Badge engineering, the widely detested practice of slapping a different badge on to an existing product and then marketing it as an all-new merchandise, was rampant in the Eighties and the Nineties. This made sense to many manufacturers as it helped them boast a wide range of models without incurring the prohibitive costs of research and development involved in building a new model. While a handful did find success, most of these experiments failed, and rightly so.
One such was the Mazda Navajo. Although its SUVs are some of the best in the market today, in the early Nineties, when the Japanese brand wanted a slice of the lucrative SUV pie, it chose to take the easy way out. Since it has had an enduring relationship with Ford since the Seventies, it decided to take the first-generation Ford Explorer and slap a Mazda badge on it. Other than the badge and a tacky, ungainly plastic grille, there wasn’t much that distinguished the Mazda Navajo visually from the Explorer. Although Mazda offered a more sumptuous list of standard features, American buyers made a beeline for the Explorer. And the fact that the Navajo was only available as a two-door variant didn’t help its cause either. After all, Ford didn’t want its partner eating into its share of the market, so it cleverly kept the four-door out of the deal. Customers simply didn’t see the sense in buying a two-door Mazda SUV over a more practical Ford.
The Navajo sales never picked up, while the Explorer went on to be a huge success despite its infamous Firestone imbroglio. So when the Explorer got its first refresh in the mid-Nineties, the Mazda was left out. And after a short three-year experiment, the Japanese carmaker pulled the Navajo out from the US market.