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Australia’s badge sharing era

Badge sharing has been a part of global manufacturing for some time and has led to some abominations and Australia was not exempt.

The ‘Button Plan’ in the late 1980s known officially as the Motor Industry Development Plan aimed to rationalise the Australian manufacturing industry due to the lower levels of protection coming in.

Ford, Holden, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi were the manufacturers’ producing models locally at the time, with Senator John Button beginning consultation in 1983 before it coming into effect in 1985 as prior to this the industry was protected buy large import tariffs and quotas or quantitative restrictions on imports used to support the 13 models being produced.

This plan aimed to slash the models produced to six or two for each marque ensuring more efficiency in preparation for the reduced import tariffs to come.

Tariff rates during the early 1980s were at 60 percent, but starting in 1988 were decreased every year by 2.5 points reaching 15 by 2000. Further reductions occurred until assistance was effectively completely removed as local manufacturing wound down.

To reduce the number of models produced by the four manufacturers was badge engineering where two manufacturers shared the same platform and used its own nameplate.

Ford and Mitsubishi in addition to Toyota were in discussions when the Button Plan was in its infancy stages, but these failed to eventuate. One of these plans was to re-badge Mitsubishi’s locally produced Colt as a Toyota Corolla.

Holden and Nissan had the honour of the first to collaborate as the Pulsar became the Astra for the local manufacturer featuring a drivetrain sourced from Fisherman’s Bend. In turn, Holden received the RB30ET for its VL Commodore range in another agreement.

As it turned out Mitsubishi didn’t take part in the model sharing and instead imported its Magna wagon to various parts of the world including the US.

Toyota formed an alliance with Holden, with Ford doing likewise with Nissan to spawn some strange combinations. For instance, Ford’s Falcon Ute was sold as a Nissan and the popular Patrol as a Maverick. The unloved locally produced Pintara became the Ford Corsair.

The lead selling Commodore was sold as a Toyota Lexcen (named after Australia II designer Ben). Toyota’s class leading Camry and Corolla were turned into the Holden Apollo and Nova, respectively.

Did this prove a success? No, it didn’t as the buying public saw through this model sharing and manufacturers elected to bring fully imported replacements to sell as badge engineering survived until the Lexcen was dropped in 1997.

Although not a success, it still remains an interesting part of Australian motoring history and in a way marked the beginning of the end for local manufacturing.

Nissan was first to pull the plug in 1992, Mitsubishi in 2008, Ford ceased in 2016 as a year later Holden and Toyota pulled out. Holden as a brand ended in 2020.