Hello, people of the Web, and welcome to a special version of Letters to Doug, your favorite column wherein you send me a letter with some sort of question, and I post a response with some sort of answer.
Why is this week’s Letters to Doug special? It isn’t! Hah! But I got you to read it, and you aren’t going to stop now, because what the hell else are you going to do? Go back to work?
Anyway: if you want to send me a letter for this column, you can e-mail me at Letters2Doug@gmail.com, or send me a note on my Facebook page. This week’s letter comes to us from a reader I’ve named Pericles, after the famous Greek orator who died of the plague. Pericles writes:
I was travelling in Germany and noticed that many vehicles don’t have any lettering on the back indicating their model. In the US most Mercedes have C or E on the back, but most of them in Germany did not have anything, other than the Mercedes symbol in the middle.
I was thinking about how and realized that the owner doesn’t need it. Because they (hopefully) know which model their car is. Or if they don’t, they probably couldn’t care less which model it is anyway.
So why is it everywhere in the US? I am from California and we don’t have those stupid dealer labels on the back of our cars, so is that something similar? Is it because Germans aren’t boastful like the Americans?
This is an excellent question, Pericles, but I think it will require a little explanation. So here it is: when you go to Europe, virtually every luxury car has been de-badged. What the Europeans do is, they buy the car, and then they remove the badges, and then they stand there, proudly looking at their trunk lid, wishing they had chosen something more exciting than the 79-horsepower diesel model with hubcaps.
But interestingly, Europeans often do this to virtually all models, from the base-level 118d, right up to the E63 AMG. The Swiss are especially famous for it. The last time I was in Zurich, I was literally looking inside interiors to find some hint of BMW M, or Audi S, or Mercedes AMG, because those bastards will even pull off the little badge that says “V8 BITURBO” on the side.
The exception to all this is in the U.K., where people will not only leave on their badges, but they will replace them with the badges from higher-end models. For example: some kid will get a 1994 BMW 504d, which uses a 0.4-liter diesel engine from a military typewriter, and he will badge it as “530d,” just to tell his friends that he has a 3-liter V6. Then he will spend the rest of his life under the watchful eye of British CCTV cameras.
So anyway: why do they do this? Why do Europeans remove the badges?
What I have discovered is that there are two reasons. At the bottom level, Europeans remove the badges because they don’t want people to know that they went for some base-level crapbox instead of a real powertrain. In this sense, Europeans are far more vain than us Americans: they pull off the 316i badge on the desperate hope that someone behind them in traffic believes they bought a 318i instead.
But it isn’t only the bottom-level people who do it. S-Classes in Europe are de-badged. AMG cars. BMW M3s and M4s. When I worked for Porsche and traveled to Germany, I had this conversation with dozens of my colleagues many times, and they all said the same thing, namely that you pull off the badges on low-end cars and on high-end cars for the exact same reason: you don’t want people to know what you got.
For example: you’re a middle manager who decided to dump a huge portion of your paycheck into your dream car, a Cayenne Turbo? Pull the badge off and your boss will never know. And why should the guy behind you in traffic know how rich you are? You know. You don’t care what he thinks. He probably has a 316i and tells strangers in parking lots that it’s a 318.
In this sense, Europeans are far subtler than we Americans will ever be, particularly the guy I saw last week in a Mustang GT with a giant Mustang logo screened onto his hood. That’s the kind of guy who goes around telling stories where he could easily use the phrase “we got into my car,” but instead he says “we got into my Mustang GT.”
And so, the result is that basically everyone in Europe de-badges their luxury vehicles. If you’re poor, you don’t want people to know you’re poor, and if you’re rich, you don’t want people to know you’re rich. And if you’re British, you are probably under CCTV surveillance right now.
I hope that helps, Pericles. I also hope you don’t die of the plague.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars, which his mother says is “fairly decent.” He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer.