July 20, 2017 at 12:51 PM
Today, the Dodge Neon and the Chevy Trailblazer are in the automotive equivalent of the international witness protection program.
You won't find a new one in a showroom in the United States, but venture across a border or two and a Dodge or Chevy dealer will be happy to sell you a new four-door Neon or a rugged Trailblazer pickup.
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Automakers routinely keep an old badge around long enough to reuse it over and over, often on something entirely different. For instance, the hot-selling Chevrolet Tahoe SUV owes its name to a package offered on the early-1990s Chevy Blazer that included such exotic niceties as chrome bumpers, an AM/FM radio, and cruise control. General Motors is perhaps the most prolific name recycler out there, but before you levy accusations of laziness on Detroit's biggest car manufacturer, consider its massive global presence.
Recycling names is nothing new for any car manufacturer, though. It's an opportunity for an automaker to leverage a name already popularized in one place for another market. For instance, "Chevrolet Cavalier" may not have much cachet here, but it's recognizable branding that may have been featured in a book or movie with international appeal.
Here's a look at some unique ways car manufacturers reuse names once popular here. If nothing else, it's a nice reminder of just how global the auto industry is.
Odds are, you don't have the best memories of the Chevrolet Cavalier. Even at its height, it represented Detroit at its worst. But that means nothing to buyers in China, who weren't granted private ownership of cars during most of the Cavalier's run in the U.S. Today, the Cavalier is a small, cheap sedan in China. In 20 years, will nostalgic Chinese view it with disdain? Only time will tell.
Chevy couldn't quite figure out a name for its compact sedan. It dropped the Cavalier in favor of the Cobalt in 2004 before replacing that car with the Cruze a few years later. Today, the Cobalt lives on—in name only—in Brazil, where it's built for most of South America. Fun fact sure to thrill party-goers: the original Chevy Cruze was a tall-riding wagon based on a Suzuki sold mostly in emerging markets a decade ago.
This one has quite the genesis. Suzuki built a Jeep Wrangler-esque open-top SUV in the early 1990s, slapped Geo Tracker badges on it, and let GM dealers sell it. In the mid-1990s, GM folded the Geo brand and renamed a few of its models as Chevrolets—including the Tracker. Today's Chevy Tracker is known, conveniently, as the Chevrolet Trax in the U.S. But it's badged as a Chevy Tracker in many global markets.
Chevy replaced the Blazer with a new version it christened Trailblazer in the early 2000s and it enjoyed a brief, but strong run. A few years ago, the Trailblazer died off here and was replaced by both the Equinox and Traverse crossovers. But the Trailblazer still lives—in South America and parts of Asia, at least. It's now an SUV based on the Chevrolet Colorado (which is sold in some markets under the decidedly retro S10 name).
Replaced by the Nissan nameplate in the 1970s, Datsun was reborn a few years ago for emerging markets. Its lineup isn't thrilling—don't look for a 240Z—but it does provide basic transportation at the low, low starting price of about $3,750 in India. That money doesn't buy you much other than four wheels, a motor, and some windows, but it's a lineup that's quickly putting both urban and rural Asia on the road.
Lest you think we're picking on Chevrolet, here's a 1990s throwback. The Dodge Neon still exists, only this time it's on a sedan designed by Fiat and built in South America. It's sold in several global markets, including Latin America and the Middle East, and it sticks to the same recipe as the original Neon: it's light, cheap, and not especially powerful, but our colleagues in Mexico have said it's actually a hoot to drive.
You won't have to wait all that long for the Ranger to reappear in American showrooms; it's due here sometime next year as a 2019 model year. But since 2011, the Ranger nameplate has had the unique characteristic of being absent here but very popular nearly everywhere else. The next-generation version of the Ranger pickup built on several continents is scheduled to do battle with the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado soon.
Oh, how we barely knew you, Mazda 2. Briefly sold here as a cut-price hatchback, the Mazda 2 lives on in most global markets. Here, it's known in sedan form as the Toyota Yaris iA, itself a remnant of the now-defunct Scion division. Would we like the new Mazda 2 here? You betcha. Would anyone buy it? Not unless gas hits $5 a gallon.
Volkswagen New Beetle
Back in 1998, the VW New Beetle was all the rage here in the U.S. The reborn icon was a sensation. When it was rebooted yet again a few years ago, it dropped the "New" here and remains known as the Volkswagen Beetle. Down in Mexico, where it's built, it retains the New Beetle badge—to differentiate it from the hugely popular original Beetle, which only went out of production in 2003.
(c) 2017, High Gear Media.