Brands tend to pick a niche and stick to it. After all, it’s much easier to do one thing really well instead of trying to build everything under the sun. Think about it this way: if there’s a restaurant that makes the best chicken parmesan in town, do you order the hamburger when you dine there? Not likely.
But every once in a while, an automaker will do something that doesn’t necessarily line up with expectations. To paraphrase the above example, you wouldn’t go to Ferrari for a pickup truck. But — what if you did?
In order to try and get a jump on the market, sometimes car manufacturers do venture into new segments they never had before. Sure, you could argue automakers should stick to their own niche — but what about when they dare create their own niche to occupy? At that point one is likely to get something unique, yet unexpected.
After all, your favourite restaurant might have items on the menu that are pretty delicious, even if it’s not what’s advertised on the sandwich board outside. Here are five times automakers did something unexpected.
When motorcycle-maker Honda built an Formula One racer
You meet the nicest people on a Honda! Unless it’s John Surtees, and you’re competing for a braking zone with him.
As far as beginnings go, it doesn’t get more humble than Honda’s founder, Soichiro Honda. He got his start making piston rings for Toyota vehicles, but eventually struck out on his own after the Second World War. Soichiro Honda’s first vehicle was a motorized bicycle powered by a 50-cc two-stroke motor, a surplus unit from the power generator for a no. 6 military radio transmitter. The Type-A “Bata Bata” rolled out of the factory in 1947 and was Honda’s first production vehicle.
Just 15 years later in 1962, Honda decided to build a race car to compete in Formula One Grand Prix racing — the toughest and most expensive form of racing. The result of the effort was the RA270 prototype, which would eventually eventually evolve into the the RA271 for the 1964 season. The RA271 was built around a tiny 1.5-litre V12 that shared most of its architecture with motorcycle engines. It produced 230 horsepower at an incredible 13,000 rpm, making it the most powerful F1 engine at the time.
Honda stood out among the rest of the field by being one of the only manufacturers to build its own chassis and engines, something only Ferrari and BRM had been doing at the time. Honda further differentiated its racer by using a V12, while every other competitor decided to stick with V8s — even Ferrari.
When economy-car brand Hyundai made a luxury sedan
Hyundai planted its humble roots as an economy-car manufacturer. When it decided to branch off into a luxury brand, it made a lot of journalists scratch their heads.
The choice echoes that of the Lexus LS400 from the 1990s, which at the time was a radical departure from the models for which parent company Toyota was known. However, people were well aware of the high quality of Japanese vehicles then at least, and the Lexus LS400 was perhaps simply the epitome of that sentiment.
South Korea now has a very similar story, though it took a bit longer to get there — and understandably so. Toyota was founded in 1937, while Hyundai didn’t even exist until 1967, and wouldn’t complete its first vehicle (and subsequently, the first ever South Korean vehicle) until 1975.
In November of 2015, Hyundai took the Genesis luxury cars it’d started building and spun the name of into its own marque, taking it from the kiddie pool and shoving it into the deep end. The new brand would be destined to take on the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW.
When sports-car marque Porsche tried out an SUV
Porsche gets the credit for being the first performance brand to build an SUV — the Cayenne. It was a complete departure from anything in the brand lineup at the time but, if you look at Porsche’s history, it made a lot of sense.
The original 911 was devised as a sports car but could never quite shake the inherent problems that come with putting the heaviest part of a vehicle – the engine – at the extreme rear. This wasn’t done because Porsche thought it was the best place for the engine, by the way. The company did it because it wanted a rear seat for more passengers. It’s not only the 911 that suffers, but the earlier 356 as well — and the Beetle, to which both owe their existence.
If family was thus always at the forefront of designers’ minds at Porsche, it wasn’t a stretch for them to make a proper family-hauler in the Cayenne. At the time, this decision didn’t make much sense to those who only saw Porsche as Le Mans-winning race car manufacturers; for Porsche, it was totally logical.
When supercar manufacturer Lamborghini did a military off-roader
Lamborghini is known for doing things that are out of the ordinary. After all, the brand was a tractor company before founder Ferruccio picked a fight with Enzo Ferrari and was spurred to build his own supercar.
In 1986, Lamborghini decided it would respond to literally zero demand for a souped-up SUV-with-a-V12-engine by building the LM002. Supercars are a universe apart from trucks, and the only trait shared by both vehicle types are their four wheels. That was the story before the Lamborghini LM002, however, which blended the rugged utilitarianism of a truck with the bonkers performance (and looks) of a supercar.
Sure, it might not be the first thing to enter your mind in terms of “supercar styling” but Lambo has always been known for challenging the norm — plus introducing boldness where blandness is standard.
When German aeroplane firm BMW made, well, cars
While every other manufacturer on this list did something weird in its product lineup, the choices were still based on putting wheels to the ground, offering a transportation solution different from what is expected. BMW did the opposite.
BMW wasn’t always an automobile manufacturer — the Bavarian brand has its roots in the aircraft industry. It wasn’t until 1928 the brand decided it wanted to get into automobile manufacturing, purchasing the Automobilwerk Eisenach plant, which was licenced to build Austin 7 kits, specifically the DA-1 3/15PS, an Austin 7 made for Germany with metric fasteners.
The little car produced just 15 horsepower, which was good enough in 1928. The car was sold in Germany as the “BMW Dixi,” but was replaced with an updated version dubbed the “DA-2” in 1929, dropping the “Dixi” name.
It’s a common misconception the blue-and-white roundel logo is a stylized version of an airplane’s propeller. It’s actually just the colours of the Bavarian flag, with the rumour originating from a clever advertisement that made light of this superficial connection.