The automotive industry will undergo massive changes in the 2020s, and carmakers are linking arms to become stronger and more competitive by leveraging the benefits of economies of scale. Developing new technologies like electric powertrains and autonomous driving systems requires significant investments that are difficult to make alone. Paris-based PSA Group just agreed to merge with Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), and Digital Trends predicts more tie-ups are around the corner.
Until then, we’ve compiled a helpful guide to help you navigate the industry’s latticework.
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-up 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. It works closely with tuner Alpina, though it doesn’t own any of it, and it agreed to provide electric motors to Jaguar – Land Rover.
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 launched a sub-brand named EQ that focuses on electric, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid cars.
Daimler has several shareholders. China-based Geely owns nearly 10 percent of the group, and it purchased half of its Smart division in 2019, while another Chinese company named Beijing Automotive Group (BAIC) holds a five-percent stake.
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 fire-breathing Hellcat and the pint-sized 500 live under the same roof. FCA began searching for another automaker to merge with in the early 2010s, and it very nearly joined forces with Renault but the deal fell through. It’s now in the process of forging an alliance with Paris-based PSA Group, which owns Peugeot, Citroen, DS, Opel, and Vauxhall. The merger will be complete by early 2021.
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 democratized 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 fully-owned brand is Lincoln.
Ford formed a partnership with Volkswagen in 2019 to develop commercial vehicles, autonomous technology, and electric cars. It also invested $500 million into electric truck startup Rivian, and the two are allegedly developing a battery-powered Lincoln SUV due out in the early 2020s.
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 staple models like the Chevrolet Corvette, 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 automakers entered the industry before or during 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. In addition to cars, it makes a long list of products including motorcycles, ATVs, scooters, lawn mowers, outboard motors for boats, and even airplanes.
Hyundai, based in 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 automakers share numerous parts, including engines and transmissions. In 2015, Hyundai announced a new luxury sub-brand called Genesis. And, in 2019, Hyundai and Kia jointly invested about $90 million into Croatian electric car startup Rimac. The partnership will spawn an electric hot hatch.
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 from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. 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. Renault left the American market in the 1980s, and it’s not planning on coming back.
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 in a vegetative state, and it’s kept alive only by the folks who cherish its illustrious heritage.
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, and the Crosstrek Hybrid uses Toyota-sourced technology.
Indian company Tata’s claim to fame was releasing the Nano, which cost $2,500 and often caught fire, in 2009. It dabbles in the luxury segment, too. It purchased Jaguar and Land Rover in 2008 and has rejuvenated both brands without diluting what they both stand for: British luxury. Rumors of an imminent sale often make headlines, but the company maintains it wants to hold on to Jaguar and Land Rover in the foreseeable future.
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, the infamous Cybertruck, 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.
The Volkswagen Group embarked on an immense electric car offensive when it released a Golf-sized hatchback named ID.3 for the European market. It’s not coming to the United States, but we’ll get a battery-powered crossover tentatively called ID.4, and a retro-inspired van previewed by the ID Buzz concept. We’re still crossing our fingers that the awesome ID Buggy concept we drove in California will reach production.
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 with a focus on electrification and autonomy. Today, Volvo stands out as one of the market leaders when it comes to technology.
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