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The Best And Worst Co-Branded Cars Of All Time
Posted Dec, 13 2009
Sometimes a car doesn't always sell itself, and that's when car company execs get a little creative with their marketing. Often, they turn to an outside partner to help them shift units in a process known as "co-branding." Some, like Ford's million-selling collaboration with premium clothing retailer Eddie Bauer, have been massively successful. Others, like a Snoopy-themed Mitsubishi? Not so much. We take a look at our favorite releases over the years and decide whether the collaboration was a match made in heaven or a failure that went down in flames.
Lincoln's trusty Town Car got a big upgrade for the 1998-2002 model years with the release of a high-end Cartier-embossed car aimed at younger buyers. Coming on the heels of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Series of 1992-1997, this super-spacious and softly sprung Town Car boasted a 4.6-liter V8 nabbed from the Ford Mustang that gave just about enough grunt to power some 4000 lbs of leather-and-walnut-laden luxury. It came with the Cartier logo resplendent in the seat trim, a Cartier timepiece integrated into the dash, twin exhausts and brushed aluminum rims. And for those with a little change left over to spare, a CD changer was available as a $2110 option. It's now used most often as a long-in-the-tooth hire ride for prom dates.
Want Snoopy on your car? Mitsubishi seemed to think so in 2000, when it released a co-branded Pajero Mini for Japan in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peanuts cartoon strip and everyone's favorite whimsical beagle. Conceived to be "affectionately received" by its owners, according to Mitsubishi's press at the time, options included a "flying ace" (Snoopy's aviator alter-ego) decal on the spare-wheel casing and mud flaps festooned with Snoopy's muddy paw prints. If that wasn't enough, you could also get cartoonist Charles Schultz's signature emblazoned on the liftgate. While aiming a cutesy automotive product at Japanese women aged in their 20s and 30s may seem a little strange in retrospect, we like to think of it as the missing link to Paul Frank's famous monkey's popularity in Harajuku and beyond.
Highly collectible today and a benchmark in luxury motoring on its 1979 limited-edition release, this high-end confluence of couture and car culture came with a 24-carat gold-plated Gucci hood ornament and insignia adornments on its wheels, hood, headrests and trim. Designed by eponymous fashion-house founder Aldo Gucci, swathes of Gucci fabric featured on its immaculate leather interior and matched the markings on its vinyl roof. It also showcased Gucci's famed green/red/green stripe across the rear deck lid and the Gucci family crest on its roof panels. Ultimate luxury for its time, the $23,000 V-8 model came with power windows, power locks, power seats, and switchgear that wouldn't look out of place on a designer handbag. It also boasted white-wall tires and an onboard computer. And if all that wasn't enough, it came with a full set of Gucci luggage in the trunk.
A major carmaker has no reason to do something 14 times unless it's considered relatively successful, and we think Ford will long continue the relationship it's fostered with motorcycle maker Harley Davidson over 14 F150 models since their initial 2000 collaboration. Adorned with Harley's famous insignia on its back and flanks, the F150's seats are constructed with the same black leather as the jackets that made boss-hog riders so revered over the years. Aiming for -- and achieving -- a rare blend of "custom cool," the Harley-badged super-crew 5.4-liter F150s straddle two motoring industries and perhaps two similar types of customer: fiercely brand-loyal consumers that love lots of power and a little bit of chrome-tipped luxury. And can some 75,000 buyers really be wrong?
Now boasting three co-branded Eddie Bauer models -- the Explorer, Expedition and Taurus X -- Ford's million-model-selling collaboration with the Seattle-based upscale retailer has been nurtured over 25 years since the first Bronco II rolled off the line with the Bauer insignia emblazoned on the back. Buyers today get the same logo branded on the Explorer's liftgate and, like the original, an upgraded interior trim and seats. Other options on today's standard Bauer package include chrome accents inside and out and two-tone shading on the outer shell. You may want to note that Ford's all-wheel-drive Explorer models no longer carry the Bauer trim. But how successful does Ford consider the partnership? The Bauer logo has even graced the back of its Windstar people mover.
Old Blue Eyes's John Hancock endorsed some 279 Signature Edition baby-blue convertible Chrysler Imperials back in 1982, showing that Sinatra's friendship with Lee Iacocca extended far past the latter's love of his crooning (although Imperial buyers were gifted a case of Sinatra cassettes with their new car). Iacocca thought Sinatra would be just the celebrity to lend an air of refinement and credibility to Chrysler as it faced a drop-off in popularity in the late 1970s and then resurrected its historic Imperial marque in a bid to stave off bankruptcy in the early 1980s. The ill-fated convertible was dropped from Chrysler's lineup just a year later, but it wasn't the last time a singer has teamed up with an automaker to shift product. Who could forget the Paul McCartney Signature Edition Lexus RX 400h built in 2006 that featured a custom Hofner guitar design on its exterior? Bands on the run, indeed.
Ignoring the fact that one of Jeep's signature models -- the Wrangler -- shares its name with one of its biggest competitors, Levi's Jeans partnered with Jeep in the late 1970s to outfit its interiors with a rugged, rivet-studded interior to match the Jeep's rugged outer shell and rough-and-tough image. Relatively successful from a sales standpoint in its time, good condition CJ-5s and CJ-7s are now heavily in demand among enthusiasts, who can't get enough of sitting on the same material they've long worn on their lower half. Available in both blue and tan trim and bearing the famous Levi's red tag alongside studded bronzed rivets, the upgraded Jeeps also featured an orange Levis tag just above the Jeep insignia on the car's flanks. You can still see a number of CJ-5s and 7s on the road today, but you'd be hard-pressed -- pun intended -- to find one with a pristine denim interior intact.
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