By on March 19, 2018

Ford Dealership

On Friday, we published our take on the 2019 Ram 1500 pickup. Some of you even read it, for which we thank you. Ram wisely brought a wide range of trims to the event, ranging from the workaday Tradesman to the high-zoot (that one’s for you, commenter MLS) Limited model.

The differences in equipment, capability, and appeal between the different trims on display got me thinking: at what point do we start thinking of these things as distinct models?

In 2017, the Ram brand sold 556,790 units, with the vast majority of those, over 500k, being pickup trucks. Parsing out the vehicle lineup we find only trucks of the 1500 to 5500 variety and a couple of staid work vans.

Over at Jeep, where 828,522 machines hit the road, five models compete for showroom space — six if you count the JK and JL Wrangler as separate models, which this author does. Five models conspired to sell 446,996 vehicles at Dodge. Individually, none of them came even close to 500,000 copies like the Ram pickup did.

If car companies ever started treating individual trim levels as unique models, it would give us a fantastic window into the buying habits of the American public. This is not limited to Ram; an Ace of Base F-150 XL bears little resemblance to a loaded-up Platinum.

After all, in the bad old days, one could argue the early-90s versions of a Chevy Blazer, GMC Jimmy, and Olds Bravada were simply gradually increasing trim levels of the same vehicle, and their sales were reported individually. Yes, there were different marques on their noses, but you get the point.

Olds Bravada ad 1992

None of this will ever happen, of course, as I am quite confident manufacturers would be quite happy to give us less information about sales numbers, not more, if they thought they could get away with it.

Makes for an interesting train of thought, though: what trims on what vehicles do you think could be broken down into different models?

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35 Comments on “QOTD: Trims to Models and Everything in Between?...”


  • avatar
    Ltd1983

    Even on trim lines that average people know by name, like “Denali”, brands will never just call a model that.

    Aside from now applying the Denali trim to almost every model, I think it really has helped GMC justify its previously inexplicable, premium positioning over Chevrolet, even on non-Denali trims.

    Even a cloth-seated Yukon comes across as a more premium model than a Tahoe, to the average Joe, just because of the ubiquity of the Denali trim level.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Those that already different vehicles – Corolla Wagon, Elantra GT, etc

  • avatar
    gtem

    Man I love that Bravada ad, both the sheer gaul and how nice and crisp the styling on that Bravada looks.

    Possible Buy/Drive/Burn installment? early 90s (pre-Grand Cherokee) American lux compact/midsize SUV?

    1992 Eddie Bauer Explorer
    1992 Olds Bravada
    1992 Jeep Cherokee Wagoneer

  • avatar
    arach

    Some don’t make sense at all:
    Hyundai Santa Fe / Hyundai Santa Fe Sport – should be two different models (Hyundai sonata and Sonata Sport should NOT be two different models)

    Some I think they only keep together because they are based on the same platform:
    Corvette Vs. Corvette zr1 – Should be two different models

    But the truck thing is interesting especially in light of the Jeep thing.

    you call a jeep 2 dr vs 4 dr 2 different vehicles. Jeep does too.

    But the same should be true of Trucks at the multiple cabs- IE Crew Cab and 2 doors should just be two different vehicles. the needs are often totally different. 2 door- WT, 4 door- luxury car.

    95% of the pople who buy a 4 door for a WT buy a 3/4 or 1 ton anyway. The amount of 4 door crew cab 1/2 tons in WT guise have to be around 1%, at which point lets just recognize the 4 door as a different type of vehicle for a different audience and design it accordingly.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      “Hyundai Santa Fe / Hyundai Santa Fe Sport – should be two different models (Hyundai sonata and Sonata Sport should NOT be two different models)”

      Indeed. And Hyundai agrees. For 2019, the short 5-seat model formerly known as Santa Fe Sport grows in size to match the Sorento and gets the Santa Fe name back. It also *is* a 7=seater, but only if you spec the new diesel engine.

      Meanwhile, the LWB, true-7-seater that had been using the Santa Fe name will soldier along on the current body and platform, and be called Santa Fe XL. It will be renamed something else altogether once it’s redesigned, possibly Veracruz.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Different trims in muscle cars could easily be different models. A Charger Hellcat lists for well over twice what a SXT does and has 130% more hp. They look similar but it’s unlikely anyone really cross-shops them. The same could go for high output Camaros and Rustangs.

  • avatar

    I think Mercedes should separate out the AMG models it sells as a separate brand.

    Also Denali.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I was at the junkyard yesterday, older black gent in front of me asks the counter guy to print off a ticket to know which row to go looking for parts in. Parts guy asks him what he’s looking for:

      ” ’06 Denali, with a 5.3″
      “Yukon?”
      “Envoy”

      It’s interesting how “Denali” really is recognized as kind of its own brand to many people.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      “I think Mercedes should separate out the AMG models it sells as a separate brand.”

