A halo vehicle (or halo model) in automobile marketing is one designed and marketed to showcase the talents and resources of the manufacturers and to promote sales of other vehicles within a marque. Car companies often design a special vehicle, usually a luxury or sports model, with the hope that customers will come to dealerships to see it, but will buy other more practical vehicles instead. The classic case is the Chevrolet Corvette, which changed the image of Chevrolet of the 1950s from one of mainstream practicality to desirable sportiness. Such models are intended to shine a positive light on the manufacturer, and generate a positive buzz in the press and among consumers.
Halo cars have traditionally been sports-oriented, especially in the United States. Cars like the Corvette, Dodge Viper, and Acura NSX were never intended to sell particularly well. The important element was the halo effect they had on their brands. The NSX established Acura in the United States as a premiere engineering marque, in line with their caliper logo. The Viper brought new interest to Dodge just as the Corvette had to Chevrolet 40 years earlier. The models may also have a special body style, such as a convertible, or be a new product, or even an entire line of cars that have a cachet about them, such as the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham (1957), or the Chrysler Town & Country of 1947.
In some cases, halo cars have accentuated non-sports attributes. Advertising for the Honda Insight featured other Honda vehicles that were fuel-efficient. The Toyota Prius is marketed alone, but Toyota clearly likes the positive association of the hot-selling hybrid car. The Volkswagen New Beetle brought nostalgic consumers back to the brand, while Volkswagen hopes to keep them with the luxury image of the Phaeton.
During the pony car era, companies created halo cars for model lines. The Pontiac GTO enticed buyers to try out the more mild Tempest. Honda continues this today with their sporty Si trim line. Dodge has combined both with the SRT-designated Viper. They use this name across many vehicles, from the lowly (but quick) Neon SRT-4 to the Viper-V10 powered Ram SRT-10 pickup.
The term can also be used to describe a vehicle that was designed to draw attention away from a manufacturer's plight and send a message that the manufacturer is undergoing a renaissance, such as General Motors attempted to do with its Oldsmobile Aurora model. Studebaker also attempted to use the 1962 restyling of its Studebaker Hawk GT model as a halo model; however redesign of the vehicle couldn't hide the fact that car used an eight year-old technology and was the product of a company that was in poor financial shape. The Studebaker Avanti was also conceived as a halo model, however its cachet was significant enough that production of the car was carried out by private owners for many years after Studebaker closed its American operations in 1963.
In some cases, the attempt to create a halo model can backfire and result in bad publicity, as the case of the Edsel line of automobile in 1958. While the Chevrolet Corvair Spider and Monza were halo models for the rear engine model, their positive reviews could not overcome the negative press that the line received from Ralph Nader's book, Unsafe at Any Speed.