Most people know Lexus is Toyota’s luxury arm, and that BMW owns Mini, but did you know Lamborghini is owned by Audi, which is run by Volkswagen? Or that, before its eventual demise as a carmaker, Holden started out making saddles?
Here is the current status of every major car brand, as well as a snippet of its history and when it was founded.
In most cases, the nationality of the current owner is a matter of semantics and, just because Jaguar is currently under Indian ownership, for example, the brand is no less British than it has been in all its years.
You’ll often find the head office, design centres and sometimes even the factories stay in their respective native countries regardless of who now owns a given brand.
Car companies shift ownership more frequently than you might imagine and part ownership shares even more often than that so it can be difficult to keep track. This is as the global automotive landscape looks at the time of writing.
Toyota – Founded 1937
Australia’s favourite car brand by sales, Toyota continues to rank at the top of the big three, a significant way ahead of Mazda in second place and Hyundai and Mitsubishi, which tussle for third. The company produces about 10 million cars each year and is a world leader in the hybrid market.
Toyota also produces heavy commercial vehicles under the Hino brand.
Lexus – Founded 1989
Lexus was established in the late 80s to serve as Toyota’s luxury vehicle division. In Australia, the brand has thrived, and it now has a 10-model line-up Down Under, including the BMW-tackling IS & RC, a more recent LC halo sportscar and a growing range of SUVs.
Some other brands have tried to repeat the Lexus success story with their own luxury branches, but none has yet equalled the results.
Daihatsu – Founded 1907
Daihatsu is a new name under the Toyota umbrella, becoming wholly-owned as of August 2016. Originally formed back in 1907 under the name Hatsudoki Seizo, the company was renamed to Daihatsu in 1951.
The last new model introduced to Australia was the Sirion but Toyota pulled the brand from Australia in 2005.
General Motors – Founded 1908
Abbreviated to simply GM, this car giant is the largest in America and builds vehicles under numerous global marques. Founded more than 110 years ago, the company now produces vehicles in 15 different countries and is still based in Detroit.
Chevrolet – Founded 1911
Following something of a struggle, Chevrolet became a part of General Motors in 1918, before being designated as GM’s flagship brand in 1919. After a tenuous relationship with Australia, the swiss-cross badge has a presence in Australia on the nose of the Camaro and Silverado, which are converted locally to right-hand drive by HSV (see below).
Buick – Founded 1899
Buick was absorbed into GM upon its creation in 1908, by the then owner of Buick as well as GM William C. Durant. Despite no longer selling cars in Australia, today Buick is strong and enjoyed a record sales year in 2015.
Cadillac – Founded 1902
Cadillac is often regarded as GM’s luxury marque and was acquired by the company in 1909. Today though, the brand forged a position for itself with an “Art and Science” design philosophy, across a range of sedans, roadsters, crossovers & SUVs.
Holden – Founded 1856
Originally an independent South Australian saddlery, Holden switched to making cars in 1908. Australia’s own car brand was taken over by GM in 1931, but was discontinued in Australia, New Zealand and therefore, the world in 2020. GM still owns the brand and only time will tell what it chooses to do with it.
HSV – Founded 1987
HSV made its name with a range of high-performance sedans based on Holden models. The business itself is owned and operated by Walkinshaw under an agreement between the two companies for the supply of vehicles.
With the end of Australian-made cars, the brand reinvented itself with import and conversion operations. The new-look business offers Australians far easier access to American trucks the Dodge Ram (named simply Ram here), the Chevrolet Silverado and the Chevrolet Camaro sportscar. HSV still holds the record for the most powerful Aussie car - the GTS-R W1.
Volkswagen – Founded 1937
VW was founded by the German Labor Front with the goal to make a car for the German populous. From this came the Beetle. The Beetle was sold from 1938 until 2003, making it the longest-running and most manufactured car of all time; especially if you regard the 'New Beetle' a continuation of its bloodline, which added another 16 years to the lifespan.
Audi – Founded 1910
Audi, previously managed by Daimler Benz, came under the control of VW in the 1960s. With the Audi name kept dormant for a period of 25 years under Daimler, it was revived in 1965. Today, the brand is one of the world’s leading premium manufacturers.
Lamborghini – Founded 1963
Today, Lamborghini is owned in its entirety by Audi, which as of 2011 provided the stability of its backing. The brand currently produces some of the most desirable cars in the world, including the Huracan, Aventador and most recently, its Urus SUV foray.
