An automobile model (or car model or model of car, and typically abbreviated to just "model") is a particular brand of vehicle sold under a marque by a manufacturer, usually within a range of models, usually of different sizes or capabilities. From an engineering point of view, a particular car model is usually defined and/or constrained by the use of a particular car chassis/bodywork combination or the same monocoque, although sometimes this is not the case, and the model represents a marketing segment.
A model may also be referred to as a nameplate, specifically when referring to the product from the point of view of the manufacturer, especially a model over time. For example, the Chevrolet Suburban is the oldest automobile nameplate in continuous production, dating to 1934 (1935 model year), while the Chrysler New Yorker was (until its demise in 1996) the oldest North American car nameplate. "Nameplate" is also sometimes used more loosely, however, to refer to a brand or division of larger company (e.g., GMC), rather than a specific model.
This engineering frame may have derivatives, giving rise to more than one body style for a particular car model. For example, the same model can be offered as a four-door sedan (saloon), a two-door coupé, a station wagon (estate), or even as a folding-roof convertible, all derived from essentially the same engineering frame. An example of this is the BMW 3-series.
Fully specifying an automobile can involve many levels of detail, most basically: manufacturer (company), model (brand, product name), and model year. Often, these further details are included: body style (e.g., 2-door, 4-door), trim level (often denoted by lettering after the model name), and individual options (e.g., a sunroof). In North America, formal reference to automobiles (e.g., in police reports) specify "year, make, model", i.e., model year, manufacturer, and product, as in a "2000 Toyota Camry."
The same car model can be offered with different mechanical internals, such as a choice of several engine sizes, automatic or manual transmissions, different suspension, braking or steering systems, etc.; all of these options considered fairly interchangeable on that specific body frame. It is common for any specific car model to carry additional badges or letterings to announce the mechanical option(s) incorporated on it.
However, when the same engineering body frame is sold under a different marque or by a partner automaker, it usually becomes, from a commercial point of view, a different car model. See badge engineering.
Sometimes the marketing department may give each body style variant its own trade name, creating as many car models as body variants, even though they may share a large parts commonality and the engineering department may continue to consider them all part of the same project. An example of this is the Volkswagen Golf hatchback and the Volkswagen Jetta, which is of "three-box" design with a boot/trunk added to what is essentially a Golf.
Conversely, the marketing department may advertise a car model as a convenient derivative of some popular car, when in fact they may be completely different engineering projects with almost no parts commonality, or from differing generations of the model. (For example, convertibles are often so heavily engineered, for a relatively small number of sales, that an older generation model is facelifted and carried forward with a new generation of the model's other body styles.) However, this can also mean that it can change some things.
The same car model may be sold by the automaker in different countries under different names. An example of this is the Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero.
Previously, automakers (especially American) had offered lots of options to give customers much flexibility, however this has largely been discarded in favor of trim levels (also known as grades and sometimes as option packages), which offers manufacturing and marketing simplicity. The German luxury manufacturers however (Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW) still prefer the former system with a large amount of possible customization options, with only a limited number of trim levels - Audi for instance only offer three (Standard, SE and S-Line), BMW offer just two (Standard and SE).
A model may be offered in varying trim levels, which denotes different configurations of standard equipment and amenities. For instance, the base trim may have only basic features (wheel covers, cloth seats) compared to the top-of-the-line model (alloy wheels, leather upholstery).
A conventional manual transmission is often considered standard equipment, while automated transmissions (automatic transmission including manumatics, continuous variable transmissions (CVTs), and semi-automatic transmissions including Dual clutch transmissions) are usually treated as options. The base engine in, say a midsize car or crossover SUV from a mainstream manufacturer, is usually a four-cylinder (inline-4) while the upgrade is a V6. Often, certain features and packages are only available in combination with the more powerful engines in a vehicle lineup.
