motoring

Cookie cutter cars – are brands losing their identity?

It’s a time of austerity and we’re all affected, carmakers included. Maybe it’s no surprise there’s been an increase in cross-brand collaborations, with many cars launching that are almost identical under the skin.

This is also known as shared platforms, and while it may be financially beneficial for manufacturers and potentially for consumers too, I think it’s eroding the excitement around new car unveilings. Ultimately it’s making the badge more powerful than it’s ever been.

This week I’m in France covering the 2012 Paris Motor Show, bringing you details of the cars you’ll be able to buy in the next 12 months.

Spot the difference between VW Golf and Audi A3

One of those cars is the new VW Golf. But while a new Golf should be anticipated with distinct significance, I’m failing to get animated about the unveiling of this one in particular. Why? Because we’ve already seen it, driven it, and have even tested it in our lab!

How, you might ask? Well, under the surface, the latest generation of the Golf is the Audi A3 we’ve just put through our full test cycle. With Audi under the banner of the VW Group (also includes Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Porsche and Lamborghini) what’s been developed and rigorously tweaked to produce the latest A3 is now being utilised as the next phase of the Golf.

Strip away the famous VW badge and side-by-side the base of this new Golf could be easily mistaken for an A3 without its four-ring emblem. And the new Seat Leon, also being showcased for the first time at Paris, is the third point in this multi-brand triumvirate, using the same chassis and engine line-up (bar a few minor differences) as the Golf and A3.

It’s all part of a cost-saving exercise. If manufacturers share the monetary burden of new car development and manufacturing, it’s more financially viable to them and the savings made should (in theory) be passed on to you and me.

Shared-platform cars are rekindling badge power

It’s not the first time this has happened. In fact, historically, it can be back-dated decades. But more recently we’ve seen platform sharing growing in popularity. The Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 107 and Citroen C1 and more recently the VW Up, Seat Mii and Skoda CitiGo are examples of car trios that are essentially the same underpinnings glazed in slightly adapted headlight units and body sculpting.

If this results in a more affordable market for car buyers, it could be good for our wallets. But I’m starting to see cross-platform collaborations as a loss in identity, with brands slowly morphing into one soup of blandness. How can enthusiasts get excited about driving the latest Golf when they could slip into a Seat Leon for less money, and ultimately have the same experience?

What is more disconcerting is the power it puts in the hands of a badge alone. If all three of these cars are essentially the same underneath, the car buying decision will lie with which logo resonates with the buyer most. A money-conscious buyer will opt for the Leon; whereas a status-focussed buyer may go for the more desirable VW or Audi badge.

Take the Aygo, 107 and C1 for example. More buyers tend to opt for the Aygo because of the strong association Toyota has with reliability. But the fact is all three cars are built in the same factory, so dependability is purely embedded in the consumer psyche.

With more shared-platform cars do you think you’re being duped into paying more for a badge?

Comments
Member

I’m not sure that there is anything new here. Decades ago, we had vehicles branded Austin or Morris, with little difference except from the badge. Motoring writers frequently point out the collaboration between manufacturers, and there seems little secret about the joint ventures and shared components.

It is time to start thinking about cars in a different way. Think about reliability, cost to purchase and – more important – cost over the time of ownership, warranty, fuel consumption, environmental impact including that of manufacture, safety, and whether it comes with a proper spare wheel. 🙂

It may damage the ego of car worshippers to learn that their Audi is rather similar to a Skoda or their Ford has major components used by Fiat but it’s great fun to let them know.

Member

I hadn’t realised that our A3 came out of the same stable as Bentley, Porsche and Lamborghini. I feel better already.

Member

The Aygo, C1 and 107 mentioned in the article, all built in the same factory but only one of these models that has a 5 year warranty it the Toyota Aygo. But Peugeot and Citroen aren’t offering this. The Toyota paint warranty is longer than the Peugeot and Citroen paint warranty.

Even though those 3 cars are platform shared, and look quite similar, there are enough differences if you look for them. Eg, the 107 has a big thick strip of black plastic (or chrome,depending on trim) across the front bumper, the front number plate is very far down, and the front badge looks too big. In my opinion, these 3 things really spoil the look of the 107. These aren’t on the Aygo or the 107, so they are better looking.

Something else to consider would be independent surveys, such as the JD Power Dealer Satisfaction Survey and others. Reliability would be extremely important, as would safety. So its always good to check the Ncap ratings. An example from Ncap is that the Ford Ka has 4 stars out of a possible 5 for crash tests – not good enough when Ford’s competitors have the full 5 stars for their rivals to the Ka.

If I was to buy a car that was built within a platform sharing agreement, I would buy the Aygo, rather than the C1/107, as I have been a satisfied Toyota customer for many years, so would be happy to buy from them again. The same goes for the dealers, as I have found them to be far better than others I have used in the past.

So it comes down to personal choice, if someone buys a platform shared car, they might just go back to a certain manufacturer who is selling it, simply out of what you might call customer loyalty or brand/dealer trust. Customers always return to where they get good customer service.

Member
Ray Trench says:
28 September 2012

I have a Peugeot 107 (June 2011) and, accepting the limitations of the car, am very happy with it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I think the previous model (pre 2012 revision) is rather more masculine the the feminine looking Aygo. With regards to warranty; Toyota give a 5 year warranty which suggests that it is confident the car will not need work done on it – so if it is the same as the 107 I can feel confident that the cheaper price I paid for mine compared to the similar spec Aygo means I can be pretty sure that it will be as reliable as the Aygo and doubt if any work would come to more than the massive price difference. As for dealership, my Peugeot dealer, Simon Bailes, has been exemplory in every way and without doubt the best I have experienced (being used to Ford Main Dealers in the past).

Member
par ailleurs says:
27 September 2012

Yes, w-change has got it right here. If I might sound a little condescending or even rude Rob please don’t take it personally, but you look very young. (I am at the age where doctors, policemen etc all look about 14)
When I started driving in the early 70s, cars were uniformly expensive to buy, ruinously expensive to run and were fit for scrap at the sort of mileage that would now be quite acceptable on a second hand model. To make matters worse I had to drive as part of my work and a high annual mileage too. The whole thing was a nightmare.
Now, thanks to the international nature of the motor industry and the financial gains to them from cross sourcing and research/development, motoring is transformed. I couldn’t care less that my Skoda is a Polo in drag. It is comfortable, fast, economical and utterly reliable.
Of course there’s a place for quirky older cars. It’s to run as a hobby. Other than that I’m delighted to be able to drive my modern bland identikit car.

Member

As said this is nothing new. The Galaxy/Sharan was a joint project between Ford and VW and their built in the same factory in Hamburg the only real difference being the engines; and the length of warranty. The Seat people carrier, the name of which escapes me, is a Sharan assembled from kits.

Developing a new car is a long and expensive process so it makes sense for manufactures to collaborate over new designs and to use shared platforms.

Member
par ailleurs says:
28 September 2012

Phil it probably hasn’t bothered you that much but it’s driven me crackers all day. It was the Seat Alhambra! It was widely regarded as the bargain of the three as it didn’t have a VW badge on the front but was otherwise every bit as good.

Member

I’m sorry my laziness caused you so much grief. Yes it was the Alhambra.