Three Brands, One Car

Can essentially identical vehicles be given different brand badges? When Toyota and Subaru got together to collaborate on a new sports car they came up with what I think is a wicked sports car for the sub 30k price range. The Toyota and Subaru collaboration was a collision of impeccable engineering, design, and economies of scale. They took the Subaru engineering team’s new engine, drive-train engineering and inspiration from Toyota’s classic AE86 to create the lovechild car that little racer boys and girls can’t wait to play with.

Subaru BRZ & Toyota GT86/Scion FRS (image from: http://www.ft86club.com)

The specs aside, this makes for an interesting situation between the product’s identity and the brand’s identity. Since this new car is a collaborative effort between two brands, they released the car into the market under three different brands.

  1. Toyota – GT86 in all markets except North America
  2. Scion (Toyota-owned) – FRS in North America
  3. Subaru – BRZ globally

It is not uncommon for brands to have near-identical products under different names in different geographies. For example, Ford sells the Fusion (North America) as the Mondeo in the UK/European markets. The GT86 and BRZ, however, are the same car and the names are used globally. The exception would be the FRS, which is the GT86, in the North American market, but under the Scion brand. While you could argue that there are some differences in the details, such as color selection, shape of the grille, and dashboard panels – the differences really stop there. In terms of their technical specs – the only difference between the two is that the Subaru weighs 4 pounds more than the Toyota/Scion versions. In fact, major petrol-heads don’t consider them different cars at all: See Top Gear Season 19 Episode 3 (cue that video to 6:30 to see my point).

Does this change the way we see brand communities or does it reinforce the idea that brands are fluid and community based?

My thoughts on the question, and this is not because I drink the agency’s kool-aid, is that brand communities are fluid and organic. Frankly, the GT86 breaks away from the common perception of Toyota these days — reliable, safe, and generally family-oriented. In the mid-80s, however, they had a cult following by car-tuners for the Toyota AE86, and this is the same type of community they want buying and modifying the GT86. But if Toyota made this car themselves today, I don’t think sports car drivers would take their product seriously. And this is where Subaru comes in. Known for rally racing engineering, Subaru’s brand is more fitting to create the guts of a car that can really push it. On the other hand, Subaru’s cars by design are boxy and rugged, not exactly a sports car look. So Toyota provided insight from their AE86 days, and design, while Subaru created the flat-four Boxer engine and drive-train for rear-wheel drive.

In short, Toyota and Subaru engineered the GT86/BRZ together so that they can both sell a sports car without alienating their brand communities and departing from their established values (Toyota: reliability; Subaru: off-roading/rally). By collaborating on this car they successfully got away with creating a sleek fun-to-drive sports car with an entirely new brand community — a community not focused entirely on Toyota or Subaru, but rather the Toyota-Subaru collaboration on one car. If you don’t believe me, check out all the people actively engaging on this forum dedicated specifically for this car.

As for Scion in North America, the FRS was a perfect way for Toyota to get a tonne of exposure for a relatively new and unknown brand. It is also worth noting that all these brands grew their communities as a result of launching the collaborative car. Now if they produced a sub-par vehicle (Saturn, anyone?) this would be a different story.

The three brands, one car approach is a prime example of how fluid brand communities are, and that they don’t have to be of one specific brand. I don’t think examples like this one come along very often, but maybe I missed something. Do you have any examples of successful collaborations between brands that resulted in an entirely new community?

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Nancy Huynh

Nancy Huynh

Nancy graduated from Queen’s University (B.Com) and co-founded Young Urban Farmers Ltd (YUF) in 2008 with two other Queen’s graduates. YUF is now a thriving business in its 4th season. Her areas of interests are social media; food culture; real estate; and urban geography, which she has conducted graduate-level research on. When she’s not researching, she is tweeting as @soda_ninja on whatever she finds intriguing.

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