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Twinned Vehicles: Same Cars, Different Brands

Knowing Which Cars Are Twins Gives Consumers More Choice

See chart of all twinned vehicles

So what are "twinned vehicles," and how will knowing about them help you choose the right car?

Twinned vehicles are basically the same under the skin, but are sold under different brand names and marketed as unique vehicles. Manufacturers see this as a way of killing two birds with one stone: expanding their reach in various market segments while avoiding the higher costs of engineering a new vehicle. This practice is also referred to as "badge engineering," since an automaker can create the illusion of an "all-new" model simply by changing the badges, the grille and other superficial styling details.

The Chevrolet Cobalt and its Pontiac G5 twin, below, are a textbook case of badge engineering.

The Chevrolet Cobalt and its Pontiac G5 twin, below, are a textbook case of badge engineering.

Twinned vehicles are built on the same chassis and share most of their under-hood and interior components, but often have different sheet metal, amenities and interior design. This idea extends as well to "triplet" and "quadruplet" vehicles, as in the case of the Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook/ Chevrolet Traverse quads.

Note that twinned vehicles are different from vehicles that only share platforms. Vehicles that share platforms can straddle vehicle types and sizes, such as the Ford Fusion sedan and the Ford Edge SUV, whereas twinned vehicles cannot. There are far more vehicles that share platforms (Ford and Mazda vehicles, for example) than are twins.

Not Like It Used To Be

Because it has so many brands under one corporate parent, General Motors is the classic example of a company that found efficiencies by issuing virtual carbon copies of its cars across numerous brands. At one point in its history, GM even had sextuplets. But in today's world of customization and target marketing, the company is tailoring its vehicles to appeal to different customers.

"In recent times we've placed much more focus on the type of customer for a particular brand, to what type of features and styling appeals to a Buick Enclave customer versus that of our new Chevrolet Traverse," says GM spokesman Jim Burke. "While it's true that the vehicles share common chassis and powertrain attributes, really the customer doesn't see or touch these 'black metal' attributes. We've really worked to differentiate and distinguish the models from the standpoint of exterior and interior design."

So, for example, the Traverse's sheet metal is mostly unique, sharing only its roof and liftgate with its siblings. Its dual-cockpit design — the way the dashboard arches up from the center stack on both sides — is unique to Chevrolet and harkens back to Corvettes of 50 years ago. The instrumentation and door pads are also unique to the Traverse.

But design isn't the only feature that distinguishes the quads. According to Burke, customers are also attuned to the driving characteristics a particular brand is known for. So Chevy customers expect tighter steering and suspension, whereas Buick customers expect a softer, more luxurious ride.

It also held true in the past that twinned vehicles could be distinguished by the packaging of standard features and options: An item buried in an options package on one twin might be standard equipment on the other twin. That's far less true today than just a few years ago, but it's still worth reading those features and options lists carefully. In the case of the GM quads, whether a rearview camera, memory seats, Bluetooth or power rear liftgate is available as either standard or optional depends on which of the quads — and which of the trim levels — you choose.

More important may be the differences that exist in warranty coverage. This happens largely because vehicle twins exist today not only across brands within a company, but across different companies that share their engineering. A Pontiac Vibe, for example, is backed by GM's five-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty; whereas its twin, the Toyota Matrix, has five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain coverage. Even bigger warranty discrepancies can exist if one twin is from a luxury brand and another is not, such as the Lexus ES 350 and the Toyota Camry.

One last thing to consider when comparing twins is resale value; mechanically identical cars can still have differences when you try to sell them. For example, as of this writing, the GMC Yukon Denali depreciates $31,643 in five years. Its twin, the Cadillac Escalade, depreciates by almost $10,000 more. While this kind of discrepancy isn't common, it's a good idea to use our True Cost to OwnSM (TCO) tool to compare the full five-year costs of owning the vehicles you're comparing.

So How Does This Help Me?

Many people don't realize the strong similarity between cars of different brands. Knowing which vehicles are twins allows you to see through the marketing spin. More importantly, it gives you flexibility and bargaining leverage at the dealership (in terms of equipment, trim level and color). For example, if you like the seating capacity and general performance of the GMC Acadia but the dealer isn't giving you a good price, you can suggest that you'd be just as happy with the Outlook at the Saturn dealership a few miles away. It's a pretty sure bet he'll work harder to keep you at his dealership instead.

Below is a list of all the twin/triplet/quadruplet vehicles offered as of January 23, 2009. Some, like the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac G5, are close to identical; many others are more like fraternal twins. When car shopping, remember to compare not only whole vehicles, but specific trim levels and standard features as well. You can easily compare up to five vehicles at once by using our Vehicle Comparison tool.

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