Who Owns Which Automotive Brands? Here’s a Breakdown

Need to settle that bet or win that bar argument? The one where a loud guy insists Jeep is the true American brand, Opel is as German as they come, and the Brits own Mini. How many of these assertions are actually true? There are currently at least 42 automotive brands sold in the U.S., each with a lineup of vehicles for sale. And over the years, we have witnessed an unending cycle of automakers buy other automakers and add, sell, or kill brands. In short, the parentage can be hard to trace or remember.

But we bit the bullet and here we present the ultimate list of who owns who in the auto industry today.

Keep this article handy when you want to be the smartest one in the room. Here is a list of the major car brands and who does, in fact, own them now and how they got there. To make it easier to navigate this opus, the brands are listed in alphabetic order.

Acura is the luxury brand of Honda Motor Company, headquartered in Tokyo. The Japanese automaker launched the Acura brand in the United States and Canada on March 27, 1986, with two vehicles: the compact Integra and an executive-class Legend sedan.

Acura was the first Japanese luxury brand, predating Toyota’s Lexus or Nissan’s Infiniti. Acura was later expanded to other countries including Mexico, China, and a few European countries. There were plans to sell Acura in hometown Japan in 2008, but those plans were scuttled for economic reasons.

The brand made a splash in the U.S. with the original NSX and has grown to include a lineup of crossovers to complement its sedans.

In 2019, the top-selling Acura in the U.S. was the RDX, followed by the MDX, both of which outsold the entire car lineup that included the ILX, NSX, RL/RLX, and TLX. Acura. It is a mid-pack premium brand in terms of volume, having sold fewer than 160,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2018 and 2019. But its RDX is one of the top-selling compact luxury SUVs.

Alfa Romeo is an Italian brand with a history of financial troubles—and partners and owners who tried to address it.

Alfa is currently owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), but that is poised to change, too. In December 2019, FCA signed a memorandum of understanding with Groupe PSA (Peugeot-Citroën) for the two automakers to merge, with a tentative timetable of late 2020 or mid-2021 for the deal to close. The still-to-be-named merged automaker will be the fourth largest in the world. Alfa will be one of a long list of brands folded into the new company.

Alfa Romeo dates back to 1906 when Alexandre Darracq, a Frenchman, founded Societa Anomina Italiana Darracq to make Darracq cars for Italy. They did not sell well, so he brought in an Italian designer, and in 1910 the company was renamed A.L.F.A. for Anomina Lombardo Fabbrica Automobili. It was based in Milan, and it has been associated with racing and sports car ever since.

In 1920 the company and brand name were changed to Alfa Romeo in deference to Nicola Romeo who took control of the company in 1915 and converted the plant to make military equipment.

Financial troubles have followed Alfa most of its life. In 1933 it was taken over by Italy’s IRI (Institute for Industrial Reconstruction), and when rumors of a possible purchase by Ford surfaced in late 1986, IRI sold Alfa to Fiat Group.

When Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. on April 30, 2009, the plan for it to emerge from Chapter 11 included an alliance with Fiat, which received a 20 percent stake, and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne ran both companies. In early 2014, Fiat Group acquired 100 percent ownership in Chrysler Group. In October of the same year, the two companies merged to create Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, making it a fully integrated global automaker under Marchionne.

Alfa Romeo was imported to the U.S. in the 1950s, but the exports stopped in 1995. Alfa imported the 8C in 2008, but the true return to North America was in 2014 with the launch of the 4C coupe. The lineup now includes the Stelvio, Giulia, a few 4Cs, and plans to expand the portfolio.

Aston Martin Lagonda is a British luxury car maker that dates back to 1913, founded by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. Today it is an independent public company, headquartered in Gaydon, England, and listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The British brand made famous by 007 himself, James Bond, has had many owners and bankruptcies over the years; it even spent time as a brand under Ford Motor Company.

Aston Martin has gone bankrupt at least seven times, dating back to 1924. Among its past owners is David Brown Limited, a machine tool company that rolled Aston into its Tractor Group in 1947. Pace Petroleum’s Victor Gauntlett bought a stake in the company in 1980, and by 1987 had persuaded Ford to tip in money, as well. Ford took control of Aston in 1991 and made it part of its Premier Automotive Group.

After a relative stint of stability, Ford sold Aston to a consortium that, in turn, sold a majority stake to an Italian private equity firm. Aston Martin went public in 2018 followed by a disastrous collapse of its share price. Now Canadian billionaire, fashion tycoon, and Racing Point Formula 1 team owner Lawrence Stroll has taken a substantial stake
in the company, so the roller coaster ride is not over.

The lineup has included the DB11, DBS Superleggera, Rapide, and Vantage, as well as the DBX (first SUV), Valkyrie, and Valhalla. But future plans for Lagonda, electric cars, and the Rapide E project are being upended and delayed. Aston Martin sold less than 100 vehicles in the U.S. in 2018 and 2019.

Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group, a German company with a large stable of brands. Audi is one of VW’s luxury brands and operates with some independence from its parent. While VW headquarters are in Wolfsburg, Germany, Audi has its head office in Ingolstadt, where the automaker relocated after World War II. Audi dates back to engineer August Horch and his registration of Audi Automobilwerke GmbHZ Zwickau in 1910. Horch, translated to German and then Latin, is “Audi.”

In 1932, Horch and Audi combined with manufacturers Dampf-Kraft-Wagen (DKW) and Wanderer to form Auto Union. The four rings of the Audi logo represent the four companies. In the late ’50s, Daimler-Benz bought Auto Union but in 1964 sold 50 percent of it to Volkswagen; 18 months later, VW bought complete control. In 1965 the brand was relaunched with the return of the Audi name after 25 years and the introduction of the Audi F103 series.

Initially Volkswagen did not want Auto Union to operate as an independent entity—VW just wanted the capacity of its plant in Ingolstadt. Auto Union engineers developed the first Audi 100 in secret. The car impressed VW brass and was launched in 1968. A year later, Auto Union merged with NSU Motorenwerke, known for motorcycles, small cars, and rotary engines. The new company, Audi NSU Auto Union AG, was incorporated January 1, 1969, with Audi as a separate brand alongside NSU and Prinz. Volkswagen introduced the Audi brand to the U.S. market in 1970. In 1986, the company name was shortened to Audi AG and the headquarters were once again located in Ingolstadt.

In the 1980s, the introduction of Quattro all-wheel drive was well received, but recalls for reports of sudden unintended acceleration—perpetuated by a fraudulent 60 Minutes report—almost killed the brand in North America. But Audi recovered and flourished, only to be stung by scandal again in 2015 as part of the larger Volkswagen diesel-emissions scandal. Today Audi is a well-known and respected seller of sporty luxury cars and SUVs.

