Over the past 15 years or so, car manufacturers have developed an absolute neurotic obsession with sub-brands. What's a sub-brand? The best way to describe it is 'one step above' a trim level. It's something that can be used across models to suggest that whatever vehicle it's applied to is something special—something more special than the other, less unique, but still special versions of the same damn car.
Almost every manufacturer uses these stupid nonsense word descriptors nowadays. Mercedes has its "Designio" luxury brand for high-end interior treatments. Ford has the 'King Ranch' trim for trucks sold in the U.S. Lincoln has 'Black Badge.' Rolls Royce, who shouldn't need any extra badging ON ANY of its cars. Rolls uses the 'Black Badge' distinction on cars where they charge you more money for less chrome.
Why am I using quotations for all of these words? Because they're all meaningless nonsense words. These words are nothing. They were invented by marketing people on Madison Avenue to sell cars to uppity grandmas in Palm Beach. These monikers have irked me for a hot minute, so I decided to try to find the origin of all this pablum—and I think I've done it.
CORINTHIAN LEATHER IS REGULAR LEATHER
The apparent culprit of this heinous crime against value is none other than Chrysler—who, more than 40 years ago, started this ridiculous trend with two little words: Corinthian. Leather.
IS CORINTHIAN LEATHER REAL LEATHER?
Indeed, Corinthian Leather is real leather. But it's just leather—there's nothing unique about it but the name. When you buy a Chrysler with 'Corinthian Leather' seats, or a Corinthian Leather sofa, you're just paying extra for normal leather.
WHERE IS CORINTHIAN LEATHER MADE?
Corinthian leather is not made in Corinth. In fact, it didn't even originate anywhere near Corinth. Corinthian leather started as a cow, and made its way through a leather processing plant in New Jersey. Now that many brands use the name "Corinthian leather," it's also made overseas.
WHAT IS RICH CORINTHIAN LEATHER?
Rich Corinthian Leather is fundamentally just normal leather. Again, "Corinthian Leather" is just a clever marketing term invented to help Chrysler sell cars for more money in the 1970s.
WHY DID CHRYSLER USE CORINTHIAN LEATHER?
During the 1970s, Chrysler wasn't just a failing company—it was, to put it mildly, a serious dumpster fire. Due to years of mismanagement and a rapidly changing car market (oil embargo, emissions, safety standards, etc.), Chrysler went from being the king of the muscle car era to having almost no marketable products—all in about five years.
Chrysler made big, heavy, inefficient, and under powered cars—and sold them at a time when gas was triple the price. For Chrysler, the brand still had some reserve because its cars were PERCEIVED to be a good value for the amount of luxury equipment and standard features provided.
The best example of this was the probably the Cordoba: a personal luxury coupe built on a platform underpinning half the larger Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth lineup. Chrysler introduced the Cordoba back in 1975 when buyers had money and cars were large. Chrysler needed to find a way to justify the higher Chrysler price, which was difficult, as the car wasn't that much better than anything else.
So what did Chrysler do? Did they design a better car? Or a more affordable car? Of course not. Instead, they asked their advertising agency, Bozell, to think of a BS gimmick that would help sell these cars to the suggestible public.
CHRYSLER'S SIMPLE MARKETING GENIUS
The solution was pure genius, and likely cost too much to come up with. Instead of doing anything useful, Chrysler simply started calling standard leather "Corinthian Leather." Sounds fancy, eh? It's not. But Chrysler assumed (correctly) that people would think it's fancy because it sounded exotic, and they'd probably never heard of it before.
Why hadn't they heard of it before? Because it doesn't exist. It sounds exotic. It sounds fancy. It sounds like it doesn't belong in a Chrysler. Yet it IS in a Chrysler—what a value! It might sound ridiculous, but it actually worked incredibly well. It worked so well that Chrysler paid Ricardo Montalban tons of money to talk about the rich "Corinthian Leather" inside Chrysler's latest models for over a decade, well into the Lee Iacocca years.
See, when Iacocca developed an entirely new product line for the company, he decided to keep the old branding strategy—adding a history to the thin veneer premium-ness on higher end Chrysler products. This worked so well on the modernized product line that every other car manufacturer decided to copy Chrysler—and 30 years later, Mercedes relishes in charging thousands of dollars for exclusive "Designio" paint. So thank you, Chrysler: thank you for making cars more expensive, tackier, and worse.