In reference to the Model T, Henry Ford once famously said, “a customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” With the burgeoning automotive industry cornered, this streamlined approach may have worked for a while. However, as the industry grew, so did the individual niche demand, which spawned an array of makes, models, and luxury packages to fill virtually any market nuance.
Once the Great Recession took hold in 2008, the auto industry saw a major overhaul in both structure and scope. After the infamous auto bailout, several brands traded hands. What was once quite straightforward is now slightly more convoluted, so we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to help make sense of it all. We’ve curated this list alphabetically for convenience and general sanity’s sake.
Aston Martin used to be part of Ford, along with Volvo and Jaguar. Today, it’s an independent company with a long list of shareholders and investors that include Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler and a London-based investment firm named Investindustrial. The tie-in with Mercedes gave Aston Martin access to AMG engines for its latest sports cars.
BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) was founded in 1916 as an aircraft engine company, and expanded production to motorcycles and eventually cars. Today, BMW also owns Mini and Rolls-Royce. It sells the electric i3 city and the plug-in hybrid i8 sports car under a sub-brand named BMW i.
The original Daimler-Benz was founded in Germany in 1926. The corporation in its current iteration — known as Daimler AG — was founded in 1998. Daimler owns Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG, Mercedes-Maybach, Smart, and several heavy truck companies including Freightliner and Western Star. It’s about to launch a sub-brand named Mercedes-EQ that will focus on electric, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid cars.
Here’s a little known fact: The name Fiat is an acronym. Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino was founded in 1899, meaning it’s one of the oldest automakers in the world. Originally, Fiat mainly produced railroad engines, tractors, and airplane engines. By the 1950s, it offered a full lineup of cars ranging from tiny economy models to sporty convertibles. Fiat acquired Chrysler after the brand filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.
Today, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) controls Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Lancia, Maserati, and all of the Chrysler’s brands including Dodge, Jeep, and Ram. That’s right, the Hellcat and the 500 live under the same roof.
Enzo Ferrari founded the company that bears his name in 1947, though he began racing decades before he built his own cars. Fiat worked with Ferrari on a sports car named Dino during the 1960s, and the Turin, Italy-based giant bought a 50-percent stake in its smaller partner in 1969. It upped its share to 90 percent after Ferrari died in 1988.
For decades, Ferrari stood out as Fiat’s crown jewel. Fiat finally let it fly with its own wings, however. The Prancing Horse split from its parent company in January 2016. The newly independent brand held an initial public offering (IPO) shortly after.
Ford is the company that famously revolutionized the use of assembly lines for cars. The Model T is widely considered the first massively available automobile. At one point in time, Ford owned or had major stakes in Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Mercury, and Aston Martin. All of these brands were either sold or shut down, and today the Blue Oval’s only brand is Lincoln.
General Motors downsized considerably after filing for bankruptcy in 2009. It pared down its portfolio to Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, and Holden, a brand distributed only in Australia. While GM may be mostly known for its staple models, the company was also responsible for creating the mobility systems on the lunar rovers used on the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions.
While most of the major brands saw their preliminary iterations in the early 20th century, Honda wasn’t founded until 1948, making it a relatively new kid on the block. Honda’s name comes from Soichiro Honda, one of the company founders. Honda also owns Acura.
Hyundai, based in of South Korea, released its first car in cooperation with Ford in 1968. Today, Hyundai Motor Company partly owns Kia, one of its chief competitors. As they say: If you can’t beat ’em … make yourself at least partially represented among their shareholders. The two share numerous parts, including engines and transmissions. In 2015, Hyundai announced a new luxury sub-brand called Genesis Motors.
Mazda is a Japanese company that was founded in 1920. The company originally manufactured tools, but it expanded to automobiles in the 1930s. The name of the company comes from Ahura Mazda, an Iranian god. In the 1990s, Ford owned 33.3 percent of Mazda, but has since sold its shares. The Japanese company has been independent since, though it regularly collaborates with partners across the automotive spectrum.
McLaren Automotive is part of the McLaren Technology Group. In addition to building fast, sexy sports cars, the British firm runs the McLaren Formula One team and a division named Applied Technologies that makes a dizzying selection of products including bicycles, bobsleds, medicine, and even solar panels.
The Mitsubishi Corporation is Japan’s largest “general trading company.” The carmaker started in 1970, after breaking off of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries department. Mitsubishi remained independent for a long time, but it is now controlled by the Renault-Nissan Alliance.
Renault owns a 43-percent stake in Nissan, while Nissan controls just 15 percent of Renault. Nissan also runs Infiniti, its luxury-focused division, and it recently revived the Datsun brand to sell economy cars in emerging markets. Renault also owns Romanian car-maker Dacia, and it holds controlling stakes in both AvtoVAZ (one of Russia’s largest car companies) and Mitsubishi.
Saab Automobile was the brainchild of Svenska Aeroplan AB, which still specializes in aerospace and defense manufacturing. National Electric Vehicle Sweden now owns Saab’s assets. NEVS has been trying to produce an electric version the Saab 9-3 for some time now without much success. Regardless, these new models will not be sold as “Saab” products because the company lost the rights to the name, as well as to the brand’s emblematic griffin logo. While Saab isn’t officially dead, it’s effectively in a vegetative state.
Subaru is on a roll these days. It has set a new annual sales record for 10 consecutive years. Its success is even more impressive when you consider it remains independent, though Toyota owns a 16-percent stake in the brand. The two partners notably co-produce the 86/BRZ twins.
Indian company Tata’s claim to fame was releasing the Nano, which cost $2,500, in 2009. It dabbles in the luxury segment, too. It purchased Jaguar and Land Rover in 2008 and has successfully rejuvenated both brands without diluting what they both stand for: British luxury.
A team of engineers in Silicon Valley founded the electric car company Tesla in 2003. Currently, the company’s vehicles are manufactured in Fremont, California, at the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. automotive facility. Its lineup includes the Model S, the Model X, and the Model 3, its long-awaited entry-level car. The company recently outlined plans for a new crossover named Model Y, a semi truck, and a successor to the original Roadster.
Toyota is one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world. It owns Daihatsu, Lexus, and Hino Motors. Toyota was also behind Scion, the youth-focused brand that sold cars like the toaster-shaped xB. It shuttered the division in 2016 due to slow sales and hasn’t looked back since.
Volkswagen — a name that means “people’s car” in German — rose to prominence by selling the humble, rear-engined Beetle all around the world. Today, it’s one of the largest automakers in the world. Its impressive portfolio of companies includes its namesake brand, Audi, Bentley, Porsche, Bugatti, Lamborghini, SEAT, Skoda, MAN Trucks, Scania, and Ducati.
Volvo is a Swedish company founded in 1927. A Chinese firm, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, bought the company from Ford and invested a substantial amount of time and money into updating its lineup. Today, Volvo stands out as one of the market leaders in the field of electrification.