Bentley is a brand of Bentley Motors, a British maker of luxury vehicles that is part of the German Volkswagen Group. Headquartered in Crewe, U.K, Bentley has been part of VW since 1998.

Bentley was founded in 1909 by Walter Owen Bentley and his brother Horace Miller Bentley. The automaker went into receivership in 1931, during the Great Depression, and was sold to British Central Equitable Trust, which later turned out to be a front for Rolls-Royce.

With Rolls-Royce in financial trouble in 1971, the British government nationalized the company, and then created Rolls-Royce Motors in 1973 to separate the Rolls-Royce and Bentley car-making operation from the strategically sensitive Rolls-Royce aerospace business. Rolls-Royce Motors was purchased by engineering conglomerate Vickers in 1980.

In 1997 Vickers decided to sell. BMW was comprehensively outbid by Volkswagen AG, the deal closing in 1998. Volkswagen boss Ferdinand Piëch presumed he’d bought all Rolls-Royce and Bentley assets, but the fine print revealed that Rolls-Royce plc, the aerospace business, actually owned the Rolls-Royce name and the logo, and had merely licensed it to the car business. Worse, it then decided to sell the license to BMW, its partner in commercial jet engine manufacture.

Volkswagen had no leverage as the engines in both the Rolls-Royce Seraph and Bentley Arnage were supplied by … BMW. From 1998 to 2003, when BMW had completed development of the all-new Phantom, Volkswagen built Rolls-Royce cars for BMW.

Among its latest models are the Bentayga (its first SUV), the Continental GT, and the Flying Spur. While most of its vehicles are assembled in Crewe, Bentley uses some VW plants in Europe, as well.


The BMW brand is owned by Bayerische Motoren Werke or BMW. The German luxury automaker has long been known for its sporty sedans, tagging itself with the slogan “the ultimate driving machine.”

BMW was founded in 1916 in Munich as a maker of aircraft engines, then motorcycles, and became a car maker in 1928. The automaker’s majority shareholder is the Quandt family—of whom Stefan Quandt owns a “blocking stake” to prevent a hostile takeover.

BMW bought the Rover Group in 1984 and unloaded all but the Mini brand in 2000. In 1998 BMW picked up the rights to the Rolls-Royce brand.

In recent years BMW has filled out its portfolio with a full slate of crossovers and its M performance division. BMW is also developing a family of electric vehicles.

Buick is a premium brand owned by General Motors. It is one of only four brands GM retained after emerging from bankruptcy in 2009.

Buick has a storied history. It is the company that established General Motors in 1908 and is the oldest brand in the U.S., dating back to David Buick and the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company that made the first Buick automobiles in 1899.

The Buick Motor Company was incorporated in Detroit in 1903.  Ironically, the main reason all-American Buick was deemed a core brand and saved after GM’s bankruptcy is because pre-WWII Buicks had become the preferred ride of senior Communist Party officials after Mao Zedong came to power in China in 1949. As a result, Buicks are still hugely popular in China, the world’s largest automotive market.

GM has positioned Buick as a premium brand, slotting below Cadillac. Long associated with older buyers for its sedans, Buick got into the crossover market to widen its appeal by bringing in younger buyers with families. Today the lineup is all crossovers including the Buick Enclave, Encore, Encore GX, and Envision.


Cadillac is owned by General Motors of Detroit and is the flagship luxury brand. Cadillac was named after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the man who founded Detroit, and the Cadillac crest is his coat of arms.

After Buick, Cadillac is the second oldest automobile brand in the U.S., dating back to 1902. Ironically, it was created by disgruntled shareholders in the Henry Ford Company, who booted out the man who would later put the world on wheels with his Model T, and renamed it Cadillac, building cars with well-engineered engines designed and made by Henry Leland.

GM bought Cadillac in 1909. (Leland would go on to found Lincoln, which, in financial difficulties, was bought in 1922 by … Henry Ford.)

Cadillac grew to become the standard of American luxury, but by the 1980s it had lost its luster and has struggled to regain past glory ever since. Even still, when GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and was forced to restructure and downsize, Cadillac was one of the four brands GM retained: Saturn, Hummer, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac were discontinued.

GM is hoping an emphasis on electric vehicles and return to the luxury of old will help elevate the brand. At a time when many brands are getting out of the car business, Cadillac has a slate of cars including the CT6 and the new CT4 and CT5.

There are also plans to introduce a new full-size, electric sedan as an executive sedan, based on the Celestiq concept. The crossover lineup includes the XT4, XT5, XT6, and the Escalade. Most of the lineup will get some degree of electrification in the future, and the brand’s first all-electric vehicle will be a midsize crossover.


Chevrolet is as American as apple pie. “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,” was the message in the ’50s and ’60s. Chevy is, and has always been, owned by General Motors. It was founded in 1911, making it a bit of a newcomer compared with Buick and Cadillac.

Founded by Louis Chevrolet, Willian C. Durant, Samuel McLaughlin, Edwin Campbell, and William Little, it is the volume brand within GM. Chevy has long gone up against Ford as America’s mainstream automobile.

The bowtie dates back to 1913 and is still alive today. When GM looked to shed four of its eight brands as part of bankruptcy restructuring in 2009, there was never any doubt that Chevrolet would continue to exist.

Chevy offers a wide range of products from the electric Bolt to the Suburban SUV, Silverado full-size pickup, and the return of the Blazer. While GM has pulled back on the global markets in which Chevy is sold, it is still vested in the portfolio that now finally includes a mid-engine Corvette.


The Chrysler brand has had a lot of troubled parents over the years, but it is still alive and barely kicking under the ownership of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. FCA is a dual-headquartered company with the Fiat side of the business based in Turin, Italy, and the former Chrysler Corp. based in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Chrysler dates back to 1925, founded by Walter Chrysler, and was often referred to as one of the Big Three, along with General Motors and Ford, as between them these automakers dominated the world in terms of production and sales volumes, especially after World War II.

Chrysler has teetered many times on the edge of a financial cliff. In 1998 it was acquired by Daimler-Benz and the so-called alliance was named DaimlerChrysler. Described at the time as “a merger of equals,” it was anything but, and Daimler, tired of the operational complexity and the losses, sold Chrysler in 2007 to Cerberus, a private equity firm.

In 2009 Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, and the subsequent restructuring included merging with Fiat under the leadership of Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. In early 2014, Fiat Group acquired 100 percent ownership in Chrysler Group. In October the same year, the two companies became one, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles or FCA, making it a fully integrated global automaker under Marchionne.

The future of the Ch
rysler brand remains uncertain with yet another parenting change in the works. In December 2019, FCA signed a memorandum of understanding with French automaker Groupe PSA for the two to merge, with a tentative target date of late 2020 or mid-2021 for the deal to close.

