During the first decades of the Twentieth Century, in the early days of the modern era of motoring, there seemed to be an almost limitless number of independent brands vying for the attention of car buyers. Names that have now disappeared into history; Jowett, Austin, Hillman and Riley, among many others in the UK alone, are now only spoken of in classic car collecting circles. These once-famous names have long since been absorbed into a car industry dominated now by just a handful of companies.
Then And Now
That's not such a bad thing is it? Motorists with longer memories will recall that our everyday vehicles were not always that reliable. Thermostats would give out, for example, leaving drivers stranded at the roadside with a steaming car and some cheaper vehicles had panel gaps that customers could stick a disappointed finger through. Suffice to say that building tolerances were not as tight and regulated as they are today and we should be grateful for that. Productions lines around the world work to the tightest of tolerances and a very high degree of accuracy in assembly.
Who Is Behind The Cars That We Drive Today?
Still, there remains many different brand names that we can choose from; virtually all respected badges, both prestige and mainstream. It is almost impossible to find a bad car in the virtual showrooms and we can buy online with confidence. It also helps that we can now take even the newest of vehicles to an independent garage and are no longer tied to brand-specific dealerships.
So if your car of choice is, say, a Skoda, you know what you are going to get, but it was not always so: Skoda was originally a brand from a country that was then known as Czechoslovakia and the cars had a poor reputation; so much so that they became the butt of jokes. Well, no one is laughing now because for many years these excellent motors have been built under the auspices of the VAG company.
VAG is the overarching company that delivers no less than twelve brands (including motorbikes and commercials) with an individual identity and a common goal: our motoring enjoyment. Each brand operates as an independent entity on the global market covering anything from small cars to luxury vehicles.
Brands from the VW group include the actual Volkswagen models themselves; Skoda, Audi, Porsche, SEAT from Spain, Bugatti, Lamborghini and our very own prestigious Bentley. Although some models from each brand are, unsurprisingly, duplicates of each other, they differ in specifications and some aspects of design.
Essentially, what you're buying into is a guarantee of quality. The economies of scale delivered by making these cars from basically the same platforms and components means that the savings can be passed on in favour of potential buyers.
Toyota & Nissan
The Japanese company Toyota, the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world, also wholly owns or has major stakes in Lexus, Fuji Industries (Subaru), Daihatsu, Isuzu and Hino, a commercial vehicle maker.
So if you fancy a small, light sports car then the Toyota GT86 and the Subaru BRZ are more or less identical and, indeed, are built on the same production line. Purists say that the BRZ suspension is marginally better set-up than the Toyota version but most ordinary mortals won't notice.
The point is, whatever may have been the reputation of the individual brands historically, customers can be assured that behind them all is Toyota know-how. Nissan on the other hand wholly own only the Infiniti badge although they have commercial tie-ups with Renault and Mitsubishi, sharing technology.
Tata, Geely, Ford & General Motors
Tata is a huge industrial conglomerate originating in India. They make cars for that market under their own name but also own Jaguar Land Rover. Meanwhile, the Chinese manufacturer Geely has gained a foothold in Europe, buying into the both the Lotus and Volvo brands, the latter from Ford who also sold Jaguar Land Rover to Tata in a downsizing move.
These days, General Motors, once a big beast from the USA, owning many, many car companies has withdrawn from most of it's global markets to concentrate on home brands. During this cut-back they sold the British marque, Vauxhall to:
The French owned Groupe PSA, which itself comprises Peugeot, Citroen, DS and Opel, now adds the UK's favourite, Vauxhall. This is no bad thing because, for example, the forthcoming new Vauxhall/Opel Astra is a thing of beauty.
FIAT Chrysler, BMW & Daimler
FIAT Chrysler meanwhile is an Italian company that was originally founded as a car company, rather than developing out of other industries. It now owns Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lancia, Maserati, and all the Chrysler brands, including Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and SRT. Over the border we go to Germany where BMW also pilots the quintessentially British icons that are MINI and Rolls Royce. Daimler has Mercedes-Benz (and Mr Benz was the men who started this whole internal combustion thing) plus the innovative Smart company.
Whatever an individual might think about this slow absorption of famous names under the banners of industrial giants, concerned perhaps that unique design may give way to design by accountancy, there is no escaping the fact that cars have never been better made and are getting cleaner and more economical as time passes. That must be a good thing.