Welcome to Ridiculous Rebadges, a series of articles in which I go through and examine the details and circumstances surrounding some of the more infamous and some of the more esoteric vehicular rebadges throughout automotive history.
It’s been a while since we’ve done a Ridiculous Rebadge, so let’s get this party started again! This time we’re going back to Japan, in the late 1990s. GM has a 10% stake in Suzuki, but for the most part has left the brand alone, instead taking Suzukis to rebadge as Chevys instead of forcing Suzuki to sell Daewoos.
Since Suzuki still has a relative modicum of freedom, the company is able to develop the second generation Grand Vitara with little outside influence, instead building on its experience left over from the ‘90s with the Samurai and Jimny.
At the same time in history, Mazda was held by Ford with a 33.3% stake in the company. While Mazda had the Explorer-based Navajo to sell in the burgeoning US crossover market, the Japanese sector was still left without a proper SUV/crossover because the of the Navajo’s American based design.
Thus, Mazda contacted Suzuki, likely because of their offroad heritage, and secured a deal to sell second-gen Grand Vitaras as Mazda Proceed Levantes. The name originated from the previous moniker ‘Proceed’ which Mazda had used on its B-Series pickups in Japan, although ‘Levante’ is a bit of a puzzling suffix to add to the name.
This relationship continued for a second generation, by which time the Navajo in North America had been replaced by the Tribute, this signifying a shift towards more car-like crossovers from previously truck-based SUVs. That is likely why the deal fell through, with the Tribute fitting more practically into the Japanese market than the Navajo and the subsequent CX-7 putting the nail into the coffin of a Mazda badged body-on-frame SUV. Hey, at least there was never a Mazda version of the X-90!