Bentley – Founded 1919
The British company known for its luxury sports tourers was a standalone company for 12 years before being taken over by Rolls-Royce. Then, when Rolls went bankrupt in 1980, Bentley was sold to Vickers PLC. Finally VW revived the brand when it was purchased in 1998.
Bugatti – Founded 1909
Bugatti was originally known for its design beauty, founded by the Italian artist and constructor Ettore Bugatti. However, after Ettore died in 1947 the company fell apart and became defunct as a carmaker in the 1960s. It was revived in 1987 for a few years by Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli, and then eventually acquired by VW in 1998.
Skoda – Founded 1895
Not fully controlled by VW until 2000, Skoda in its current iteration was aimed at being the group’s entry-level brand, providing cheaper cars than that of Volkswagen, yet using engines and technology common to both marques. Clever design ideas have helped the brand to retain its own identity.
Porsche - Founded 1931
After decades operating independently and as one of the world's most profitable car companies, Porsche was eventually swallowed whole by Volkswagen in 2012. It followed four years of attempts by Volkswagen to acquire the company in which time it succeeded in buying 49.9 per cent.
The ultimate settlement and merger hid an ugly power struggle in which both companies tried to by out each other with Volkswagen emerging the victor.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – Founded 2014
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles formed as a group relatively recently, after Fiat upped its investment and took full ownership of Chrysler and its American subsidiaries.
Fiat – Founded 1899
Italy’s largest car brand, while not particularly prominent in Australia, is a powerhouse in Europe. While Fiat is technically a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler, it holds all control and is best known for its small cars including the Panda, Punto and retro-styled 500 which is available in Australia.
Abarth – Founded 1949
Abarth was formerly a standalone road and racing car producer before its founder Carlo sold the company to Fiat in 1971. By 1981 the brand ended production until it was revived in 2007.
In Europe, the 124 Spider is sold as a more affordable Fiat-badged version, but in Australia, only the most powerful Abarth 124 is offered. You can also find high-performance versions of the 500 wearing the same scorpion badge.
Chrysler – Founded 1925
Chrysler is one of America’s largest car manufacturers however it had to be saved, primarily by Fiat in 2009, following the US automotive industry crisis. Fiat then took full ownership of the American brand in 2014.
Only one Chrysler model is currently sold in Australia - the 300 large sedan.
Dodge – Founded 1900
Under the Chrysler umbrella, Dodge became a subsidiary of the Fiat group in 2009, having also previously been involved with Daimler. Dodge is responsible for both the RAM and SRT subdivisions, RAM being for its large 4x4 trucks and SRT for performance cars.
Jeep – Founded 1941
Jeep is perhaps best known for its small durable 4x4 vehicles built specifically for the US military. Civilian models then became available in 1945.
The company has been owned by several brands, including AMC (with Renault), Chrysler, Daimler, and now Fiat. Among many company icons, the seven-slot grille is perhaps the most famous and is worn by every model.
Alfa Romeo – Founded 1910
The Italian brand known for its sports cars and racing exploits was founded more than a century ago. Today it is another subsidiary of FCA, becoming a part of the group in 2007.
Lancia – Founded 1906
Despite being sold only in Italy in modern times, Lancia is still a well-known brand thanks to its highly successful motorsport endeavours, including famous rally cars like the Stratos, Delta and 037. It came under the Fiat umbrella in 1969.
Groupe PSA – Founded 1976
Peugeot took a 90 per cent stake of Citroen following the latter’s bankruptcy in 1976, leading to the joint business format seen today. In 2019, however, FCA announced it was in negotiations to acquire the group. Watch this space.
Peugeot – Founded 1810
Originally a coffee mill company, Peugeot switched to bicycles in 1830 before looking to cars in 1882, and eventually becoming a highly successful mainstream vehicle producer. In 2014, the French Government and Dongfeng Motors both purchased 14 per cent stakes in the company.
Citroen – Founded 1919
Citroen has made waves in the automotive world at various points during its lifetime, and today is best known for quirky small and mid-sized cars. The brand was taken over by Peugeot in 1976.
Opel – Founded 1863
Opel was originally founded in 1863 to produce sewing machines. It then took on bicycles in 1886 and automobiles in 1899. GM would then move to take a majority stake in the German brand in 1929 and full control from 1931.
As of 2017, PSA Group took over the brand along with Vauxhall as part of the deal.
Vauxhall – Founded 1857
Vauxhall was founded in 1857 in the UK as a pump and marine engine manufacturer before turning its hand to cars in 1903.
It was later acquired by GM in 1925 and from 1980 was rebadged and sold largely the same product in the UK as Opel has in Germany and other parts of Europe. It too joined PSA at the same time as Opel in 2017.
Daimler AG – Founded 1926
Daimler is a German automaker that sells its vehicles under the world-renowned Mercedes-Benz brand. The company was formed with the merging of the Daimler & Benz auto companies, before purchasing Chrysler in 1998 and being named Daimler Chrysler AG.
After later selling off the US brand in 2007, it became known simply as Daimler AG.
Mercedes-Benz – Founded 1883
Mercedes-Benz is the world’s oldest car manufacturer. Today the brand is best known for its wide range of luxury cars and its high-performance car division called AMG, as well as its participation in Formula 1.
Smart – Founded 1994
Smart is a Daimler AG brand which exclusively produces microcars and subcompacts. Originally just an idea by head of Swiss timepiece manufacturer Swatch, the company and Mercedes came to an agreement the same year to build the cars.
The brand was withdrawn from Aussie markets in 2015, due to dwindling sales.
Maybach – Founded 1909
Maybach was acquired by Daimler in 1960, becoming the companies’ ultra-luxury brand and in direct competition with Rolls Royce. However poor sales meant that the marque was put into stasis in 2012.
It was then revived in 2015 as ‘Mercedes-Maybach.’ with a range of models more closely related to Mercedes vehicles than in its previous life.
BMW – Founded 1916
Bavarian Motor Works celebrated its centenary in 2016 and has shareholders spanning most continents of the world. Strategic investors hold shares of around 47 per cent of the luxury brand, while institutional investors from North America, the UK, Ireland, Germany and other parts of Europe hold a combined 40 per cent share.
Mini – Founded 1959
Mini was originally introduced as a model, founded by the British Motor Corporation, before becoming a marque in its own right in 1969. It has since changed hands several times by groups related to BMC until it was acquired by BMW in 1994.
Rolls-Royce – Founded 1906
Rolls-Royce is possibly the most highly regarded luxury car brand in the world, while also producing engines for commercial airliners albeit as a separately operated company. Rolls-Royce was nationalised in 1971, then privatised in 1987.
It was then purchased by Volkswagen in 1998, before being acquired by BMW in 2003.
Groupe Renault – Founded 1899
The French brand was set up at the end of the 19th century and has since grown to be one of the world’s most powerful and best-selling brands. The company is part-owned by the French government (20 per cent), and itself has a 43 per cent controlling stake in Nissan.
The seemingly unlikely alliance between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi was recently strengthened with a new framework ratified in early 2020.
Nissan – Founded 1933
The Japanese brand has been controlled by Renault since 1999 through the powerful Renault-Nissan Alliance, which sees Nissan hold a 15 per cent non-voting share in the French brand.
Nissan, in turn, holds Mitsubishi Motors as a subsidiary of its own and Nismo stands as its in-house tuning brand.
Infiniti – Founded 1989
Infiniti is the luxury division of Nissan, producing various impressive models for Australia. Despite offering direct competition to Lexus for a number of years, the brand has failed to attract as much interest Down Under and announced it would pull out of the Australian market in 2019.
It was the second attempt on Australia's discerning tastes highlighting just how difficult and challenging the local landscape is for new brands - even with big brand backing.
Mitsubishi – Founded 1917
Mitsubishi was originally founded as a shipbuilder, with its dedicated motor division not emerging until 1970. The wider Mitsubishi brand still commands a 20 per cent stake in the company, but Nissan took a 34 per cent share in October 2016.
Tata Motors – Founded 1945
Tata is an Indian brand and part of the wider Tata conglomerate. Between 1954 and 1969, the brand enjoyed a collaboration with Daimler-Benz. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) was later purchased from Ford in 2008.
Land Rover – Founded 1948
Land Rover was acquired by Tata Motors in 2008, but is still revered as a British icon. Range Rover, in the meantime, has long been established (since 1970) as the brand’s flagship model range.
