There are dozens of brands to choose from when you decide to buy a car. Just about every one of them offers an array of models — and a storied lineage to boot. Dive beneath the surface, however, and you'll discover a lot of links between brands and vehicles that you might not have realized.
The automotive world has seen rampant consolidation over its 100-plus years of existence. Brands have aligned themselves into multinational conglomerates and share platforms, parts, engines and infotainment systems. That trend is likely to exacerbate with the era of electrification, as carmakers are forced to pour billions into redefinining their lineups and electric motors make individual powertrains less of a distinctive characteristic that defines vehicles and brands.
In one sense, consolidation can be dispiriting. A new Lamborghini won’t be as madcap as it was when they were flying solo in the 1970s and 1980s; indeed, it'll have a lot of Audi, Porsche and even some VW DNA coursing through its figurative veins. On the other hand, the alternative would be losing niche brands like Lamborghini when times go south; and thanks to standardized engines and platforms, a new Lamborghini will be more reliable and cheaper to maintain than the eccentric beasts of yore.
So if you’re wondering who's really behind your new ride — here’s a look at who owns which car brand.
(Note: This list doesn't include every automotive brand in the world, just the car manufacturers that would be familiar to a western audience. For a full accounting of brands associated with each entity, check out their respective company websites or Wikipedia pages.)
The Alliance (yes, fans of The Office, that is the actual name) is a strategic partnership between French company Groupe Renault and Japanese companies Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors. Renault and Nissan aligned themselves (don't call it a merger) in 1999; Nissan then purchased a controlling stake of Mitsubishi in 2016, bringing them into the Alliance as a partner.
The group includes luxury and performance brands like Infiniti, Alpine and DS Automobiles. The Alliance also owns Eastern European manufacturers Lada and Dacia.
The German company Bayerisch Motoren Worke, better known as BMW, formed in 1916 as a WWI airplane engine manufacturer. BMW devoted itself full-time to automobile manufacturing in 1952 and found its footing with the Neue Klasse sedans in the 1960s.
BMW surfed the Cool Britannia wave in the 1990s, buying the Rover Group — formerly British Leyland — in 1994. They dismantled it in 2000, selling Land Rover to Ford, casting off the other brands and launching Mini as an independent marque. BMW also won a tussle with VW for Rolls-Royce control in 1998, and took over operations in 2003.
General Motors first formed as a holding company in 1908. They swiftly bought several automotive brands, including Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and what eventually became Pontiac. They also tried and failed to buy Ford.
Two purchased companies, Rapid and Reliance, were merged to become GMC (originally known as the General Motors Truck Company, though we're not sure what happened to the "T") in 1912. Chevrolet joined the fold in 1918.
In the 2000s, GM began to trim down an unwieldy, amorphous brand lineup. First, the company dissolved Oldsmobile in 2004. After GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, the fallout killed the Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer brands, and led to the sale of Saab, which has yet to reemerge. In the U.S., that has left General Motors with its present four-brand alignment of Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac.
Ford Motor Company
Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903. The company proceeded to invent the mass-produced automobile with its revolutionary assembly line production system.
After picking up many marques over the decades, FoMoCo pared down its brand lineup considerably in the 2000s. Ford sold Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Aston Martin and what had been a considerable stake in Mazda. They also killed off the middle-tier Mercury brand in 2011, leaving just Ford and its luxury division, Lincoln.
Geely Auto Group
Geely Auto Group is a Chinese-owned multinational corporation. The company bought Volvo from Ford in 2010; the company then promoted Polestar from Volvo’s performance division into its own brand in 2017. That same year, Geely also bought a controlling stake in Lotus.
Honda Motor Company
Japanese company Honda began as a motorcycle manufacturer following World War II, eventually becoming the world’s largest bike builder. They branched out into production automobiles in 1962, eventually becoming a dominant force with standouts like the Civic, Accord and CR-V. Honda founded its luxury brand Acura in 1986.
Hyundai Motor Group
South Korean manufacturer Hyundai was formed in 1967. They began building their own cars in the 1970s, and expanded to the U.S. market in the 1980s. In 1998, they acquired a bankrupt Kia in a complicated ownership exchange agreement. Come 2015, Hyundai created Genesis as a standalone luxury brand.
The German company Mercedes-Benz had been a subsidiary of Daimler, which just this year rebranded itself as Mercedes-Benz and announced plans to spin off the Mercedes truck division into a separate company.
Mercedes-Benz dates itself back to 1886, when Karl Benz patented the first internal combustion engine. The first Mercedes-Benz vehicles debuted in 1926 after the merger of Benz’s company and Daimler. Daimler entered a "partnership" with Chrysler (it was closer to a takeover, really) in 1998, only to walk away in 2007.
The AMG sub-brand started as an independent Mercedes tuner before Mercedes bought it out in 1999. Mercedes-Benz bought luxury manufacturer Maybach in 1960, killed off the brand in 2013, then revived it as Mercedes-Maybach in 2018.
Stellantis recently formed as a super-conglomerate from the merger of two conglomerates, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Europe's Groupe PSA. FCA emerged when Fiat bought the Chrysler Group in 2014. PSA, meanwhile, formed when Peugeot took over Citroën in the 1970s; the company then bought German Opel and British Vauxhall from GM in 2017. The name “Stellantis” technically means nothing, but was presumably pan-European sounding enough to please all parties.
The North American branch consists of Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Ram. Overseas, the brand also includes two of the three largest manufacturers in France — Citroën and Peugeot — and almost every non-manufacturer in Italy.
Technically, FCA spun off Ferrari as a separate publicly held company in 2014. However, FCA was still the largest individual Ferrari shareholder, and executives have held concurrent leadership positions at both companies.
Tata Motors is an Indian-owned multinational corporation, founded in 1945 as a locomotive manufacturer. The company sells its own Tata-branded vehicles, and is the parent company of British subsidiary Jaguar Land Rover, formed after Tata bought the two companies from Ford in 2008.
Volkswagen was founded in 1937 to build the people’s car of Nazi Germany, better known nowadays as "the Beetle." After the war, British manufacturers and Ford were offered ownership, but they turned it down. Eventually, VW was handed over to the German state, began producing Beetles and other cars...and people really liked them.
That company became Volkswagen AG. VW bought Auto Union and NSU in the 1960s and merged them to create Audi. The company acquired Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini in 1998.
Porsche and Volkswagen had ties dating back to the founding of both companies; Ferdinand Porsche designed the Beetle, and the original Porsche 356 was built with VW parts. Parts, engines, ownership stakes and Porsche relatives all shuttled between the two companies for years before VW bought Porsche in 2011 (after Porsche tried and failed to buy VW just before that).
The members of this group, like the proverbial cheese, stand alone (though in many cases, they benefit from partnerships with larger automakers, such as Aston Martin's relationship with Mercedes, Subaru's ties with Toyota and Rivian's investment from Ford). The reduced complexity of electric drivetrains means many an independent carmaker seen here aims to follow Tesla's lead into redefining the automotive paradigm. How long they all remain independent, of course, remains to be seen.