The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







For a letter of marque, authorising a privateer, see that article.

A marque (pronounced as "mark") is a brand name, most commonly used for automobile brands. For example, Chevrolet is the marque for the Corvette model of sports car. A company may operate a single marque, or many—General Motors has used more than a dozen in the US 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.



Automobile manufacture is a business in which there are huge economies of scale—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.

Given this, the industry has been consolidating almost from the beginning, and there are now a very few companies worldwide that produce cars in any great number. However, the number of marques sold has not contracted to anywhere near this degree. The reason is that automobiles are not purchased solely for utility; they have become as much a personal statement—an article of fashion—as clothing has. Manufacturers therefore maintain marques—brands of automobile—to serve differing segments of the market. While individual car models come and go, and even model names change over time, the marque remains more constant. Manufacturers try to give each marque a distinct image and message; success or failure depend 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 struck between the desire for commonality with the economy it brings, and the differentiation necessary for customers to perceive any 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 perceive 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 four different sales channels in the Japan market in the early 1990s. They 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 ended up hurting the brand because resources (and consumer attention) was spread too thin.

Marques also often fail when consumers fail to understand their reason for being. 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 was more successful. In this case, the Japanese parent companies felt that it would be hard to move up-market (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 but Toyota's Lexus brand is exemplary. The company plans to use the Marque globally in the coming decade.

See also

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04