The Complete Guide to Automotive Sub-Brands
From Abarth to Wilderness, an exhaustive look at automakers' built wild attempts to make fetch happen.
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.
N: N is Hyundai's performance division, which includes both N and N-Line performance vehicles. Hyundai plans to expand N-branding across its vehicle lineup in the coming years.
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.
Special Vehicle Operations: SVO is Land Rover's performance and luxury division that produces SVR performance cars and super-lux SV Autobiography trim vehicles.
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.
ID: The ID series cares are VW's battery electric vehicles built on the new MEB EV platform. Volkswagen launched the ID.3 hatchback in Europe and the ID.4 crossover in the United States.
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.
Polestar Engineered: Polestar Engineered is Volvo's high-performance hybrid brand. Slightly confusingly, Polestar is also a spinoff brand that produce its own vehicles without Volvo branding, such as the Polestar 2.
The car world is changing quickly, and some of our favorite cars and SUVs are being pulled along for the ride.