Theme : Badging – Written on the Body

Do car badges have intrinsic value? Driven to Write investigates.

alfa_159_ti__sportwagon

We all misread the obvious sometimes. Our world is frequently confusing, as are the brands and symbols that surround us. The car badge or emblem embodies a narrative – an entire marque history distilled into a small piece of moulded plastic.

In truth we don’t really see badges on cars – our eyes note them before storing them away as extraneous information. It is only when they are conspicuous by their absence that we become consciously aware of them at all. Yet the badge on the front (or rear) of your car is a more powerful signifier than anything a body stylist or engineer could possibly create.

Typeface, positioning, colour, design: all serve as a sophisticated code to the initiated – a means not just of identification, but hierarchy. Whether it’s GTI, RS, HSE, Ti or Titanium, badging confers status and social mobility. A lady of my acquaintance used to tell people she drove a Bertone, because she believed that Opel badge on her Astra cabriolet was declassé and such things mattered to her.

LIVESTRONG-braceletSymbols matter. When professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong set up his charitable ‘Livestrong’ cancer foundation in 2003, the yellow wristband that launched a million imitators was more than a way of saying I support the cancer community. It also was declarative of, I’m on team Lance. Those Livestrong bracelets became more than a piece of moulded rubber with the charity’s logo scorched into it, they were for a time a kind of talisman; allowing the wearer to believe they could ward off cancer itself. Viewed in the aftermath of his subsequent disgrace however, they now serve to tacitly implicate everyone who wore them in his deception.

So if symbols matter, does narrative? Ford paid $2.5 billion for Jaguar in 1990. Most of that was derived from the badge/brand and what it signified. The decades of heritage. Those Le-Mans victories. The E-Type and the 60’s. The gangland aura of the MK2. While it is not impossible to create something like this from scratch, it’s a vastly more costly process.

Ask Ferdinand Piëch. He once told a journalist that had he known just how much time and money it would take to elevate Audi to the premium top-table, he would never have embarked upon the journey. Certainly, VW’s later brand acquisition strategy points to that lesson being learned and learned well. If you have any further doubts, look to Lexus and Infiniti. Both have been in existence for over 25 years and while Lexus has achieved some moderate success in Europe, Nissan’s upmarket nameplate continues to knock plaintively on a premium lounge door that remains resolutely shut.

Now when you have the likes of Kia and Hyundai producing product so competent and so attractively packaged, it becomes truly difficult to see how more established marques can compete. Yet the storied marques retain one advantage. The allure of their badge. All that truly lies between companies like Fiat, PSA or Renault and oblivion is the public’s perception and residual affection for their brand. As Fiat struggle to breathe life into Alfa Romeo’s unresponsive corpse, management are counting on the appeal of the legendary ‘Biscione’ and some nostalgic model names to attract a global audience who’d much rather a Munich propeller or the four rings of Ingolstadt, truth be told.

So imagine if you can a piece of music or a film that you particularly admire. Perhaps you have over a number of years formed a connection with the words, the performance; maybe the cinematography. It may provide a certain emotional trigger – sometimes it’s enjoyable to have a bit of a weep. Then imagine if you suddenly discovered it was based upon a true story. Would this affect your enjoyment of the piece? Furthermore, imagine finding out that the story was in fact based upon someone you actively dislike. I don’t know, say, Boris Johnson or (the holy mortifying shame of it) Gary Barlow? It’s a very different piece of work now.

