A marque (French for "brand" and pronounced as "mark") is a brand name, most commonly used for automobile brands. For example, Chevrolet is the marque for the Corvette sports car. A company may operate a single marque, or many—General Motors has used more than a dozen in the American market alone.
Note that, although make is sometimes synonymous with marque, maker refers to the manufacturer of a vehicle, not the marked brand name. For example, Dodge could be said to be the marque and make of a Dodge Dart, but the maker was Chrysler Corporation.
There are huge economies of scale in the automobile industry. A larger company can develop and produce vehicles much more economically than a smaller concern. Product development, in particular, benefits from these economies; research and development costs can be spread out further and contribute less to the cost of a vehicle. These savings can be passed on to the purchaser, or increase the product margin of the manufacturer.
Because of these economies, the industry has a long history of consolidation. As a result, only a few companies worldwide produce cars in any great number. However, the number of marques has not reduced to anywhere near this degree. The reason is that automobiles are not purchased solely for utility; they are as much an article of fashion as clothing. Manufacturers therefore maintain marques (brands of automobile) even after consolidation to serve differing segments of the market. While individual car models come and go, and even model names change over time, the marque remains constant. Manufacturers try to give each marque a distinct image and message; success or failure depends on how successfully this is done and how well it corresponds to customer desires.
Marque differentiation does, however, fight against the manufacturer's desire for those economies of scale. A successful balance must be maintained between the desire for commonality with the economy it brings, and the differentiation necessary for customers to perceive difference between marques. At the extreme, the only difference between two marques from the same manufacturer is the name placed on it; marque differentiation in only surface cosmetic detail is known, somewhat pejoritively as badge engineering. Sometimes, such practices erode brand equity severely, while in other cases, the brands are strong enough that consumers do not distinguish a similarity.
Marques have also often developed halo vehicles—specialized desirable vehicles which they hope will cast a positive image on the marque as a whole. The Chevrolet Corvette is an excellent example. Occasionally, manufacturers have created single vehicle marques for special vehicles.
One extreme case of this problem came with Mazda's launch of three new marques in the Japan market in the early 1990s (Autozam, Efini, and Eunos). Mazda had hoped to capitalize on the Japanese car consumer's desire for differentiated vehicles, by selling the same few vehicles under five or more model and marque combinations. There were no fewer than 27 different versions of the Mazda Capella alone. This caused consumer confusion, and it hurt the brand, because resources (and consumer attention) were spread too thin.
A marque will often fail when consumers do not understand the distinction of the specific marque. Chrysler Corporation's Plymouth division and General Motors' Oldsmobile are recent examples of marques that failed when they lost their central message with consumers.
The American launch of the Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti marques were more successful. In these cases, the Japanese parent companies felt that it would be difficult to move upmarket (where vehicles are sold with higher profit margins) under their original names (Honda, Toyota, and Nissan respectively). All three luxury marques are now very successful and profitable.
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