The still-to-be-named automaker will be the fourth largest in the world, and the expectation is some brands will go away. Chrysler has used up many of its lives and could go. The brand has been reduced to a minivan and a large sedan.

Dodge is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA, which is owned by Fiat. While the company’s Italian brands are headquartered in Italy, Dodge joins the American stable of brands based at the second set of headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Dodge goes back to 1900 and the Dodge brothers, who made parts and assemblies for other automakers and then made their own vehicle in 1914. Chrysler bought Dodge in 1928.

The brand name was built on trucks and full-sized cars. Then Dodge got into compact cars and minivans. Over the years, ownership changed many times. There were the DaimlerChrysler years when Daimler called the shots from Germany; the Cerberus years when finance guys called the shots; bankruptcy in 2009 followed by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne calling the shots; and in 2014 Fiat bought Chrysler out completely, and the company became FCA. It will change yet again, with a pending merger with PSA to create a huge, yet-to-be-named global automaker.

In 2011 Dodge split its portfolio, keeping the SUVs, cars, and minivans, but the pickups were rebranded Ram, and the Viper was rebranded as SRT. Today Ram is thriving with its trucks and commercial vans, while Dodge has been reduced to a pair of muscle cars (Challenger and Charger) and pair of utility vehicles (Durango and Journey). The Dodge Grand Caravan minivan will be discontinued. It remains to be seen if Dodge survives the next ownership change, given how many brands there will be collectively between FCA and PSA.

Ferrari is an Italian luxury sports car maker and brand that is synonymous with sex appeal, Italian racing red, and the prancing horse. Ferrari is now a public company and remains active in motorsport to this day.

Ferrari was founded by Enzo Ferrari in 1939 in Maranello, Italy, under the umbrella of Alfa Romeo. The first car was built in 1940 (for racing), but Ferrari technically wasn’t an automaker until he was allowed to sell cars under his own name in 1947 when the first Ferrari-badged road car was completed.

In 1963 Enzo Ferrari considered selling the brand to Ford until he realized the deal would preclude him from continuing to control the race program. Ferrari pulled out of the deal, and an infuriated Henry Ford II became hell-bent on building a car that would beat Ferrari in the 24 Hour race at Le Mans. It led to the Ford GT40 in 1964 and Ford’s historic 1-2-3 win in France in 1966.

The failed Ford deal opened the door for Fiat to take a 50 percent stake in Ferrari in 1969. Fiat increased that to 90 percent in 1988.

In 2014 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Sergio Marchionne said Ferrari would be spun off and a stake in the company would be sold to the public in an IPO. The separation became complete in January 2016. Ferrari’s largest single shareholder today is Exor NV, a company controlled by descendants of Giovanni Agnelli, one of the original founders of Fiat. Piero Ferrari, Enzo’s son, holds a 10 percent stake.

Ferrari’s current lineup includes the Ferrari F8 Tributo and F8 Tributo Spider, Portofino, 812 Superfast, and GTC4Lusso. Coming are the SF90 Stradale, the Roma, and Ferrari’s first-ever crossover, the Purosangue.


This is a storied Italian brand, dating back to 1899, founded in Turin by Giovanni Agnelli, whose family retains some ownership and control more than 120 years later.

Today the Fiat brand is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which has dual headquarters in Turin, Italy, and Auburn Hills, Michigan, and which oversees the Chrysler portion of the company. Fiat Group was owned by Fiat S.p.A. until 2014 when it was merged into the newly created FCA.

The first Fiat was exported to the U.S. in 1908, and a plant in Poughkeepsie, New York, started making Fiats including the Fiat 60 HP and Fiat 16-20 HP in 1909. The Italian vehicles were expensive and coveted, costing about five times as much as a Ford Model T. The Fiat plant was closed in 1917 after the U.S. entered World War I.

Fiat returned to North America in the 1950s with the original 500, the 600 Multipla, and the Fit 1100, 1200, and 1300. The U.S. also got the Fiat 124 Sport Spider and X1/9. But sales were never strong; the brand had a reputation for poor quality, and Fiat pulled out of North America in 1983.

It wasn’t until 2009, when a bankrupt Chrysler needed help and Fiat took a 20 percent stake in the struggling American automaker, that plans were made to bring the Fiat brand back across the ocean. Chrysler started making the Fiat 500 at one of its plants in Mexico for sale in North America. In 2013 the electric 500e was introduced in California, and then-CEO Sergio Marchionne famously said he lost money on every one he sold. The Fiat Ducato and Doblo commercial vans were rebranded and sold as the Ram ProMaster and Ram ProMaster city.

For the 2020 model year, Fiat announced it was discontinuing production of the 500, 500e, and the performance 500 Abarth in North America. It continues to offer the FiatX small crossover and 500L stretched hatchback. And Fiat still sells the 124 Spider (developed in conjunction with the Mazda MX-5), as well as the commercial vans.


Ford is a quintessential American brand, owned by Ford Motor Company. It is rare in that the Ford family continues to have control of the company, thanks to a stock structure that gives it majority voting rights without having to own a majority of shares.

Based in Dearborn, near Detroit, the company was incorporated by Henry Ford on June 16, 1903 with cash from such notable investors as the Dodge brothers, who later went on to found their own car company. Ford led the industry to the idea of a high-volume assembly line, bringing the automobile to the masses.

The brand has felt that same obligation to this day. That has meant continual reinvention. As consumers have eschewed cars for trucks and SUVs, Ford has dropped passenger cars from its lineup, keeping only the storied Mustang. F-Series trucks (F-150 and Super Duty) remain its bread and butter, but Ford also has the smaller Ranger pickup, Transit and Transit Connect commercial vans, and a full portfolio of utility vehicles including the EcoSport, Escape, Edge, Explorer, and Expedition. It even chose an electric SUV named the Mustang Mach-E to represent its future direction.

When General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy during the financial crisis of 2009, Ford had presciently mortgaged pretty much everything it had in the preceding years and thus avoided filing for Chapter 11.

Genesis is the luxury brand of the Hyundai Motor Group of South Korea. Hyundai Motor Group has two mainstream brands: Hyundai and Kia. As the automaker introduced higher-end sedans for those brands, management struggled with whether to create a luxury brand. Although Hyundai sold a sedan called Genesis in the late aughts, it was officially announced as an independent marque in 2015.

Genesis launched in the U.S in late 2016 with the G90 and G80. The brand is still gaining awareness. It got attention when the G70 midsize sedan was named the 2019 MotorTrend Car of the Year.

So far the lineup consists of the Genesis G70, G80, and G90 sedans, and the GV80 is the first of three crossovers. Also in the works is a smaller GV70 SUV and a sport coupe. They are notable for elegant and innovative design and performance at a good price. Behind the vehicles is a team of designers and engineers who joined the South Korean group having worked for Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, BMW, and Chevrolet.

GMC is a General Motors brand, based in Detroit. The brand is focused on trucks, both retail and commercial, as well as SUVs. Most of its vehicles have Chevrolet counterparts; the GMC version is more premium, usually with nicer materials, more features, and a higher price tag. The brand models itself around its longtime slogan: Professional grade.

The GMC division of GM dates back to 1911; GMC refers to General Motors Company and was once a division of General Motors. It can trace its history back to 1902 and the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company in Pontiac, Michigan. When William Durant was pulling together companies to form GM, he grabbed Rapid and made it a subsidiary. Durant also snagged Reliance Motor Company, which made commercial vehicles. The two were folded into the General Motors Truck Company, and their former names were replaced with GMC Truck, the designation for the new trucks being produced at three plants across the U.S. In 1998, the official branding was shortened to GMC from GMC Truck.

In 2007 GMC introduced its first unibody crossover, the Acadia, replacing the body-on-frame Envoy SUV. Another major shift: In 2009 GMC stopped making medium-duty commercial trucks after more than 100 years. The focus on crossovers continued with the introduction of the mid-size Terrain, and there are the heavyweights: the Yukon and Yukon XL full-size SUVs, as well as Sierra and Canyon pickups, and the Savana van.

Going forward, GMC will get into electric vehicles, starting with the GMC Hummer full-size electric pickup, a move that brings back the Hummer name but on an environmentally friendly, zero-emissions truck.


Honda is another brand whose owner is self-evident. Honda is also unusual in that the mainstream Japanese brand has had the same parent since its inception in 1948. The company was founded by Soichiro Honda, who started with motorcycles and sold the first automobile in 1963, the T360 mini pickup truck.

Honda is a public company headquartered in Tokyo. It is its own largest shareholder (at about a 5 percent stake) but has the backing of numerous Japanese asset management firms.

The brand has had a stellar reputati
on for safety and reliability over the years with a wide range of vehicles from the tiny Honda Fit to the Odyssey minivan (one of the few minivans left) to the Ridgeline, a unibody pickup that invited derision but also has a cult following.

Honda has a string of popular vehicles, including the CR-V, named the 2018 MotorTrend SUV of the Year; the Accord large sedan; the Pilot family SUV; and the Civic, which became a favorite among the tuner crowd. The lineup also includes the Insight, HR-V, and new Passport crossover.


Hyundai is the namesake brand of the Hyundai Motor Company, headquartered in Seoul, South Korea. The Chung family controls the Hyundai chaebol of 40 subsidiaries and is Hyundai’s largest shareholder outside of the company itself.

The carmaker was founded in 1967, and the first model was the Cortina, licensed from Ford and released in 1968. The brand had a rocky start in North America. The first car developed in-house was the Hyundai Pony compact car, which was exported to Canada in 1983. A few years later Hyundai opened a plant in Bromont, Quebec, where it built Sonatas for four years before it closed due to slow sales.

In 1986, Hyundai began selling cars in the U.S., starting with the Excel. The early cars were cheap in both price and quality, and Hyundai became synonymous with affordability over substance. The brand later set out to change that. Quality and reliability reached or exceeded that of many established brands, but the public was not getting the message, so Hyundai introduced a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty to promote both sales and awareness. It was a success.

Today, Hyundai is becoming a juggernaut, with top design and impressive performance, lots of amenities and features, but still at an impressive price. The lineup was car-heavy, with the Accent, Elantra, Sonata, Ioniq, and Veloster. But Hyundai has ramped up the crossover side and now has the Venue, Kona, Nexo, Palisade, Santa Fe, and Tucson. The first foray into trucks could come with the unibody Santa Cruz that’s still under development.


Infiniti is the luxury brand of Japanese automaker Nissan, which is part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Nissan started selling the Infiniti brand in North America in 1989. Ironically, Infiniti is not offered in Japan.

Infiniti was headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, with Nissan until 2012 when Infiniti global operations moved to Hong Kong to concentrate on sales in the large China market. In 2020, Infiniti moved back to Japan.

Vehicles have been taxed with confusing names. The lineup includes the Q50 and Q60 sedans and a growing number of crossovers with the QX50, QX60, and QX80. A series of concepts lead us to believe a new full-size flagship sedan is in the works, as well as crossovers that pay homage to the FX.

In 2018, Infiniti CEO Hiroto Saikawa said the brand would become electric with all new vehicles being hybrid or pure electric by 2021.


The beginning of this storied British brand dates back to 1922, to a company called Swallow Sidecar. Founded in Blackpool, England, it made sidecars for motorcycles and, later, car bodies. The luxury vehicle brand of Jaguar Land Rover has had many parents over the years. It’s currently owned by Tata Motors of India but remains headquartered in Coventry, England.

The first Jaguar-branded cars were made by S.S. Cars, founded by Sir William Lyons after his business partner decided to leave. The name was changed to Jaguar Cars in 1945. Jaguar merged with British Motor Corporation in 1966 after BMC—maker of Austin and Morris cars—bought the company that supplied it with steel bodies. The combined company was then urged by the British government to take over truck and bus maker Leyland, Standard-Triumph, and Rover, becoming British Leyland Motor Corporation.

Loss-making BLMC became British Leyland in 1975 after being taken over by the British government. Under the economic reforms led by Margaret Thatcher, Jaguar, a profitable piece of British Leyland, was spun off in 1984 and listed on the London Stock Exchange, with the government retaining a golden share that prevented any single shareholder from taking more than 15 percent of the company.

In 1990 Ford bought the brand, and it became part of the Premier Automotive Group, which Land Rover later joined, as well. But Ford did not give its luxury brands much love or resources, and Jaguar never gave Ford any profits. So when the financial crisis hit in 2008, Ford sold both Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors of India. Initially Tata made them a subsidiary, but in 2013 the two brands were officially merged to form Jaguar Land Rover.

A new electric XJ flagship is coming. The car brand still has some sedans with the XE, XF, and the F-Type convertible but has branched into crossovers with the F-Pace luxury crossover, the E-Pace compact SUV, and the I-Pace SUV, which is the brand’s first electric vehicle.


J is for Jeep. This is a brand so iconic that children around the world are taught the alphabet that way.

While quintessentially American, Jeep is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which is based in Turin, Italy, as well as Auburn Hills, Michigan. But Jeep’s brand home remains in Toledo, Ohio.

Jeep has a storied past. Designed as military workhorses in WWII, Jeeps were built by Willys and Ford. After the war, Willys built a civilian version, the CJ (civilian Jeep) that morphed into the Wrangler that we know today.

The first CJ-A2, also known as the Universal Jeep because it could do anything, rolled off the line in Toledo on July 17, 1945. Today the Jeep brand is still devoted to SUVs and crossovers, with some pickups, vans, and roadsters sprinkled in. Most Jeeps are the most capable vehicle in their segment.

