Do cars need performance-badges to be desirable?
Once upon a time, owning a Mercedes-Benz meant something. People, who could afford a C-Class, didn't simply own a car - they owned a status symbol. The S-Class was a huge luxury vehicle for only the wealthiest of people.
Nowadays, you get the feeling that owning a C-Class is about the same as owning a Fiat Cinquecento if it's not at least a C43 AMG. And even then you will hear people say that it's "not a proper AMG because the engine is not manufactured by one person alone". And besides, anything with less than 400 horsepower is not worth mentioning anyways. What's wrong with the car world?
First of all, we have to look at the changed concept of ownership. 25 years ago, you either had the money to buy a car or you could take out a loan to fulfill your big dream. Either way, your goal was to finally OWN the car. Today, it's different. Lots of rental- or lease-concepts are now also considered car-ownership. Some companies even offer all-inclusive packages for a monthly fee where you don't even have to take care of insuring your vehicle.
But even though these concepts may be a lot more expensive than the classic ownership of a car, they are extremely popular (especially among young people). Why? People, who could otherwise never afford to own a BMW M3 or a Mercedes-AMG C63, can now lease them.
This sounds like a very good thing, but it creates a whole new problem. Sure, you can't really accumulate capital through owning (regular) cars, but long-term-rentals or leases basically burn more money than actual ownership. Now that more people have access to expensive performance cars, the market is flooded with them. Sure, this also makes them more affordable in the used car segment but at the same time, it seems to create the desire for even more exclusive cars. Because "a Mercedes doesn't really impress anyone anymore unless it's an AMG..."!
And car manufacturers have reacted to this trend. They now stick their performance badges on anything from a small city car to the biggest 2.5-ton SUVs. You can even have an "M-Sports package" on a three-cylinder 1-Series BMW or an AMG-Line V-Class. Isn't that watering down the performance brands?
And even the actual performance vehicles are taking ridiculous shapes and sizes. I mean, a GLA 45 AMG - really? Maybe I'd have to take one for a spin to understand the concept and maybe I'd even like it, but the idea of a motorsport-crossover seems to be so off-target. And if we stick with Mercedes as an example, why are there now so many different levels of AMG cars? Because things with an AMG-badge sell much better than without it.
I'm a huge fan of performance cars, don't get me wrong. But I still want AMG, M, RS and so on to stand for something more than improved sales figures. Would I have bought my M140i if BMW had decided not to stick an M on it? Absolutely! Is it "a real M car"? No, it's not! Is it good? Oh heck, yeah!