Saturday, June 23, 2018
Business

With brands, what you see is not always what you think

Suppose you're shopping for a vehicle. There seems to be a number of brands to choose from: Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati, Lamborghini, Porsche, SEAT and Skoda. Yet all are produced by one company: Volkswagen.

Similarly, Fiat Group owns Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lancia and Maserati, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and SRT. This is why the new Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee use an Alfa Romeo platform, while the Dodge Journey is sold in Europe as the Fiat Freemont, and the Chrysler 300 has been rebadged as the Lancia Thema.

But that's not the case with Ford, which had owned Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and most of Mazda. Ford retained a 3.5 percent stake in Mazda, but sold its British brands to India's Tata Motors in 2008. Two years later, Ford sold Volvo to Chinese auto maker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, leaving Ford to sell Fords and Lincolns.

Similarly, General Motors, which produces Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC — as well as Opel in Germany, Vauxhall in England and Holden in Australia — sold Saab to Dutch sports car maker Spyker Cars in 2010. A year later, production stopped. Now Saab's assets are owned by the Chinese-backed National Electric Vehicles Sweden, which plans to restart production.

Hmm. Swedish cars built by Chinese companies? Does that seem strange?

Who would have guessed that German automaker BMW would own two quintessentially British brands: Mini, which it acquired in 1994, and the license to produce Rolls-Royce cars, which it bought four years later from aerospace company Rolls-Royce PLC?

How about Renault? The French company owns 43.4 percent of Nissan, the Japanese automaker behind Infiniti. And recently, the Renault-Nissan alliance announced plans to deepen cooperation of vehicle development with Mitsubishi, a company that had been independent since it ended its relationship with Chrysler, from 1971 to 2009.

By contrast, Daimler AG looks like a piker. It owns only Mercedes-Benz and Smart, and holds a small stake in Tesla.

In Asia, Toyota sells Lexus, Scion, Toyota, Daihatsu and Hino Motors products. And it has small stakes in Tesla, Isuzu and Fuji Heavy Industries — Subaru's parent company. Meanwhile, aside from Ford's small stake, Mazda is a standalone automaker, as is Honda, which also builds Acuras.

Finally, there's Korea, where Hyundai and Kia share something besides a chairman. The Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima have the same platform and mechanical bits. But like the rest of the line-up, the two cars were designed in different studios and were financed, built and sold by separate companies.

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