Some stand-alone options may not be part of packages, including factory options such as a moonroof or electronic stability control, and dealer options such as a roof rack and hood deflector. The term "option" is somewhat misleading, as vehicles are often sent from the factory to the dealership having several popular options as de facto-standard equipment. For instance, most stock models of entry-level luxury cars on dealer lots contain leather upholstery and a moon roof, as the base vehicle without these amenities (known as a "stripper" or "keys and a heater") is usually available only by special order from the factory (frequently for fleet use such as for taxicabs). Companies and dealerships follow this practice since considering these features as options is more lucrative than raising the price of the model and including these as "standard" equipment. A delete option is an item that the customer can order not to be included in the car, rather than the opposite.
It is common for any specific car model to carry additional badges or lettering to announce its trim level. For example, the Toyota Camry's trim levels: Camry CE (Classic Edition), Camry LE (Luxury Edition), and Camry XLE (Extra Luxury Edition). Other manufacturers prefer names rather than alphanueric initials for trim levels; the Renault Scénic range includes entry-level trim badged Renault Scénic Authentique, the next model up badged Renault Scénic Expression, then Renault Scénic Dynamique and finally the luxury Renault Scénic Privilège. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution's trim levels from Evolution I to Evolution X include: RS for rally sport; GSR for grand sport rally; SE for special edition; MR for Mitsubishi Racing and GT-A for grand touring- automatic (note: GT-A for Evolution VII only; SE for Evolution IX only and; MR for Evolution VIII-present). Often the top-of-the-line engine in the lineup features exclusive badging (V12 badges feature on the 2010 BMW 760Li), while certain manufacturers have often given the option to customers to remove the badging from the vehicle.
The highest trim level is sometimes seen as slightly removed from the rest of the range. For instance the BMW M high-performance variant is often marketed separately from the regular lineup. Ford traditionally sells a Ghia luxury model above the models designated by initials. Rover used the name of a former coachbuilder, Vanden Plas. There may also be a high-performance version, such as a GT.
Offering an array of body styles, mechanical specifications and trim levels allow manufacturers to target the same car model to different market niches. For example, an inexpensive base trim three-door hatchback is targeted at motorists on a budget such as students, while the mid-range sedan with the comfort package may suit the needs of a middle-aged family, and the expensive high-performance variant may catch the eye of the sportier-minded auto enthusiast, all of the three variants sharing the same nameplate with a common platform and engineering. An example of this is the Ford Focus.
Often in the later model years of a particular generation of vehicle, there have been "special editions" to cut down on the number of options as production winds down, such as the 2009 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Avantgarde Edition and the 2011 BMW 323i Luxury Edition.
A car model may be further subdivided into model years, all cars from a particular model year sharing approximately the same characteristics (given the same trim level, body style, engine option, etc.) but sometimes with differences from others of a different model year.
In this context, a facelift (also known as a mid-generational refresh or minor model update) may update an aging car model, usually with exterior or interior cosmetic changes, and sometimes powertrain changes—but without a major platform engineering revision that would be costly for the automaker. This results in a so-called "second series" of that particular model, and sometimes becoming the opportunity for a marketing re-launch of the same car. A variation of this is a "reskin" where an automaker creates a "new" model by creating completely new outer panelwork for the car but leaves the inner core structure and mechanical configuration from the previous generation largely unchanged - good examples of this include the Renault 19 and later Mégane I, or the Mark II and Mark III versions of the Volkswagen Golf.
Many times a manufacturer decides to completely redesign the car, but with the aim of offering the new model to the same specific public or in the same market niche, keeping it similarly priced and marketed against its usual competitors from other manufacturers. The car is usually considered a different model by the engineering department, carrying a different model designator, but, for marketing reasons, it is offered to the consumers with the same old, traditional, familiar name. An example of this is the Chevrolet Corvette.
Total production run for a given car is usually calculated regarding the engineering project name or designator. The marketing department may advertise figures for a continuous-production trade-name instead, divided in so-called "generations". However, for government or sport regulatory purposes, each body-style/mechanical-configuration combination may be counted as a different model.