You might be surprised how the world's top car brands are shared around just a few parent companies


(Parts of this article have been taken from and adapted to the South African context)



Most of us know Lexus is Toyota’s luxury arm and BMW owns Mini, but did you know Lamborghini is owned by Audi, which in turn is run by Volkswagen? Or that, before rising to prominence as a carmaker, Peugeot started out  as a coffee mill maker?


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. For example, just because Jaguar is currently under Indian ownership, 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

South Africa’s favourite car brand by sales, Toyota is also the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer. The company produces about 10 million cars each year. In 1959, the first Toyota model, a Land Cruiser, was exported to South Africa, followed two years later by ten units of the Stout. South African production of Toyota’s at Motor Assemblies began in 1962/1963.  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 South Africa, the brand has thrived, and it now has a 10-model line-up including the BMW-tackling IS and RC, a more recent LC halo sportscar and a growing range of NX and RX 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 Daihatsu in 1951. South Africans will remember names such the Sirion, Charade, Cuore and Terios fondly, which were popular vehicles in South Africa before Toyota pulled the brand here in 2015.


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 cars 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 South Africa, the  famous ‘bowtie’ badge exitted South Africa in 2017.


Buick – Founded 1899

Buick was absorbed into GM upon its creation in 1908, by the then owner of the company as well as GM's William C. Durant. Despite recovering after a GFC-inflicted low sales year in 2009, Buick sales hit a ten-year low in 2020, dropping over 20 per cent on the year before.


Cadillac – Founded 1902

Cadillac is often regarded as GM’s luxury marque and was acquired by the company in 1909. Today though, the brand forges a position for itself with an 'art and science' design philosophy, across a range of sedans, roadsters, crossovers and SUVs.


Volkswagen – Founded 1937

VW was founded by the German Labour Front with the goal of making 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. VW is South Africa’s second most popular brand after Toyota.


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 more recently, its Urus SUV.


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-Rimac – 1909/2009

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.


Rimac is a Croatian company, named after founder Mate Rimac, which has become well-known for its advanced battery and electric vehicle technology. Though Porsche owns a 24 per cent stake in Rimac, a deal was struck in July 2021 for the VW Group to access more of Rimac's tech in exchange for a 55 per cent share in Bugatti, making Mate Rimac the CEO of the company at age 33.


Skoda – Founded 1895

Not fully controlled by VW until 2000, The Czech-based Skoda brand 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, during 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 buy out each other with Volkswagen emerging the victor.


Seat – Founded 1950

Owned by the Spanish Government from 1950 to 1986, the Volkswagen Group took a 51 per cent share in Seat before acquiring 99.99 per cent of the company in 1990. Only active in South Africa between 2006 and 2008, the Spanish company sold about 2600 cars in South Africa.


Cupra – Founded 1985

Initially formed as Seat Sport, the motorsport division of the Spanish manufacturer underwent a rebrand in 2018 when it was renamed Cupra. As the Volkswagen Group's dedicated performance company, Cupra is available overseas with a range of re-dressed, high-performance VW, Audi and Skoda models.


Stellantis – Founded 2021

A supercompany which was born off the back of two pre-existing conglomerates coming together, Stellantis was formed in January 2021 as a multinational merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Groupe PSA.


Fiat (FCA) – Founded 1899

Italy’s largest car brand, while not particularly prominent in South Africa anymore, is a powerhouse in Europe. Fiat is best known for its small cars including the Panda, Punto and retro-styled  500, and ofcourse the Uno which was a household name in South Africa for two decades.


Abarth (FCA) – 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. Currently, the famous Scorpion badge is used on the high-performance versions of the Fiat 500 and known as the Abarth 595.


Chrysler (FCA) – 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.  Chrysler and Dodge left South Africa in 2017 when the decision was made to stop the manufacture of right hand drive vehicles.


Dodge (FCA) – 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 (FCA) – 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 (FCA)– Founded 1910

The Italian brand known for its sports cars and racing exploits was founded more than a century ago. Alfa Romeo became a part of FCA in 2007, currently only producing two cars for sale in South Africa, the Giulia and Stelvio.


Lancia (FCA) – 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.


Peugeot (PSA) – 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 (PSA) – 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 (PSA) – 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 increased to full control from 1931. As of 2017, PSA Group took over the brand along with Vauxhall as part of the deal.


Vauxhall (PSA) – 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 which sells its vehicles under the world-renowned Mercedes-Benz brand. The company was formed with the merging of the Daimler and 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, having won the Constructors Championship every year from 2014 to 2020.


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 cars.

In 2019, Daimler and Geely announced a joint venture to produce Smart cars in China for global distribution.


Maybach – Founded 1909

Maybach was acquired by Daimler in 1960, becoming the company's ultra-luxury brand and in direct competition with Rolls Royce. However poor sales meant 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 (Austin, Morris, Leyland to name but a few) 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. It also produces engines for commercial airliners, albeit as a separately operated company. Rolls-Royce was nationalised in 1971, then privatised in 1987. It was later purchased by Volkswagen in 1998, before being acquired by BMW in 2003.


Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance – Founded 1999

The seemingly unlikely alliance between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi was recently strengthened with a new framework ratified in early 2020.


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.


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. Despite offering direct competition to Lexus for a number of years, the brand has failed to attract as much interest South Africa and soon pulled out


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 it, along with Land Rover, to its current owner, Tata.

Both brands under the JLR umbrella have enjoyed a resurgence since Tata's 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 offer an enormous range of reliable, spec-laden cars and competes in almost every segment of the passenger car market. Criticised for being somewhat conservative in the past,  the latest models sport mould-breaking designs and there are performance option too in the form on the N-Sport branded models.


Kia – Founded 1944

The Hyundai-owned brand is similar to its parent in that it is based in South Korea and has a reputation for reliable and inoffensive cars, regularly going up against its parent company in the South African sales race.

Kia 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 (G70, G80) and two SUVs (GV70, GV80). The Genesis brand has never been sold in South Africa.


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. Geely already exited South Africa once (back in 2009) and although they returned in 2011 under new distributors, they remain an uncommon sight on South African roads.


Volvo – Founded 1915

Originally a Swedish ball-bearing company, Volvo began manufacturing cars in 1927. The company's main marketing arguments are safety and its Swedish heritage and design. It wasn’t until 1999 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 performance cars which are lightweight and minimalist, based around founder Colin Chapman's motto, "add lightness".


Polestar – Founded 1996

Established as Volvo's performance and racing division division, Polestar was officially sold to the Swedish company in 2015, with the racing operations being renamed to Lynk & Co which utilises a mix of Geely and Volvo hardware in its vehicles.

Polestar is now a dedicated EV manufacturer, creating the Polestar 1, 2 and 3 which share some hardware with Volvo products. Polestar EV’s have not yet been confirmed for South Africa, although they are available in right hand drive in markets like the UK.


Mahindra – Founded 1945

Originally formed as a steel trading company by two Indian brothers, Mahindra began assembling the Willys Jeep on the subcontinent in 1947 before exporting its vehicles in 1969.

Mainly a manufacturer of agricultural products and vehicles, Mahindra has garnered a loyal following in South Africa with it’s Scorpio, Bolero, XUV and KUV products.


Pininfarina – Founded 1930

Italian automotive styling house Pininfarina is best known for its long-held association with Ferrari, designing iconic models such as the Testarossa, F40, F50, 550 Maranello and 458 to name a few.

A deal was struck in 2015 for the Mahindra Group to take a 76 per cent stake in Pininfarina, although the company still operates out of its base in Turin, Italy.


Automobili Pininfarina – Founded 2018

This is where things may get a little confusing. While the Mahindra Group has a majority stake in Pininfarina, Automobili Pininfarina is a seperate entity and is a subsidiary of Mahindra's automotive arm, having been founded as a luxury EV manufacturer.

Its one car in production is named the Battista, based on the underpinnings of Rimac's Nevara hypercar, producing 1400kW and 2300Nm from its four motors, one for each axle.


SsangYong – Founded 1954

Starting out as Ha Dong-hwan Motor Workshop in 1954, a merger with Dongbang Motor Co in 1963 led to SsangYong (then Ha Dong-hwan Motor Co) producing Willys Jeeps for the US Army before being eventually taken over by Ssangyong Business Group in 1986.

SsangYong Motors entered a partnership with Daimler-Benz in 1991 which led to the development for the Musso SUV, a South Korean vehicle underpinned by Mercedes-Benz equipment.

After a stint under Daewoo and SAIC ownership from 1997 to 2010, Mahindra acquired the brand at a cost of US$463.6 million (AU$628m).  Ssangyong Will be remembered in South Africa for the Musso, Rexton, Korando, Actyon and Stavic models.




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). Ford manufacturers the Everest and Ranger in Silverton, Pretoria – from where the Ranger is exported to 148 markets across Africa, the Middle East and Europe.


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 and 2015), but Suzuki later purchased it back. Toyota and Suzuki currently have a partnership to share costs in building vehicles, which explains the similarity between certain products here on local soil.  


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 in Ferrari between 1969 and 2014 before the company eventually regained independence.


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 South Africa. Like the Suzuki, the brand has previously partnered with Toyota, which resulted in the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 step-siblings.


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 Pretoria Boys High alumni (and PayPal owner) Elon Musk, who also founded SpaceX.