Back to the Well: When Automakers Reuse Brand Names

Eclipse Cross

Inspiration often comes from within. For automakers, it can even come from within their own model lineups. Mitsubishi recently announced the unveiling of an all-new Mitsubishi Eclipse…crossover. That’s right, Mitsubishi isn’t resurrecting the Eclipse you knew and loved from the ‘90s, but rather attaching the brand to the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, a compact crossover aimed to address a market not captured by the midsize Mitsubishi Outlander. The original Eclipse was produced for 22 years—vailable in its Eclipse Spyder convertible variant for 15 of those—before being discontinued in 2012 due to a shifting focus at Mitsubishi.

Crossovers are undoubtedly more popular and better sellers than sports coupes, and Mitsubishi is playing this as safe as it can—by attaching one of its most iconic brands onto an unrelated new vehicle predisposed to selling well. Now, this far from unprecedented in the auto industry. In fact, it’s a relatively common practice, particularly among American automakers. Besides the many instances of defunct automakers, such as the likes of Studebaker and AMC, having their model names lifted or purchased by modern manufacturers, there are several instances where an automaker will reuse or resurrect a model name for its current lineup.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

The Chrysler Pacifica was announced for the 2017 model year with much fanfare to replace the long-tenured Chrysler Town and Country minivan. Chrysler claimed the Pacifica was a game-changing minivan—the most advanced and comfortable minivan on the market, and the first to offer a hybrid variant with the Pacifica Hybrid. The 2017 Pacifica brought a lot of new things to the market—except, of course, its name. The Pacifica lifted its name from the short-lived crossover from the mid-2000s, attaching the old brand to a new body, in order to distinguish itself from the aging Town and Country. And Chrysler had been throwing the Pacifica name around even earlier than the crossover’s 2004 debut, with a 1999 Pacifica concept luxury minivan.

2011 Ford Ranger

Sometimes you have a name so good, you just have to reuse it, even if the first time was a complete and utter failure. Plenty of people are familiar with the name “Edsel,” a defunct automobile marque manufactured by the Ford Motor Company from 1958-1960 that is now synonymous with commercial failure. Fewer people probably realize that the name one of Ford’s most well-known brands originated under the Edsel marque. The Ford Ranger, Ford’s compact pickup that’s due for a comeback, acquired its name from the 1958-1960 Edsel Ranger, a line of coupes, sedans, and convertibles available during Edsel’s short life.

2016 Dodge Dart

There was quite a bit of surprise in 2013 when Chrysler announced it was resurrecting the Dodge Dart, of all things, to welcome its burgeoning merger with Fiat. The new Dart would not even remotely resemble the midsize sedan the 60’s and 70’s, but rather would be based on the Italian compact 4-door Alfa Romeo Giulietta. This endeavor was a continuation of Chrysler’s focus on the small-sedan segment, which ended in 2016 with the discontinuation of the Dart and Chrysler 200.

2001 Chevrolet Lumina

In 1990, Chevrolet made the interesting decision to release two completely different models under the same model name—the Chevrolet Lumina sedan and Chevrolet Lumina minivan. This was all part of a plan to release a full line of Lumina models that would include several coupes, a few sedans, and a minivan. The idea proved to be unsuccessful, however, as consumers were understandably confused by having completely different models with the same name The Lumina minivan was replaced by the Chevrolet Venture in 1996, while the Lumina sedan would live on until 2001.

2016 Dodge Charger

The Dodge Charger has been part several different productions spanning three different platforms and sizes. You are most likely familiar with the current full-size performance sedan, introduced in 2006 as a more practical and family-oriented alternative to the Challenger. But the Charger was first conceived in 1966 as a rear-wheel-drive fastback Coupe, aimed at the “personal luxury” market segment. Production of the Charger ran until 1978 before it was replaced by the early Dodge Magnum (another name that could be added to this list). In 1983, the Charger name was resurrected for Dodge’s new front-wheel-drive, performance-driven, subcompact hatchback based on the Dodge Omni. That Charger lived until 1987, when it was replaced by the Dodge Shadow. Finally, the Charger found life yet again in 2006, when Dodge attached the name to the performance sedan currently on the market.

2004 GMC Safari

The Chevrolet Astro was introduced in 1985 as a rear-wheel, midsize van available in passenger, cargo, and livery configurations. Like most other utility-focused Chevrolet models, it came with a GMC variant—rebadged and sold at a slightly higher price point—called the GMC Safari. Interestingly enough, the Safari was sold at Pontiac/GMC dealerships alongside popular Pontiac models such as the Grand AM, the Firebird, and the Safari. That’s right, the Pontiac Safari—a station wagon produced by Pontiac from 1955 to 1989—was marketed and sold alongside the GMC Safari for 5 years before being discontinued. Even though the two models originated from the same wing of General Motors (Pontiac and GMC had a history of working closely together, and would later merge in 1996), they were completely unrelated.

2007 Chrysler Aspen

Lifting brand names from other marques is something that all three American automakers have perpetrated. In 2007, Chrysler released its luxury variant of the Dodge Durango, the short-lived Chrysler Aspen. The Aspen was Chrysler’s first body-on-frame SUV, but it was taken off lots only two years after being introduced due to slow sales. The Aspen received more than just its body from Dodge, however—its name was lifted from the Dodge Aspen, a short-lived compact coupe and sedan from the late ‘70s. Needless to say, the Aspen name has not had much luck in either of its lifetimes.

2017 Ford Fusion

This may be a slightly different situation than the examples above, but we think it merits some mention. The Ford Fusion was first introduced in 2002, was discontinued in 2012, and looked like a taller version of the Ford Fiesta MPV. Now that doesn’t sound right, does it? The Ford Fusion is a great example of repurposing a brand name to fit the demographic of different markets. Ford liked the Fusion brand so much, they released it in 2 very different markets attached to completely different vehicles, with each version attuned to the demands of that market. The Fusion was released as an MPV (multi-purpose vehicle—essentially a smaller minivan) in the European market and as a midsize sedan in North America in 2005. The American Fusion lives on to this day, whereas the European Fusion went away in 2012.

What old model name do you think deserves another chance?

–John Harrington

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Used Chrysler Pacifica
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