What is the difference between a marque and a brand? For example, why would one use the expression "car marques" instead of "car brands"?
Semantically in OP's context the two words have the same basic meaning. They both identify either the actual manufacturer or a specific product range from that manufacturer.
However, there is a subtle difference perceived by at least some advertisers, and implied by dictionary.com's definition which gives luxury or racing car as likely things to which marque may be applied...
The word marque (perhaps because of its 'exotic' French origin and associations) is generally understood to be a slightly more 'upmarket' term. Asda/Walmart sell their 'own brand' products, but I think many of us would feel it was pretentious in the extreme if these were to be promoted as being under their marque.
Marque is primarily associated with 'quality' automobiles, but it also commonly occurs with other luxury brands such as Dunhill smoker's paraphernalia, and Christian Dior in the world of haute couture.
A marque is synonymous to a brand or model. See this excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for brand:
In the automotive industry, brands were originally called marques, and marque is still often used as a synonym for brand in reference to motor vehicles.
And thefreedictionary.com claims that they are synonymous:
Marque: n: A model or brand of a manufactured product, especially an automobile.
However, marque is less common, as this Ngram illustrates:
This is due, at least in part, to the more refined usage of marque, for upper-class or luxury products. This usage most likely evolved because marque looks and sounds more refined than brand or model, and hence came to be used of more sophisticated products.
The NOAD reports that one of the meanings of marque is "a make of car, as distinct from a specific model."
The same dictionary reports that one of the meaning of brand is:
A type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.
• a brand name
• a particular type or kind of something
The Collins English Dictionary reports that two of the meanings of marque are:
- a brand of a product, especially a car
- an emblem or nameplate used to identify a product, especially a car
The same dictionary reports the following meanings for brand (among others):
- a particular product or a characteristic that serves to identify a particular product
- a trade name or trademark
- a particular kind or variety
This practice most definitely has a luxury market history or element. It is used where a stamp or badge would be used to indicate the brand, as opposed to just the name itself of a brand, hence the association with cars and luxury goods, such as "Gucci/LVMH" Rolls Royce Mercedes.
That is my understanding of the difference. Of course these days in a more visual world and with the www, many companies now have logos and the difference is a bit blurred.
I've always used marque as a subset of a brand. So, Sauza Tequila is a brand but under that brand are various marques: Sauza, Hornitos, and Tres Generaciones. To correlate that to the car industry: Ford is the brand; Ford Focus is the marque; and Ford Focus SE Sedan or Ford Focus Titanium would be the specific model.
Don't drink and drive.