Willys-Overland started the civilian Jeep business but did not stay in it. Kaiser Motors bought the company in 1953 and then American Motors Corporation (AMC) purchased the Jeep operations in 1970. Chrysler made a smart move when it acquired Jeep and the rest of AMC’s brands in 1987.

Chrysler gave way to DaimlerChrysler in 1998, but the German automaker shed the Chrysler side of the business in 2007. Then in 2009, to emerge from bankruptcy, Chrysler Group became part of Fiat Group, and in 2014 Jeep’s parent officially became Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Many of Jeep’s iconic names are still in production: Wrangler, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Gladiator, and soon the return of Wagoneer. Newcomers over the years include Compass and Renegade.


The Kia brand is part of the Hyundai Motor Company based in Seoul, South Korea. It was a separate automaker but in 2015 became minority owned by Hyundai.

Kia was founded in 1944 as Kyungsung Precision Industry, which made steel tubing and bicycle parts, then complete bicycles. The company changed its name to Kia in 1952 and obtained licenses to build Honda motorcycles and Mazda cars and trucks, later adding Fiat and Peugeot vehicles. Its car plants were shut down in 1981 under military dictatorship, but Kia got back into the car-making business in 1986 and, in partnership with Ford, made vehicles based on Ford and Mazda models.

Kia was incorporated in the U.S. in 1992, making it somewhat of a newcomer here. It was expanding when the Asian financial crisis led to Kia’s bankruptcy in 1997. A year later, Hyundai outbid Ford and acquired 51 percent of Kia. Today, following some divestments, Hyundai only owns a third of Kia, though still a plurality share.

Under the direction of designer Peter Schreyer, MotorTrend’s 2020 Person of the Year, Kia is leading the way in design. It has a growing lineup that has a large stable of cars including the Rio, Forte, Niro, Optima, Stinger, Cadenza, full-size K900, and the ever-quirky Soul and Soul EV.

Kia’s expanding number of crossovers now includes the new Seltos, Stonic, and Telluride, which is the 2020 MotorTrend SUV of the Year, as well as the stalwarts: the Sportage, Sorento, and the Sedona minivan.


Luscious Lamborghini is an Italian brand that is part of Germany’s Volkswagen Group.

Lamborghini was founded in 1963 by Ferruccio Lamborghini in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, to compete with Ferrari. It is known for its rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, low-slung exotic cars. It has evolved from sports cars to luxury sport crossovers, as well, with the introduction of the Urus with a twin-turbo V-8.

The brand has seen three ownership changes and a bankruptcy since 1973. Ferruccio retired and sold the company in 1974 to a pair of investors who were forced to file for bankruptcy in 1978. The receivers bought it in 1984. Then in 1987 Chrysler bought Lamborghini but in 1994 sold it to investment firms in Malaysia and Indonesia. They in turn sold Lamborghini to the Volkswagen Group in 1998, which rolled the brand into its Audi division.

The lineup is powerful, with a V-12-powered Aventador and V-10-powered Huracán, as well as the Urus.

Land Rover

This is another storied British brand that is actually owned by Tata Motors of India. Land Rover is a brand of four-wheel-drive vehicles from the ultra-capable to high-end luxurious—and usually both.

The Land Rover name was first used by the Rover Company on a boxy off-road vehicle in 1948. The Land Rover Series is now considered a British icon, and original Land Rovers are being restored.

Land Rover, the company, dates back to 1978 and was part of British Leyland, which took over Rover in 1967. In 1994, Rover Group, including Land Rover, was acquired by BMW, which broke the group up again and sold Land Rover to Ford. It was reunited with Jaguar, which was already part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group.

In 2008, a cash-strapped Ford sold Land Rover and Jaguar to Tata. Tata established Jaguar Land Rover as a subsidiary, but they operated as separate companies. In 2013, Tata restructured to make Jaguar Land Rover a
single company. It remains headquartered in Coventry, England.

The Land Rover brand has vehicles that fall into three sub-brands: Range Rover, Defender, and Discovery. All are known for their four-wheel-drive capability and varying degrees of ruggedness versus luxury.

A second generation of Defenders, in both long- and short-wheelbase formats, went into production for the 2020 model year. The lineup also includes the Discovery and Discovery Sport, Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Evoque, and Range Rover Velar.

Lexus is the luxury brand of Toyota Motor Company, founded in Japan on October 1, 1986, and is headquartered in Nagoya.

The Japanese brand grew from the development in 1983 of a premium sedan, code-named F1 (for Flagship One). Toyota’s market research concluded that a separate brand and sales channel were needed to present its new sedan, which was bigger and more luxurious than anything in the Toyota lineup. It culminated in the launch of the Lexus brand with the LS flagship in 1989 that stunned Europe’s established luxury marques.

A brand was born and grew with a stable of cars, coupes, convertibles, and the popular RX crossover. However, it was not until 2005 that the Lexus brand was added to the Japan market—until that time, Lexus cars were sold there with Toyota badges and model names.

Lexus upped its performance game with the introduction of the F marque in 2007, starting with the IS F sport sedan and then the LFA supercar in 2009.

Lexus offers sedans of different sizes from the compact IS to the ES, GS, and full-size LS. The two-door coupe range consists of the RC and the LC. Sport utility vehicles range in size from the subcompact UX to the NX, and RX, the larger GX, and the full-size LX. Almost everything is offered as a hybrid.


Lincoln is the luxury brand of Ford Motor Company. It is the first and last of Ford’s luxury brands—there were a lot more that have come and gone.

Lincoln is the quintessential American luxury car brand, dating back to 1917, when Henry Leland founded it and named it after Abraham Lincoln. Ford gobbled it up in 1922. At one time it was the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S., but Ford let its opulence and importance die, starving it of resources to compete properly.

At one time Ford had a full stable of luxury brands: Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo, which were collectively known as the Premier Automotive Group. But Ford sold them all, leaving only Lincoln as the aspirational brand for customers who wanted more luxury than their Ford-brand vehicle offered.

Lincoln’s revival is taking hold. It now has a strong lineup of elegant crossovers including the Navigator, Aviator, Nautilus, and Corsair. The brand has dropped its practice of confusing alphanumeric names and given new products real names. The car side of the brand is reduced to just the Continental.

Geographically, Lincoln is focused on North America and China, with some sales in the Middle East and South Korea.


The Lotus brand is British, and so it its owner, Lotus Cars, which makes its lightweight sports cars in the U.K. But in 2017, Geely of China bought a 51 percent controlling stake in Lotus, technically making it a Chinese company.

Lotus is not a stranger to ownership changes. What started as an engineering company founded by Colin Chapman in 1952 grew into a car builder, and the Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959, including Lotus Cars. The cars were notable for their design and fiberglass monocoque bodies.

