The new Toyota Corolla boasts an impressive array of features, from a tire-pressure monitor standard on most grades to dampers on the glove-box hinges so the glove-box door won't flop open. What it does not have is the Toyota badge on the grille.
Instead of the Toyota 'sombrero,' the badge on the Japan-market version is a stylized C to symbolize Corolla's New Century Value theme. The Corolla is not alone. Virtually every Japan-market Toyota has its own grille badge. The cars wear the Toyota name on the back, but there is no common mark to tell you that the approaching car is a Toyota.
To be sure, Toyota is not the only carmaker in Japan with a plethora of grille badges. Until recently, several makers gave each model its own badge. If badging is the first step toward branding, then much of Japan is a step behind. The missed opportunity to build the Toyota brand seems especially odd, because Toyota Motor Corp. says it wants to do more in the way of branding.
A FRIENDLY FACE
In Toyota's latest annual report, under reproductions of the Toyota, Daihatsu, and Lexus badges, the auto giant states: 'Increasingly, customers choose a name more than they choose a set of product specifications. ... Brands put a friendly, approachable face on products. Our new focus on marketing is on highly visible, easily recognizable brands that evoke consumers' individual values and lifestyles.'
Mazda stopped the practice of using unique badges for each model after marketing ace Ronald Leight joined Mazda from Ford Motor Co. He was appalled to find that many Japanese consumers did not know that the Roadster, known as the Miata or MX-5 abroad, was a Mazda. How would they? It was sold at Anfini dealerships with its own badge. A buyer could drive off the lot in a new Roadster without once bumping into the Mazda name. Leight decided this had to change. He inserted the name Mazda into each of the carmaker's distribution channels in Japan, and put a new Mazda badge on the front grille of every car in the Mazda lineup.
`IT'S A MISTAKE'
A similar transformation is under way at Nissan Motor Co. 'It's a mistake' to slap a different badge on every model, said Patrick Pelata, Nissan's vice president in charge of product development. So now Nissan is abandoning the practice. A few models' badges that have built up considerable brand equity may survive, such as the fan-shaped hood ornament on the luxury-class Cima, known as the Infiniti Q45 in North America. For the most part, though, Nissan's collection of badges will give way to a prominent corporate badge on the grille of new models.
To be sure, not all Japanese carmakers have swamped the market with a proliferation of badges and brands. Cars from Honda Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. all use their corporate badge exclusively.
Some wits inside Toyota suggest that maybe the marketing department decided the Toyota badge carried too much negative imagery. Younger buyers have spurned Toyota cars as too dowdy. Perhaps some executives thought it was better to use other badges instead. Others, though, say the company is reviewing its badging strategy. For now, though, the Corolla and other cars in the Toyota lineup will remain differentiated by their features - and their different badges.
You can e-mail writer James B. Treece at [email protected]