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Here Are 5 "Twin" Car Models You've Probably Forgotten

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2017

In the automotive world, a "twin" car is a vehicle that's developed by one automaker and then sold by another automaker, usually with minimal changes, under a different name -- in an attempt to try and convince the public that it's a totally different car. Another common term for this process is "badge engineering," which is a tongue-in-cheek way of expressing that the only real engineering required to create the "twin" was simply changing the badge.

Twin cars used to be a lot more prevalent -- but as automakers have slimmed down and lost brands (and, I swear, as the internet has helped car buyers get more information), they've largely disappeared. While we all remember some older twins (the Ford Taurus and the Mercury Sable, anyone?), here's a look at some less memorable models you've probably forgotten -- or maybe just wish you had.

Chevrolet City Express

Chevrolet City Express

The Chevy City Express is one of the few true "badge-engineered" vehicles left on the market. As most other brands started to add compact cargo vans to their lineups (Ford Transit, RAM ProMaster City, Mercedes-Benz Metris), Chevy decided to get in on the game in the easiest way possible: by borrowing a small cargo van from Nissan. The City Express is a near-exact clone of the Nissan NV200, with the badges and grille swapped to include Chevy bow ties. The City Express has been on the market since the 2015 model year, and sales have been weak: In its first full year on sale, 2015, Chevy moved just 10,283 City Express models, compared to more than 17,000 NV200s -- and more than 52,000 Transit Connects -- that same year.

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Mazda Navajo

Mazda Navajo

Unless you're crazy like me, you've surely forgotten the Mazda Navajo. Offered from 1991 to 1994, the Navajo was a twin of the 2-door Ford Explorer from the same era. Yes, that's right: only the 2-door Explorer, and not the 4-door, as Ford kept that for itself. The Navajo used a 4.0-liter V6 that somehow made only 155 horsepower, though it could be mated to a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Somehow, this was enough to convince Motor Trend to award the Navajo its "Truck of the Year" honor in 1991 -- likely due to a lack of competition (although, oddly enough, MT chose the Navajo over the Explorer, which debuted the same year).

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Mitsubishi Raider

Mitsubishi Raider

The "Raider" name has been used twice by highly forgettable Mitsubishi and Chrysler "twin" cars. The first time, in the 1980s, the name was used on the Dodge Raider -- a rebadged 2-door version of the Mitsubishi Montero, which gave Dodge the smaller SUV it needed to compete in a growing segment. In 2006, the name came back -- but this time on a Mitsubishi. The Mitsubishi Raider was a rebadged version of the Dodge Dakota, offering slightly different styling -- especially in the front. Otherwise, the Raider and Dakota were largely the same, right down to powertrain options -- but the Raider suffered from a lack of marketing and a smaller dealer network, which led to much poorer sales: During the Raider's best year, 2007, it recorded just 7,500 sales, versus more than 50,000 for the Dakota. The Raider was cancelled in 2009, though we're expecting the name to resurface on another Dodge-Mitsubishi tie-in sometime in the 2020s.

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Saturn Astra

Saturn Astra

The Saturn Astra isn't a "twin" in the usual sense, as there wasn't another version of the Saturn Astra offered for sale while it was being sold -- at least, in the United States. Instead, the Astra is the twin of the Opel Astra, a foreign-market hatchback that General Motors slightly retooled for sale in the United States. Unfortunately, the timing was poor: The Astra debuted for the 2008 model year, right as the recession was taking hold, and it lasted only through 2009 -- at which time the Saturn brand was shuttered for good. The Astra wasn't a bad car, and it was more exciting to drive than many rivals -- something General Motors caught on to, as a few later Opel models have been imported as Buicks.

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Suzuki Equator

Suzuki Equator

The Suzuki Equator shares much of its story with the Dodge Raider above: It's a pickup truck from a brand that desperately wanted to enter the lucrative American pickup market but didn't necessarily want to spend the development dollars required to do it singlehandedly. So Suzuki contacted Nissan, and the Equator was born as a slightly rebadged version of the durable midsize Frontier pickup. As you might imagine, a rebadged version of the already-slow-selling Frontier wasn't exactly a hot seller itself: The Equator was only offered for 4 years (2009 through 2012), and it recorded just 2,221 sales in its best year of 2009 -- a fraction of the Frontier's 28,400 sales that same year.

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Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Here Are 5 "Twin" Car Models You've Probably Forgotten - Autotrader