In reference to the Model T, Henry Ford once famously said, “Any 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 too did the individual niche demand, spawning an array of makes, models, and luxury packages to fill virtually any market nuance.
Once the Great Recession took hold, 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. We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to help make sense of it all. For convenience and general sanity’s sake, we’ve curated this list alphabetically for your perusing pleasure.
BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) was founded in 1916 as an aircraft engine company that expanded production to motorcycles and eventually cars. Today BMW also owns Mini and Rolls-Royce.
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, Smart, and several heavy truck companies including Freightliner and Western Star. Daimler used to own the Maybach brand as well, but the high-end luxury automaker was axed in 2012. Fear not though, because in 2016, the Maybach name was revived within Mercedes-Benz with the incredibly opulent Mercedes-Maybach S600. Most recently, the company debuted the Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet.
Here’s a little known fact — “Fiat” is an acronym. Fiat or Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino was founded in 1899. Originally, Fiat mainly produced railroad engines, tractors, and airplane engines. After Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 in 2009, Fiat eventually acquired the company.
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.
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.
GM owns 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 out 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. In 2015, Hyundai announced a new luxury sub-brand called Genesis Motors.
Mazda is a Japanese company that was founded in 1920. Originally, the company manufactured tools, but 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% of Mazda, but has since sold its shares.
The Mitsubishi Corporation is Japan’s largest “general trading company.” This motor company 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.
Today Renault controls the subsidiary company Nissan. Nissan controls the luxury vehicle division, Infiniti, and the recently revived Datsun. Renault also owns Romanian carmaker Dacia, and it holds controlling stakes in Russia’s AvtoVAZ and in 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, and to the brand’s emblematic griffin logo. While Saab isn’t officially “dead,” the brand is floating somewhere between a vegetative state and the grave.
Subaru is the automobile manufacturing division of Japanese conglomerate Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI). Toyota is currently a part-owner in this company.
Tata owns Jaguar and Land Rover. Jaguar used to be its own British company that made Jaguars and Land Rovers, but Tata purchased it in 2008. Tata released the world’s first $2,500 car, called the Nano, in 2009.
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.
Toyota is one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world. It owns Daihatsu, Lexus, and Hino Motors. It has been manufacturing cars in the United States since the 1980s.
The Nazi trade union “German Labour Front” started Volkswagen in 1937. Today, Volkswagen Group is the largest automaker in the world, owning VW, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda, MAN Trucks, Scania AB, Ducati, and Porsche.
AB Volvo is a Swedish company that was founded in 1927. A Chinese firm, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, now controls the company.
Updated 3/10/2017 by Ronan Glon: Added information about Renault controlling Mitsubishi, and GM selling Opel.