Sub-brands are all the hotness in the automotive world these days. As the name would suggest, a sub-brand is a brand within a brand; basically, when research shows customers connect more deeply with a particular trait or model of vehicle rather than the automaker itself, marketers, naturally, decide to lean on what buyers like — and brand products accordingly.
There are no precise parameters for how a sub-brand comes into being. It could be based on a specific car like the Ford Mustang or Bronco that carries more clout with buyers than the Ford badge; it could be a term that signifies high performance or luxury; or, it could be a way to delineate an exciting new line of electric vehicles. What makes it a sub-brand is that an automaker is trying to make it happen — and it resonates with buyers at least a bit more than “fetch.”
Here is our comprehensive list of automotive sub-brands.
Audi Sport: Audi's high-performance division responsible for S and RS-branded cars.
e-tron: Audi's electric vehicle brand.
Alpina: Alpina is an independent company that designs luxury, high-performance versions of BMW cars that are built and sold by BMW.
i: BMW's "i" brand encompasses their plug-in and electric vehicles, such as the BMW i3.
M: BMW's performance division which produces M cars, M performance trims of BMW's standard models and M Sport accessories.
Avenir: Avenir is Buick's top-of-the-line premium luxury brand.
V Series: The V-Series is Cadillac's line of high-performance cars. Currently, this consists of medium-performance "V" models and top-tier performance "V Blackwing" models.
Corvette: What does the little Chevy bow-tie do for the Corvette? Pretty much nothing.GM has not expanded Corvette into its own brand....yet. But reporting (and speculation) sees a Corvette line of vehicles on the horizon, likely starting with an electric crossover.
SRT: SRT stands for "Street & Racing Technology." SRT produces special high-performance editions of Dodge and Jeep vehicles. Stellantis has disbanded SRT as a separate engineering entity, but will continue producing SRT-branded vehicles.
Abarth: Abarth is Fiat's racing division. It is best known in the U.S. for sportier trims of the now-departed Fiat 500 and Fiat 124 Spider.
Bronco: Ford has relaunched Bronco as a range of off-road-oriented crossovers and SUVs with corresponding merchandise and lifestyle experiences. Bronco even has its own catchphrase: "Built Wild."
Mustang: Ford expanded the Mustang brand to include the Mustang Mach-E, an electric crossover. Don't expect it to be the last new car to get the pony emblem.
AT4: AT4 is GMC's off-roading brand that equips trucks and SUVs with enhanced off-road capability.
Denali: GMC has cultivated Denali as the premier, refined luxury brand for its trucks and SUVs. GMC is fond of comparing Denali performance to luxury brands.
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Ioniq: Hyundai has had an "Ioniq" vehicle, but as with Genesis, that will be a pre-cursor to branching out into its own sub-brand of electric vehicles, starting with the stylish Ioniq 5.
EV: EV is Kia's straightforwardly named branding for its new electric vehicle lineup on the Hyundai Group's E-GMP platform, which is kicking off with the EV6.
Range Rover: Range Rover was the OG sub-brand. It resonates more as a premium luxury brand than Land Rover itself. Not coincidentally, more than half of Land Rover's vehicles — and all the luxury-oriented ones — are badged as Range Rovers.
Nismo: Nismo is Nissan's in-house performance tuner. The name derives from "Nissan Motorsport."
EQ: EQ is Mercedes's new electric vehicle sub-brand, which should see an onslaught of new car launches for 2021 and 2022.
G: Citing "the demand for the G," Mercedes announced plans to break out the G-Wagen into its own sub-brand.
Mercedes-AMG: AMG is Mercedes's in-house performance tuner. The branding is used for their most powerful, most aggressively styled and most expensive cars.
Mercedes-Maybach: Mercedes revived its defunct Maybach brand as the Mercedes-Maybach sub-brand. These are high-end luxury vehicles commanding a far higher price-point than typical Mercedes vehicles.
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Wilderness: Subaru plans to release more off-road capable versions of its trail-capable vehicles that will carry a Wilderness badge. Subaru began with the Outback; there should be a Forester version coming as well.
bZ: The bZ brand stands for "Beyond Zero." Toyota will use the branding for its electric cars, such as the upcoming bZ4X crossover.
GR: GR stands for Gazoo Racing. This is Toyota's racing performance division. Sports cars such as the GR Supra, GR 86 and the forbidden fruit GR Yaris carry this branding.
TRD: TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development. It focuses on tuning and accessories for existing Toyota vehicles, most notably the TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro trims for Toyota's off-roaders.
R: Volkswagen has been rolling out "R" as a distinct performance brand. VW will have R-branded vehicles like the new Golf R. Nearly every model in the lineup also has an R-line trim with distinct visual features.
The car world is changing quickly, and some of our favorite cars and SUVs are being pulled along for the ride.