A marque (French for "brand") is a brand name, especially in the automobile industry. For example, Chevrolet and Pontiac are marques of their manufactuer (maker), General Motors (GM). A company may have many marques: GM has used more than a dozen in the North American market alone.
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 profit 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, conflict with 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 pejoratively 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, and the Bugatti Veyron are excellent examples. Occasionally, manufacturers have created single vehicle marques for special vehicles.
Each year, BusinessWeek publishes its 100 Best Global Brands study, ranking the financial value of brands. Following are the automobile marques ranked by this study for 2005.
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