But Lotus was bleeding money by the ’80s. An agreement with Toyota had Lotus engineering working on the Mk2 Toyota Supra, but another project to help develop the DeLorean got the company mired in a scandal involving U.K. subsidies. Then Chapman died suddenly. A group of investors kept struggling to keep Lotus afloat.

But it was not enough, and in 1986 a majority stake in the Lotus group of companies, and the full U.S. sales operation, was sold to General Motors. It lasted until 1993 when GM sold Lotus to A.C.B.N Holdings of Luxembourg, which was controlled by Italian businessman Romano Artioli, who also owned Bugatti. Three years later, after bankruptcy, it was picked up by Proton of Malaysia, a subsidiary of DRB-HICOM. Then Geely bought it.

Many vehicles over the years have been Lotus-based, including the Tesla roadster. Lotus vehicles past, present, and future include the Esprit, Elan, Europa, Elise, Exige, Evora, and Evija

Maserati is an Italian brand that is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) with dual headquarters in Turin, Italy, and Auburn Hills. The Maserati brand, which
dates back to 1914, operates out of Modena.

The brand, known for its trident emblem, was founded by Alfieri Maserati in Bologna but moved its headquarters to Modena when the Maserati brothers sold their shares to the Adolfi Orso family of Modena. In 1968 Maserati was taken over by Citroën. When Citroën went bankrupt in 1974, it was incorporated into PSA Peugeot Citroën; a year later, Maserati was put into liquidation.

An agreement was reached that gave Maserati to an Italian state-owned holding company, with Argentinian industrialist Alejandro de Tomaso also holding a stake. Chrysler, and then Fiat, also took shares in Maserati as de Tomaso increased his holding to 51 percent, but by 1993, Fiat had become the sole owner. Four years later, Ferrari bought a 50 percent stake, and by 1999 Ferrari took full control and made Maserati its luxury-touring brand.

In 2002, Maserati was back in the U.S. The shuffling was not done yet. Maserati was split off from Ferrari and put under Fiat’s control. It was paired with Alfa Romeo and Abarth.

Vehicles include the GranTurismo and GranCabrio, Ghibli, Levante, Quattroporte, and more to come such as the Alfieri.


Mazda is the only brand of Mazda Motor Corporation, a Japanese automaker based in Hiroshima, Japan.

Most people associate the brand with its long-running (but recently shelved) “zoom zoom” marketing campaign, which correctly captured the brand’s sporty nature. Best known for the MX-5 Miata roadster, Mazda has sold tons of Mazda3s and some Mazda6s to sport sedan aficionados. Mazda got into crossovers and offers a range including the CX-3, CX-30, CX-5, and CX-9.

The Mazda name came from the three-wheeled trucks it once made. The company traces its roots to the Toyo Cork Kogyo Company in 1920. In 1931 it made a Mazda-Go auto rickshaw. Although some believe the automaker got its name as a transliteration of its founder, Jujiro Matsuda, it actually comes from Ahura Mazda, the West Asian god of harmony, intelligence, and wisdom.

It was not until 1984 that the company, known as Toyo Kogyo since 1927, formally adopted the name Mazda. It became known for its engineering prowess and the development of the Wankel rotary engine. In 1970 the brand formally entered the U.S. market and intrigued the market with the RX-7.

From 1974 to 2015 Mazda worked under Ford, which at one point had a one-third ownership stake. When Ford divested most of its shares and the two parted ways, Mazda had to engineer its own vehicles again. It has also developed a fuel-efficient suite of powertrain technologies it calls SkyActiv.

In the late ’90s Mazda planned but never launched the Amati luxury division, due to the bursting of the Japanese economic bubble.


The McLaren brand has been on a roll, adding new models on a regular basis and making them as fast as they can in the plant in Woking, England, where everything is essentially hand made.

Racing legend Bruce McLaren formed Bruce McLaren Motor Racing in 1963, while the McLaren Group was created by Ron Dennis in 1985 after he picked up the McLaren Formula One team in 1981. McLaren Automotive, which builds the road cars, was founded in 2010.

The name has changed slightly over the years, but has always included McLaren. Dennis owned it initially, then brought in TAG Group and later tried, unsuccessfully, to buy back a controlling share in the company. Dennis was essentially pushed out of the company in 2017. At that point, some of the McLaren subsidiaries merged and fell under the McLaren Group name.

The first McLaren road car, the limited-run F1, rolled off the line from 1992 to ’98, but then production took a hiatus until 2011. McLaren Automotive now builds highly technical exotics that rival (if not surpass) those of other supercar makers. Most models sell out before they are even produced, and in some cases, before they are even revealed to the public.


Mercedes-Benz is a German luxury brand owned by Daimler AG and based in Stuttgart. It is a stalwart of the industry. Parentage dates back to 1926 when the automaker was known as Daimler-Benz. The origins go back even further, to Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft’s 1901 Mercedes and Karl Benz’s 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen.

Other than a brief period as DaimlerChrysler, Mercedes has had a stable corporate life, leaving it free to concentrate on making luxury vehicles. The Mercedes brand is overseen by Daimler AG, which is in turn owned by an array of international asset management firms—although Chinese billionaire Li Shu Fu (of Geely and Volvo renown) also owns nearly 10 percent of Daimler.

The Mercedes lineup is extensive, from the small A-Class to the goat-like G-Wagen, with a wide variety of sedans, wagons, coupes, roadsters, crossovers, SUVs, pickups, vans, buses, and big rigs all bearing the three-pointed star. Globally and in the U.S., Mercedes-Benz has often been the best-selling luxury brand, with BMW as its main rival.


Mini is a brand with distinctive, albeit small, vehicles that give off a distinctly English vibe. But it’s owned by a German company. While still based in the U.K. where it started life in 1959 as the model name for an innovative small car designed by Alec Issigonis for Austin-Morris, Mini has seen its ownership change over the years, culminating in today’s status as part of the BMW stable.

The original Mini was made by the British Motor Corporation, which merged with Leyland Motors to form British Leyland, which was ultimately nationalized by the British government. British Leyland, which at one point owned not only the Austin, Morris, and Leyland brands, but also Jaguar, Triumph, Land Rover, Rover, MG, Riley, Wolseley, and Vanden Plas, was progressively broken up under the Thatcher government’s privatization program.

The Rover Group, which included Mini as well as Land Rover, was acquired by British Aerospace in 1988. It was in 1994 that BMW bought Mini as part of the Rover Group.

There has always been a mystique and whimsical quality about Mini, something BMW well understood when it designed and developed its all-new R50 model, which launched in 2000. And although BMW successfully riffed on the idea with its first generation of Minis, today’s third-generation models are bigger, heavier, and less whimsical—partly because they are built on a platform shared with the BMW 1 series—and hard questions are being asked internally in Munich over the brand’s long-term future.


