Ask the Best and Brightest: Where Have All the Good Brands Gone?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

As reported here on TTAC, Daimler has decided to start selling smaller, more fuel-efficient cars in the United States. For our international friends, the announcement is meaningless. Outside of The Land of the Free, Mercedes is about as exclusive as the YMCA. (In Germany, Mercedes taxis are a ubiquitous reminder that some Daimler-Benz products are more equal than others.) But for American pistonheads brainwashed by pre-90’s Mercedes products and marketing (“Engineered like no other car in the world”), the arrival of a B-segment Merc is the final nail in the coffin of brand idolatry. Which leaves what?

Porsche’s purity disappeared with the Cayenne. BMW’s Ultimate Driving Machine focus is fertig. Cadillac as the standard of the world is kaput. Lincoln has left the building. Lexus is building tuner trash (very good tuner trash) and supercars.

Lower down on the food chain, same devo. Volkswagen’s rep for cheap, reliable transportation (as undeserved as it may have been) is tot. Honda’s rep for engineering excellence, value-for-money and design simplicity has taken a major ding with the Ridgeline and Insight. Toyota’s having “issues.” Subaru built the Tribeca. Etc.

Other than Land Rover, I reckon the only automotive brands that haven’t sullied their good name sit at the very pinnacle of price: Ferrari, Maserati, Bugatti, Bentley, Aston. Or the uber-top: Pagani.

What’s your take? Which car brands are dead to you now? Which are still worth coveting? Which ones are ascendant, which ones descendant?

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Wsn Wsn on Nov 16, 2009

    Ascending: Hyundai - From a cheap odd alternative to a real contender. Honda - From a mainstream player to a semi-premium car make, something like Volvo used to be. Descending: MB, Mitsubishi, anything that's insolvent and anything bought by Tata

  • Pch101 Pch101 on Nov 16, 2009

    Strictly from a US perspective, and excluding the exotics: -Strong: BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Lexus, Porsche, Land Rover, MINI -Reasonable: GMC, Cadillac, Ford, Infiniti, Jeep -Up and coming with much potential: Audi, Hyundai, Kia -Mixed bag: Nissan, VW, Subaru, Scion -OK for its niche, but not much hope for growth (which means a slow decline and eventual death): Mazda -Weak, hope for recovery: Acura, Chrysler, Dodge, Chevrolet, Volvo -Weak, almost hopeless: Mercury, Lincoln, Buick, Saab, Mitsubishi, Suzuki We Germans are different. Prestige for us has a lot to do with engineering and technology, not just with leather upholstery. What happened in the US is that GM invented progressive tiered branding based upon price and features, and the other domestics followed suit, with the transplants continuing with that model as they expanded. That model continues to be the norm in the US, but it hasn't caught on everywhere else to quite the same degree.

  • Stewart Dean Stewart Dean on Nov 16, 2009

    Since this is the busiest post right now, I call on us all: Lift a virtual toast to Robert, without whom none of this would be possible or possible with such class. Vaya con Dios, Robert

  • Stewart Dean Stewart Dean on Nov 18, 2009

    Re: Land Rover. There was a time when LR was the definitive true off-road vehicle. Simple, constructed out of bridge girders and reliable hundreds of miles from the last road. And it wasn't much of road car, though it made a Hell of a statement there. A friend had one with the bumper sticker, 'Weird Load'. After the world moved towards boulavadier faux off-road SUVs, LR finally followed suit in the good looking body shape and the less extreme some-compromise off-road gear. As I recall from a R&T/C&D review some years back, it still had everybody else beat short of a Hummer H1 off road. But to compare the old LRs from the 50's to todays' for out back of the beyond desert and Mountains of the Moon travel...I can't believe that the present LRs would match a zero-timed old one. But I could be wrong. As had been pointed out here, in an industry where mass-market and the spread-sheet rules, there is precious little place for true niche no-compromise products. Time was, if your life was going to be on the line hundreds of miles from any help, you bought LR. The one-ton truck masquerading as a Jeep, it was bomb-proof, simple and if it broke or you fell in the pot, you could probably limp back somehow. KISS. The articulation may be better, but the complexity there and everywhere else in the current vehicle comes at a cost. Whatever. I don't think I'm God. You fish on your side of the pier, I'll fish on mine, nobody fish in the middle. The old LRs are on my long list of cars I wish I might have owned: it was a honest, balls to the wall Gork....and oh God, honest simple engineering is so rare these days.