Quick: What's the make of that SUV?
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
No one has ever accused me of being nearsighted, but I am more and more surprised that the auto companies continue to try and mask their identity.
I noticed it again during the Geneva motor show.
For a while, some people would remove the model badges from their cars so they didn't look too prosperous. It was particularly noticeable on Mercedes and BMW cars. Sometimes, it happened the other way around: New owners would exchange their model badges for those of other, more expensive models.
But now it can be nearly impossible to identify the make of an automobile quickly and easily.
When I was growing up, I was proud that I could tell the make, model and year of any car that hit the pavement. Today, vehicles have much longer life cycles, and it's nearly impossible to tell the year. With the proliferation of SUVs, it's increasingly difficult to determine the manufacturer.
There is a true story about a woman who went to a dealership inquiring about a model she had seen on the road and wondering whether it was that dealership that had sold that model. It wasn't. But that didn't stop the dealer, and the woman left the store happily with another model that she thought was the one she had seen.
Many cars don't need a lot of badge engineering because they look distinctive. But there seem to be more and more vehicles on the road without easily identifiable badges, and you can't tell who made them.
It could be that in keeping costs to a bare minimum auto executives decided to save money. Or perhaps the designer wouldn't let anyone deface the design. Not wanting to mar the clean surfaces of a work of art might preclude placing any identifying mark on it, regardless of how high quality the chrome is.
Maybe it doesn't matter. I can't imagine that many vehicles are sold because someone saw a car on the road and decided to buy one just like it. That might be a long shot.
But I see a lot of pleasant vehicles on the road and am surprised if it's not readily apparent who created them. It's not unlike having an artist sign his or her painting.
You can reach Keith Crain at email@example.com.