You can backdate its automotive history as far as 1917 when Mitsubishi Shipbuilding introduced the Mitsubishi Model A, a hand-built seven-passenger sedan. The shipbuilding company merged with Mitsubishi Aircraft in 1934, and the new venture was named Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

New blood was injected in 1971 when Chrysler bought a 15 percent stake in Mitsubishi and started selling the Mitsubishi Galant as the Dodge Colt in the U.S. The two companies joined forces in a joint-venture plant in Normal, Illinois. Mitsubishi went public in 1988, and Chrysler increased its share—and later sold most of it. It was not until 2016 that Nissan became the largest shareholder and brought it into the Alliance.

Mitsubishi has a history of corporate scandal—covering up defects instead of reporting them, and later fudging both sales numbers and fuel economy figures. A large percentage of its sales from the ’90s and ’00s came through low-credit-rating buyers. The Diamond-Star Motors plant in Normal was closed in 2015.

Nissan took a one-third stake in Mitsubishi in 2016 to keep the automaker from going under in the wake of the fuel economy scandal. Mitsubishi has been trying to revive its lineup with crossovers including the Outlander, Outlander Sport, and Eclipse Cross, while continuing to sell the Mirage sedan.


The Japanese brand is headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, and has had the rocky times generally associated with being the third-largest player in a multi-player market—trailing Toyota and Honda.

Nissan’s history dates back to the Kaishinsha Motor Car Works that produced the DAT car in 1914. The company changed names many times and merged with other companies. In 1931 the Datsun Type 11 was introduced. In 1933, Nissan Group took over DAT Motors, and Nissan Motors was incorporated in 1934. Three years later it was assembling vehicles under the Nissan brand. In 1966 Nissan merged with Prince Motor Company, which brought vehicles such as the Skyline into the fold.

A U.S. subsidiary was formed in 1960. It was in 1999 that the Renault-Nissan Alliance, led by CEO Carlos Ghosn, was formed and is credited with saving the financially troubled Nissan—although it appears the automaker is scrambling yet again to find its footing. Mitsubishi joined the Alliance in 2016.

In the U.S. Nissan has had halo vehicles such as the GT-R and 370Z and more plebian nameplates such as the Sentra, Altima, Maxima, and Versa. It has expanded into crossovers with the Rogue, Rogue Sport, Juke, and Kicks, while continuing to sell the large Armada SUV, Pathfinder, Murano, and the Frontier pickup truck. The Nissan Leaf is an electric vehicle frontrunner.


Polestar is a new performance electric vehicle brand that is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group of Sweden and Volvo’s parent Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, a Chinese company. So it would be correct to call it a Swedish or Chinese company.

Volvo spun off Polestar to be its high-tech performance electric vehicle brand. It takes advantage of both regions, being headquartered in Gothenburg and building cars at a plant in China.

Polestar started as a Swedish racing team, morphed into a performance engineering company, and was bought by Volvo in 2015. In 2017 Volvo said Polestar would become a standalone brand with electric vehicles designed to compete with Tesla. As Geely bought Volvo in 2010, that made its shareholding of Polestar a fait accompli.

The first car, a 2+2 coupe called the Polestar, was introduced in 2017 as a plug-
in hybrid. It was a transitional vehicle, with all subsequent vehicles to be fully electric. Polestar 2, an electric midsize fastback, followed in 2019. Polestar 3 will be an electric crossover. Polestar also showed its autonomous tech on the Precept concept car.


Porsche is a brand synonymous with high-performance sports cars. The German brand is owned by the Volkswagen Group and based in Stuttgart.

Porsche was founded by Ferdinand Porsche in 1931 and initially helped develop vehicles for others, like the Volkswagen Beetle. It was not until after World War II that Porsche started building cars under its own name, starting with the 356. It was after some success in racing that Porsche launched the 911 rear-engine car in 1964 that gave it the scale it needed to grow.

Voting-share ownership by the Porsche and Piëch families have made the corporate structure a bit of a soap opera over the years, made none easier when Porsche and Volkswagen both tried to take over the other in the early ’00s. A denouement was arranged to merge their manufacturing operations—and there were other complicated arrangements concerning who owned what at different corporate levels, but it amounted to Porsche AG being owned and run by Volkswagen AG.

Known for the inimitable 911, Porsche’s stable of cars also includes the Boxster and Cayman, and the Panamera sport sedan. The brand expanded into SUVs with the Cayenne introduced in 2002, the smaller Macan, and most recently the Taycan electric crossover.


This is an American truck brand that specializes in vehicles that used to be part of the Dodge brand. While Dodge dates back to 1910, Ram did not become a standalone brand until 2009.

The Ram brand consists of trucks and commercial vehicles and is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). While FCA had headquarters in both Auburn Hills, Michigan, and Turin, Italy, Ram operates out of the U.S. complex.

Ram was spun off from Dodge in 2009; Dodge was restructured as a car-based brand with muscle cars, sedans, crossovers, and minivans. Dodge Ram light- and heavy-duty trucks became just Ram. The brand also sells rebadged Fiat vans as commercial vehicles.

The best-known Ram brand vehicles are the pickups. The Ram 1500 light-duty pickup was the 2019 MotorTrend Truck of the Year, and the Ram Heavy Duty pickup truck was the 2020 MotorTrend Truck of the Year. Other models in the Ram lineup include the ProMaster and ProMaster City, which are reworked versions of Fiat commercial vans.


Rolls-Royce is a high-end British luxury brand, headquartered in Goodwood, England. Today it is a wholly owned subsidiary of German automaker BMW. Rolls-Royce Motors, which made Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, was bought by Volkswagen in 1998 after a bidding war with BMW.

But BMW acquired the rights to the Rolls-Royce name and logo from the owner, aerospace company Rolls-Royce plc, with whom it had a business relationship building jet engines for commercial aircraft. The BMW-owned subsidiary is therefore not related to Rolls-Royce-branded vehicles produced prior to 2003.

The original Rolls-Royce name dates back to 1904. Henry Royce established an engineering business in 1884 and got into making cars. Charles Rolls had his own business and the two came together as Rolls-Royce in 1906 to sell cars. The company pivoted to aircraft engines in 1914.

From 1921 to 1931, Rolls-Royce had a factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, to build cars. In 1931 Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley. Rolls-Royce was nationalized in 1971, and the British government incorporated Rolls-Royce Motors in 1973 to separate the car-making and aerospace businesses. Engineering conglomerate Vickers bought Rolls-Royce Motors in 1980 and sold it to Volkswagen in 1998.

The current Rolls-Royce lineup includes the Rolls-Royce Phantom, Ghost, Wraith coupe, Dawn convertible, and Cullinan SUV.


