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.
Back in the 1970’s, the Ford Motor Company released two compact cars which they hoped would allow them to sequester some portion of the burgeoning economy car market in the coming decade. Through the hardships that ensued with the 1973 oil crisis and the resultant Malaise Era, at the end of the ‘70s, both of these cars would achieve significant sales figures, yet today one is revered as a motoring performance icon and the other is the poster child of everything wrong with Ford at that time. These cars were the MkI and MkII Escort and the Pinto, respectively.
When it came time to replace the mighty Escort, Ford of Europe decided to design an all-new FF platform known as the CE14. Ford of America, having lost face as a result of the Pinto’s marred reputation, decided to follow suit, introducing the first North American Escort as a derivative of the European MkIII.
This Escort was labelled as one of Ford’s first ‘World Cars’, although to label it this way would be to overlook something very important that was occurring simultaneously in Ford’s timeline.
In 1979, Ford took a 25% stake in Mazda. With the sudden rise in popularity of Japanese imports such as the Accord and Corolla as well as the saga of the Pinto, it seemed shrewd for the ailing American giant to start looking at investments overseas. In order to test the capabilities of their new manufacturing partner, Ford decided to work with Mazda in the design process of their new 323, the fourth generation BD, to be exact. When the R&D was complete, Mazda put their car onto the market in 1980.
Ford took this opportunity to see what was what, and, instead of selling the new CE14 Escort in Oceania, rolled out their version of the 323 in 1981 under the moniker of Laser (with sedans being called Meteor).
The little car was a runaway success. In markets where the Ford name was well-known and well-established, such as Australia and New Zealand, the Laser was an excellent price-leader for their increasingly domestic line-up. Meanwhile, in Southeast Asian nations, where Japanese nameplates held more cachet, the 323 achieved decent sales which allowed Ford to start making a small profit out of sales in that part of the world. Furthermore, the Laser began export to many developing nations worldwide as a low-cost, high-quality compact which could be assembled locally. This gave Ford an idea with the next generation.
Since Americans seemed to love Japanese cars so much, why not pull the same trick there? In 1988, the Mercury Tracer appeared on the North American market as a rebadged Ford Laser that was assembled in Mexico, Japan, and Taiwan.
While it’s unclear how successful this minor two-year experiment was, Ford must have seen potential because in 1991, the second generation American Escort was released as a rebadge of the new Ford Laser, itself a rebadge of the newest Mazda 323. Gone was the CE14 platform, banished to the Western Old World as it soldiered on and was eventually replaced by new Escorts with fast RS variants.
In 1994, Mazda again redesigned their 323 and Ford their Laser concurrently, although the USDM Escort did not receive these changes until 1997. This is also the generation which produced the somewhat ugly Mazda 323 Coupe and the abhorrently hideous Ford Laser Lynx/Aztec, for common reference.
Finally, when Mazda updated the 323 again in 1998 to its final variation, the Ford Laser also saw its finale, with a myriad of special editions and variants aiming to sustain its popularity until the Focus could be released.
After this, Mazda’s Atenza/3 premiered in 2003 on a platform shared with the Ford Focus, although this time, the two cars shared a little more than just a badge.