What Are Halo Cars?

Halo cars are the opposite of what we usually think. This article is going to walk you through one of the most beautiful parts of the automotive world

What comes to your mind in terms of cars? Most people think of basic aspects such as comfort, price, and style. Professionals will focus on fuel efficiency, maintenance issues, and resale value. Enthusiasts look to corporate image, racing history, design elements… Cars are prominent members of our society and, as such, interact with each of us in a specific way.

Halo cars are completely different because they are not rational. They do not intend to please multitudes, most do not even have direct competitors, and they are not concerned with reaching high sales volumes. Their main goal is to send a message; to state what the company stands for. They show what principles it values and, often more implicitly, what steps it will take. Let’s give them a look.

Nissan gave it a new generation and a coupé version in 1998, but the fans wanted more. The Skyline GT-R debuted in 1999 (source: WheelsAge)

Which companies make halo cars?

These cars used to be more popular. Enthusiasts who grew up in the 1990s (like me) will surely remember that Japanese companies dominated the tuning industry with models such as the Nissan Skyline GT-R and the Toyota Supra. North America responded with the Dodge Viper, a muscular beast powered by nothing but a V10 engine. But automakers are still making them these days.

The latest SL-Class was designed by the Mercedes-AMG division to focus on performance

Some months ago, Car and Driver followed up on the all-new SL-Class’ release with this topic. Despite the 90% sales decrease, it deserved a new generation because it is one of Mercedes-Benz’s halo cars. It shows that the company stays loyal to its refined balance of innovation and tradition even though the market has changed a lot – part of those sales went to SUVs and to electrified sports cars.

More recently, Carscoops reported that Alfa Romeo is currently investing in an SUV offensive but still toys with the image of halo cars. Both companies show that they are not just catering to whatever the market wants; they want to stay true to themselves. Lexus did the same years ago when it released the LC coupé and convertible. And, as you can imagine, many others did the same at some point.

Halo cars – BMW i8
Back when BMW was venturing into electrification, the i8 was perfect at the position of halo car (source: WheelsAge)

Why are halo cars important?

Let us apply a practical example here. The rise of SUVs has posed a challenge to many automakers. They all want to offer the product everyone is buying, of course. The thing is, people buy from who they trust. They choose A rather than B because they know what they will get; they like what it offers and they feel it is not going to disappoint them. Those are all expressions of corporate image.

Porsche, specifically, had many complaints when it first released the Cayenne. The model only prospered because it had great dynamic behavior and Porsche made sure to make its design sportier over time – in other words, once the company brought it closer to its core characteristics. Competitors like the Maserati Levante and the Aston Martin DBX came later, after learning from that.

A good halo car puts its maker “back on track”; it shows people what truly matters for the company. Now, it is interesting to see that all this comes from introspection, rather than research. The whole staff must be aligned regarding what the company is and what it wants. That is the only way so many departments can accomplish so many different tasks without losing coordination and precision.

Being a 4x4 off-roader makes the Jeep Wrangler one of the most exotic halo cars
The Wrangler is considered the cornerstone model for the Jeep brand (source: Stellantis)

What makes a halo car?

Remember that halo cars are completely different? They are not exclusively sports cars as one might think at first. Jeep, for example, has the Wrangler. It is not its faster, most fuel-efficient, or most expensive SUV. However, it is the one that best represents its origins (namely the post-war CJ) and the values it cherishes, such as no-frills construction, and high off-road capability.

When it comes to Ford, we can pinpoint the F-150 Lightning. The sturdy and reliable pickup construction evokes what made the Model T famous decades ago, while the affordable prices are aligned with what we generally expect from Ford cars. And the use of electric powertrain represents the company’s intention to pursue energetic efficiency and keep up with the new times.

Keeping a halo car in line is difficult because it acts as a permanent guideline to follow. The maker should compare every new project with it to see how far it goes from its base image. Subversive releases have a chance to end up opening a whole new door in the market, sure, but that is risky. And now, with so many competitors around the world, automakers simply cannot take risks.

The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione was one of the few halo cars of the 2000s
The 8C Competizione was Alfa Romeo’s halo car back in the 2000s (source: WheelsAge)

Should we buy halo cars more?

This blog will always encourage you to buy cars you like and need. I know that models such as a Lexus LC will not suit everyone’s needs, not to mention they are definitely not cheap. What most of us can actually do, however, is to keep halo cars in mind. In other words, we should learn from them what each company stands for and we should buy from those with which we are aligned.

Putting that to practice requires some work, of course. Once you identify the car models that fit both your interests and budget, you will have to learn about their history. In short, you will have to understand what they mean to their maker. If that sounds interesting, you are on your way to discover countless interesting facts about car models and the automotive world as a whole.

While this page focuses on defining halo cars, AutomoBible is going to contribute with their history with its articles as well. Every now and then we will publish a selection of those models according to decade or style – you can check similar selections on the Best category. That is our way to cherish their memory and help them in their beautiful mission of preserving parts of the automotive history.