      They do. Technically, they’re all Mercedes-AMG, rather than Mercedes-Benz.

      Meanwhile, I wish they would have just gone all-in on the Mercedes-Maybach. I’d rather see the triple-M logo than any three-pointed star on those cars, but they use both emblems.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    The value of the halo trims is to get someone to come in and look at it in the showroom, then buy the lesser version they can afford. Sure Joe Blow wants a Hellcat but is only able to get into a Charger SXT on an 84 month note. But dammit his has the exact same badge on it!

    Similarly, the Platinum trucks and SUVs allow rich people to buy something nice without “showing off” like an Escalade or Mercedes would. In some areas/industries, this is really important. “Sure the foreman makes 5x as much as me, but he drives an F250 too!” Note the failure of the Mark LT followed by immediate runaway success of F150 Platinum. Every Denali vehicle still has GMC prominently displayed.

    American automakers, and in particular their trucks and muscle cars, still maintain the blue collar aura, regardless of the demographics of who is actually buying them. They still have to seem attainable to the everyman, whether that is really true or not. (Not many factory workers buying $70k trucks or $50k Mustangs I’m guessing) I think they mess with this perception at their peril.

    • 0 avatar
      ernest

      +1. I work with a lot of teachers. Status in the parking lot is more of a reverse thing with this crowd. “I’ve got 260K miles on my Subaru” carries more weight than “I just bought a new BMW,” which is more likely to generate comments about the lack of fiscal responsibility. No one blinked when I showed up with the Charger, other than to ask “that thing got a hemi?”

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Yep. For most clients I’m likely to show up in my Lexus LX. But for the edu clients it works better to show up in my ’95 Legend.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        There’s nothing worse to own than a high mileage Subaru. Those counter-culture twits are spending more on repairs than people with good credit spend leasing mid-sized German status symbols.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Automakers release the break up of engines and average selling price, likely since those are public records, so we can guess the trim-level breakdown with relative decent accuracy.

    With Mustangs, Challengers etc, it’s too easy. But we know the F-150 sell about 30% Lariat and above, 30% XL with the majority XLT.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I consider each of Ford’s “trim levels” different models because they each change the grill and other factors to make that trim “exclusive.” Ram is following after Ford by now offering, I believe, six different trims compared to Ford’s eight. Chevy, meanwhile, only has three, though if you count GMC and treat them all as GM then GM also has six separate trims for their half-ton trucks.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I think the manufacturers have it down pretty well. Ford, for instance, separates the F-150 Raptor SVT, Mustang GT350 and Focus RS as separate models, because they share basic bodyshells with the rest of the nameplate, but are otherwise vastly different.

    But I don’t think the F-150 Limited needs to be split out as a separate model just because it costs 2.3 times as much as a base XL. In the past, manufacturers got too hung up on making trims into separate models, which was how you had things like the Biscayne/Impala/Bel Air arrangement.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Of course the automakers are not going back to that model, they abandoned that in the 70’s. Those of us that are older will remember back when if you wanted a full size Chevy you had your choice of a Biscayne, Bel-Air, Impala or Caprice.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Yeah, let’s look back 40 years, when Chevrolet had, in descending order of prestige:

      Caprice
      Imapala
      Bel Air
      Biscayne

      And at Ford:

      LTD
      Galaxie
      Custom 500
      Custom

      Grilles, trim, emblems, and taillights differentiated models. There’s still some of that today with the different trim levels, but not like there used to be.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Models are pricing tools. For instance, install a lift kit on an Impreza, call it an XV, and increase the price $4,000 though it doesn’t really cost more to produce. That’s what models are for. To induce consumption of a vehicle that a consumer wouldn’t have previously considered and to make them pay more money.

    Take a Toyota Pickup put a camper shell over the bed, install a lift kit, and install a rear seat. Now it’s a 4Runner. Take family sedan, chop the roof off, and put a bed in the back. Now it’s an El Camino or a Ute.

    Is creating a new model of Ram from nothing but interior trim going to make people pay more or induce consumption from car-buyers who weren’t looking at a 1500 pickup. Probably not. If you just want them to pay more money, and you’re not pitching a differentiated vehicle concept to attract a different audience, then stick to trims or sub-brands.

    The only way I could see Ram justifying a different model designation would be if they improved the interior appointment such that the vehicle would attract luxury car buyers. However, we know that most luxury car buyers prefer an entirely separate brand, not just a separate model.

  • avatar
    MLS

    I’m flattered. But high-zoot still needs to die.

  • avatar
    ernest

    Let’s not forget “Raptor” is as much a brand for Ford as “Denali” is for GMC.

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