Smart is a German brand of microcars and subcompacts that has switched partners over the years—but the one constant has been oversight by Daimler AG and its Mercedes-Benz Cars division.

In 2019 Daimler announced a 50-50 joint venture with China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group to build all future models in China, designed by Mercedes and engineered by Geely for sale starting in 2022.

The name and idea for Smart comes from watchmaker Swatch, which suggested that city cars be manufactured and personalized like its watches. Swatch reached an agreement with Volkswagen in 1991 to share development. Two years later, VW’s new CEO Ferdinand Piëch wanted to terminate the project. Swatch had anticipated this and reached an agreement with Daimler in 1994 to design and make the small cars under the brand name Smart.

As a subsidiary of Daimler, Smart was part of the DaimlerChrysler merger, which subsequently fell apart and reverted to being a Daimler property under the Mercedes-Benz Cars division.

Smart was officially launched in the U.S. in 2008, but sales of the Fortwo, including an electric version, were never strong and Smart pulled out of the U.S. market after the 2019 model year.


Subaru is a Japanese brand that specializes in off-road-capable wagons and crossovers. It is owned by Subaru Corporation (the renamed Fuji Heavy Industries), of which Toyota is a 20 percent stakeholder, and is based in Tokyo.

Subaru was founded in 1953 and was part of the Fuji Heavy Industries conglomerate, itself created from the postwar remnants of the Nakajima Aircraft Company. Other automakers, including Nissan, General Motors, and Toyota have held stakes in it over the years.

Subaru is known for its use of a boxer engine layout and its all-wheel-drive system. The vehicle portfolio includes the Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent crossovers as well as the Legacy, Impreza, and WRX.


Tesla is an American automaker that has grown to become the preeminent maker of desirable electric vehicles and a leader in the pursuit of autonomous-vehicle technology. Its momentum was largely gained via selling high-end luxury EVs, but the more affordable Model 3 has made the Tesla badge more attainable to the masses. Tesla also developed its own global network of Supercharger vehicle-charging stations and bypassed retail norms by selling vehicles directly to consumers online.

Most people associate Tesla with its charismatic leader Elon Musk, who has a huge social-media following and unconventional ideas that have disrupted the modern auto industry. But Tesla predates Musk. Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, who named their startup after electrical engineer and genius inventor Nikola Tesla.

Musk was among the first employees added, along with J.B. Straubel and Ian Wright. All are now legally entitled to call themselves co-founders of the eventual tech company and independent automaker. But Musk, flush with his PayPal fortune, became the money man and ostensible leader when Eberhard was forced out of the company.

Tesla’s initial public offering (IPO) on the stock exchange occurred in 2010. The leading shareholder remains Musk, who holds about a 20 percent stake in the company. Musk got in trouble with the SEC in 2018 when he preemptively declared the company was prepared to go private—the infamous “funding secured” at $420 a share—but which never came to pass.

While Tesla has never had a profitable full year, Musk takes advantage of Tesla’s loyal base of fans and investors to easily raise capital and fill order banks.

In 2020, the model lineup includes the Model S, Model 3, Model X, Model Y. On the horizon is the Cybertruck, a futuristic full-size pickup truck made of unpainted stainless steel, as well as a new roadster, a semi truck with the promise of autonomous operation, and a fleet of unmanned taxis. The original Tesla Roadster, derived from a Lotus chassis, was launched into space via a Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6, 2018, courtesy of one of Musk’s other ventures, SpaceX.


Toyota is a Japanese juggernaut. It is owned by Toyota Motor Corporation, headquartered in Toyota City. The company was founded in 1937 by Kiichiro Toyoda as a spinoff of Toyota Industries, but the first passenger car came out in 1936, as part of the parent company. The first vehicles were sold under the name Toyoda, but it was later changed to Toyota, which was easier to say and to write in Japanese characters.

As the largest Japanese automaker by far, Toyota has large shareholdings in many of the smaller Japanese players, including Subaru, Mazda, Suzuki, Hino, and Daihatsu.

The Toyota brand came to the U.S. in 1957 with the Crown. Real inroads were made during the oil crisis in the 1970s when people turned to the small, fuel-efficient cars Toyota was making. In the 1990s, the Toyota brand expanded into larger vehicles, including SUVs and its first full-size pickup. Today the U.S. operations are based in Plano, Texas.

Toyota’s reputation for quality, durability, and reliability have meant many of its vehicles, including the Toyota Camry, RAV4, Highlander, and Corolla, are top sellers in their segments. At one time the Toyota Prius, introduced in 1997, was synonymous with hybrids and led the industry. The brand is still known for offering hybrid versions across its lineup. Toyota also continues to offer the Avalon, 4Runner, Sequoia, Land Cruiser, and Sienna alongside relative newcomers such as the C-HR. There is the Toyota Tundra full-size pickup and smaller Tacoma pickup, as well.


agen is the mainstream, high-volume brand of the Volkswagen Group, made famous for creating the Beetle in the 1930s. Today the automotive giant is based in Wolfsburg, Germany, and VW is but one of many brands under one corporate umbrella.

VW was founded in 1937 in Berlin by the German Labour Front, and Volkswagen translates to “people’s car” in German. And it was Adolf Hitler who ordered VW to come up with an affordable people’s car (hence, “Volkswagen”) for the masses, which led to the Beetle.

The Volkswagen brand entered the U.S. market in 1949 with a whopping two units sold the first year. It has had mixed success with hits such as the Beetle and Golf GTI, but many vehicles missed the mark, offering too few amenities at a premium price point compared to segment competitors. There were times when it appeared the brand would pull out of the market altogether.

Today the lineup is full with the Golf, Jetta, Passat, and Arteon on the car side and the Tiguan, Atlas, and Atlas Sport crossovers. The focus going forward is electric vehicles, starting with the ID4.


Volvo Car AB of Sweden is owned by the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group of China, which bought the Swedish automaker in 2010.

The brand was founded in 1927 as a subsidiary of SKF, which made ball bearings. In 1935 AB Volvo was introduced on the Stockholm Stock Exchange, and SKF sold most of its shares in the company.

In 1999 AB Volvo sold Volvo Cars to Ford where it became one of the brands in the Premier Automotive Group alongside Aston Martin, Jaguar, and Land Rover. When Ford started shedding brands, it considered making Volvo an independent company, but in the end it sold Volvo to Geely in 2010.

Volvo remains true to its Swedish roots and is still headquartered in Gothenburg. It was created to be a maker of safe vehicles, and since the first car produced in 1927, safety has remained a driving force.

The first Volvos arrived in the U.S. in 1955. For years Volvos were known for their boxy look but the brand has been reinvented, starting with the current XC90, and is now known for simple yet elegant styling. The subsequent Volvo XC40 and XC60 crossovers, as well as the S60 and S90 sedans and V60 and V90 wagons have been met with critical success.