The 5 Worst Clone Trucks And SUVs Ever Built
If you've ever felt that there were certain trucks and SUVs on the market that looked exactly like others, you probably weren't wrong. The auto industry has a long-standing tradition of building clone trucks and copycat SUVs that borrow every aspect of the platform—and their identity—from a competitor so a company can quickly and cheaply fill a gap in its showroom.
Some of these look-alikes are more successful than others, of course, and more than a few have ended up as low-rent facsimiles of much better products. Which clone trucks and SUVs were the worst? Here are our picks for copies that simply shouldn't have bothered.
The Nissan Frontier was infamous for standing pat on the same platform from the 2005 model year all the way to 2022 when it finally graduated to a fresh design. The Suzuki Equator, then, is best thought of as the Frontier's zombie sidekick, because it lifted the Nissan's mechanicals lock, stock, and barrel for its 2009 to 2012 run in the United States.
It's really not clear why Suzuki needed a pickup truck in the first place, let alone one that made only the mildest of alterations to its DNA-donor's headlights and grille to differentiate between the two models. At the time, the company was on the verge of pulling out of North America, and the Equator might have been a last ditch effort to squeeze out extra profit prior to closing down its dealer network. The company may have also hoped for some synergy between its motorbike owners and their tow rig/bike hauler of choice.
Either way, the gamble failed. Suzuki sold no more than 5,000 or so examples of the Equator per year at its peak, and the Equator served as a cheapo carbon copy of a truck that was enjoying only modest success in its original form.
You may be familiar with the fact that Honda has never built a V8 engine for any of its road-going cars or trucks. That doesn't mean, however, that the automaker hasn't sold an eight-cylinder vehicle with a Honda badge.
The Crossroad stands as Honda's second-oddest product offering, after the what-were-they-thinking Crosstour crossover (maybe Honda should just stay away from 'cross' in any of its future product names). Rather than build a sport-utility vehicle of its own in the 1990s, the company elected to import the Land Rover Discovery and make zero changes to anything other than its badges. It then sold the Crossroad in its home market of Japan, where its upright styling and downright finicky reliability quickly separated it from the rest of Honda's line-up.
Well, almost the rest. You see, Honda also sold a second badge-only makeover called the Passport, which was a barely-disguised version of the Isuzu Trooper. Are you getting the vibe now on just how badly Honda's engineers wanted to avoid designing a rugged SUV of their own? And how confused its loyal customers must have been when they showed up expecting a Honda and drove home in anything but?
At the very least, the Suzuki Equator copied a somewhat successful model in the Nissan Frontier. The Mitsubishi Raider, on the other hand, had the misfortune of hitching its star to the third-generation Dodge Dakota, a mid-size truck that had trouble competing in an era where small pickups across the board were being massively outsold by their full-size siblings.
Mitsubishi had trouble seeing even 10 percent of the sales that Dodge was dragging in with the Dakota, and it didn't help that the company grafted a bulging snout onto the truck's already somewhat awkward body work. There were no other changes made to the Raider, with the Dakota's V8 and V6 engines on offer (at least initially, with the eight-dropped two years into production).
The Japanese company had made big promises to Chrysler about how many Raiders it would order, but ultimately it fell far short of its goal and the truck was cancelled after three short years of sales. Funny enough, in the '80s Dodge had sold a Raider of its own, an SUV that was a perfect clone of…a Mitsubishi truck, called the Montero.
In the early 2000s the Ford Explorer could do no wrong, with the SUV flying off lots as fast as the Blue Oval could build them. Already supporting one copycat truck based on the Explorer platform, the Mercury Mountaineer, Ford's top brass decided it was time to let Lincoln in on the fun, too.
The Lincoln Aviator was a disaster from the word go. It's hard to understand why Ford decided to cheap out on what was supposed to be a luxury SUV, but the Aviator struggled to separate itself from its Explorer roots, bearing a toothy waterfall grille and somewhat Navigator-esque tail lights but delivering many of the same features as its sibling, especially inside the cabin.
Buyers responded by staying away in droves, unable to stomach paying a much steeper price tag for a slightly gussied-up Explorer. The Aviator lasted just three short model years before it was axed in favor of the front-wheel drive MKX crossover.
The Ford Explorer also lent its bones to a more downmarket sport-utility vehicle roughly a decade before the Aviator stumbled onto the world stage. The 1991 Mazda Navajo was the result of Ford's controlling interest in the import brand, as well as the desire between the two companies to maximize profits from the Ranger platform.
The original Explorer borrowed heavily from the Ranger, and with Mazda on the verge of offering the B Series pickup (which was itself a clone Ford's compact truck), it made sense to see if the SUV-copying Navajo could catch on.
In truth, it never really did. Only marginally disguised on the outside, the Navajo's interior was a direct Explorer lift, as was its 4.0-liter V6 engine and four-wheel drive system. The biggest difference between the two trucks was that the Mazda was sold exclusively as a two-door, which further restricted its buyer base and helped seal its fate. While the Explorer would go on to bigger and better things, the Navajo would only last until 1994.