Jaguar – Founded 1922
Jaguar is a British luxury car brand previously controlled by Ford, from 1989 until 2008. Under Ford’s ownership the brand never made a profit. In the wake of this failure and the Global Financial Crisis, Ford opted to sell the brand along with Land Rover, to its current owner, Tata.
Both brands under the JLR umbrella have enjoyed a resurgence since Tata acquisition with an explosion of new models and variants, as well as significant manufacturing investment including the Ingenium engine plant in the UK.
Hyundai – Founded 1967
Along with its 34 per cent owned subsidiary Kia, the Hyundai group is one of the world’s largest car makers. The company continues to build inexpensive and relatively conservative cars for non-car enthusiasts, but has more recently branched out into performance models to broaden appeal including its full-fat i30N hot hatch.
Kia – Founded 1944
The Hyundai-owned brand is similar to its parent in that it is based in South Korea and builds affordable and inoffensive cars, albeit in smaller volumes.
The company was crippled in 1997 though, before being bailed out through an ownership exchange with Hyundai. Today, its quality and appeal are unrecognisable compared with some of the first offerings and vehicles such as the Stinger high-powered sports coupe continue to shatter preconceptions.
Genesis – Founded 2015
Genesis was originally Hyundai’s top of the range model. However, it has now evolved to become its own standalone marque.
Currently, it has a range of two high-performance sedans and a large luxury SUV dubbed the GV80.
Geely – Founded 1986
Geely is a Chinese car brand which has grown exponentially since it first started producing cars in 2002. Selling a vast majority of its cars in China, the brand was able to purchase Volvo from Ford in 2010 and is preparing to conquer the western world with cars it hopes will appeal to more demanding requirements.
Volvo – Founded 1915
Originally a Swedish ball-bearing company, Volvo began manufacturing cars in 1927. It wasn’t until 1999 that the Volvo group opted to sell its automobile division in order to focus on commercial vehicles.
Ford purchased the brand before going on to sell it to Geely in 2010.
Lotus - Founded 1948
Created by two university graduates, Lotus is a British low-volume sports car maker and, over the course of more than 70 years of history, has exclusively focused on high-performance cars that are lightweight and minimalist.
Fuji Heavy Industries – Founded 1950
Subaru’s parent company is, by and large, independently run however it does have close ties to Toyota Motor, which holds a 16.5 per cent stake in the company.
In 2016 FHI announced plans to integrate its industrial products company with the Subaru business, and change its name to Subaru Corporation.
Subaru – Founded 1953
Best known for its boxer engines, rally success and commitment to all-wheel drive system development, the Subaru brand has earned a loyal following in Australia, and is a consistent top ten seller.
Before the more conventional dealership model of today, Subarus were initially sold through agricultural machinery suppliers - one of the reasons the brand is still popular with farming communities to this day.
STANDALONE BRANDS (AT THE MOMENT)
Ford – Founded 1903
Ford at different times has maintained control of various other car brands, but at present only holds a small stake in both Aston Martin and Mazda (eight and 2.1 per cent respectively).
Despite having seen more profitable periods, the brand has grown in wealth following a bankruptcy closure during the 2009 financial crisis.
Honda – Founded 1946
As well as the world’s leading motorcycle producer, Honda is one of the largest car manufacturers. The brand continues to work independently of other car brands, apart from its Acura luxury indent sold in some markets such as North America.
Suzuki – Founded 1909
Despite holding limited traction in the Aussie car market, Suzuki is a major player on the world stage. At one point Volkswagen held a 19.9 per cent share of the brand (between 2009 & 2015), but Suzuki later purchased it back.
Mazda – Founded 1920
Mazda was owned for a short time by Japanese banks and Ford, but Mazda has continued to, for the most part, guide its own destiny. At the height of Ford’s ownership in 1996, it held a 33.3 per cent stake.
Ferrari – Founded 1939
The prancing horse has long been known as one of the world’s most influential brands, despite never selling large volumes. For a significant chunk of its history, Fiat owned a 50 per cent stake Ferrari (1969-2014) before the company eventually regained independence.
In 2016 90 per cent owner span off the iconic company, returning it to independence.
Tesla - founded 2003
The purveyor of just electric cars, Tesla builds EVs in the US and China. It also builds batteries for home use, and is branching into solar roof tiles.
It was founded by former PayPal owner Elon Musk, who also founded SpaceX.
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