2005_0101Retromobile0090Next time you walk towards your motorised pride and joy, picture it with a different badge, especially one you don’t particularly admire and ask yourself this: just how much of your regard is enmeshed within that emblem on the nose?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

3 thoughts on “Theme : Badging – Written on the Body”

  1. “All that truly lies between companies like Fiat, PSA or Renault and oblivion is the public’s perception and residual affection for their brand.” wrote Eoin. I´d make a case that that is not very much. I don´t think there are very many people who are interested in cars who actively like any of those brands. I might pity them or want better for them but I don´t like them. Among people uninterested in cars these brands must be as important for them as, say, the names Patagonia, Nuristan or Albuquerque. They know they exist, in a vague way, but nothing about them other than maybe they mightn´t want to own one themselves. Albuquerque and Renault are for other people.
    I might be tempted to assert that badges as shiny, appendages mean a lot to the appearance of a car, like eyebrows. That´s the physical form of the things. In terms of content, it´s more open to debate. I get the feeling that labels like GTi have been worn out. Alfa Romeo´s Ti still works for me but I am old enough to know where it came from. That´s why when I see a 146Ti I see a car I happen to feel warmly towards. The 146Ti in my area is driven by a man of enormous fatness. That badge might make him feel like Arnoldo Barrufaldi in the 1976 thriller Mafaldine e la Peppardelle.
    The rest of the badges say little more than announce facts: it´s a 1.4, it´s GLX, or it´s a V6 (or a V6 4×4 in the cases of Opel´s fab Insignia) and it might or might not be a high-trim level: flair, style, elegance, avantgarde, Titanium. Actually, Ford´s Titanium is a good one of that type. It´s pretty clear titanium is good stuff. You´d want a car fitted with that. Few of the others are as clear without succumbing to the car-parking willy-waving inherent in L, DL, GL, GLX, GLXi and GLS. Did anyone ever understand the French system of RN, RT and RXE? No, which is why they changed to Authentique, Dynamique and Bubonique, I suppose.
    Personally, I prefer the straightforward honesty of engine size and D, DL, GL and GLX (going all the way to GLXi if possible). You really do know what´s being offered: four or six cylinders, and cloth, leather or velour and more or even more goodies. Has anyone ever made a car so loaded with options it had a GLXi Turbo 4×4 V6 badge? Can such a thing be made and sold?
    Peugeot duck the issue these days and their unmarked 406´s irritate me. In Denmark these cars nearly never have any badging other than the nameplates.The only obvious way to determine trim is to see if they car has cloth or velour (usually cloth). The three meaningless words approach (see Renault, Mercedes) is so obscure as to make appending the badges a pointless endeavour. I don´t care if a Mercedes is AvantGarde or Elegance: a badge doesn´t make it one or the other and neither sound all that appealing to me. Who cares?
    Perhaps apart from the brand-badges, trim-level designators are passé. We need the badge delete option. After all, putting a sign on your car announcing it’s the top-most trim level is akin to leaving the price tag on your suit. The suit and the car should speak for themselves.

    1. Hi Richard,
      ‘Personally, I prefer the straightforward honesty of engine size and D, DL, GL and GLX (going all the way to GLXi if possible). You really do know what´s being offered: four or six cylinders, and cloth, leather or velour and more or even more goodies. Has anyone ever made a car so loaded with options it had a GLXi Turbo 4×4 V6 badge? Can such a thing be made and sold?’

      Yes, the question you posed above more or less represents it for me. Engine size and trim level tells me what I want to know, and therefore is very important to me. Why is it important? It’s important because not being blessed with an understanding of the Internal Combustion Engine leaves me, (and perhaps many other Drivers who care), with a dependance on such badges to know what we are spending our money on?
      Let me give another example. How many prospective buyers of a new computer are left in a completely confused daze by different potential options described only by their technical specification with a multitude of gigabytes, SSDs, RAMs, ROMs, and dual cores. Don’t misunderstand, I love computers and the world they open up to me, but I know when I come to replace my current laptop, I will have to try and find somebody I can trust to bring with me to advise on the purchase. I often thought how great it would be if computers were described much like Cars: 1.3 L, 2.0 GLX, OPC 4×4, etc.
      (So what would I like? a 1985 Ford Sierra XR4x4, please. Hehehe!)

  2. My post was ambiguous. While passe, the D to GLX-type system let you know where you stood. I think I prefer it to the three random words approach. Presumably manufacturers know their customers better. Do they, on this question?

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