Automakers hope love for car equals love for brand

By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

...By now, just about every brand has produced a model with the magic touch. The New Beetle revived a fading Volkswagen. Miata sexed up Mazda. Viper ravaged pavement for Dodge.

But the halo is no recent creation. Just ask anyone who bought a Corvette in the '50s or a Mustang in the '60s.

Automakers test out their best halo ideas by introducing candidates as concept cars at auto shows. Jaw-droppers get built. Yawners don't.

Not all halos succeed. Chevrolet never scored with its SSR nostalgia pickup. Ford's Thunderbird redux saw so-so sales. Pontiac's latest GTO became a fallen angel when it failed to quicken younger buyers' pulses.

Yet, there's no stopping the search for the next big halo. Officially, GM is weighing whether to build a splashy new version of the Chevrolet Camaro that was the hit of Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January. The outlook appears bright. Similarly, DaimlerChrysler is deliberating over whether to let loose with Dodge Challenger, another 1960s throwback.

If Camaro and Challenger are put into production, the goal will be to project a golden glow on the whole lineup. Witness Nissan, which plays on the mystique around its Z line of sports cars — the latest incarnation being the 350Z — to hawk everything from Sentra compacts to Quest minivans. "We want people to think there's a little Z in everything," says Vice President Robert Bradshaw.


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