Brand History: in bullet points

We give you a very brief history (in short paragraphs) of the most popular car companies:

Alfa Romeo

  • Italian. Headquarters in Milan, Italy.
  • Founded in 1910 by Ugo Stella and Nicola Romeo.
  • A.L.F.A. stands for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili.
  • Very successful motor racing brand with a long line of incredible machines and personalities; including Enzo Ferrari.
  • The Alfa Romeo logo depicts the red cross of Milan as well as a snake symbol used as a crest by the city’s 14th century rulers.
  • All performance versions feature a green four-leaf clover logo (“Quadrifoglio”) on the front fenders – as the brand’s early racing cars did.


  • German, with current headquarters in Ingolstadt, Bavaria (Germany).
  • Audi means “listen” in Latin. In the early 20th century, Audi was part of a group of car companies called “Auto Union” where one of its sister companies was Horch – the German word for “listen” – named after founding engineer August Horch.
  • The rings in the Audi logo represent the four companies Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer which formed its originating motor group, Auto Union.
  • Just like Audi, the old Auto Union was big on motorsport which lead to some incredible races and land-speed record battles with rival German brand, Mercedes-Benz.


  • German, with headquarters in Munich (the Bavarian capital).
  • The abbreviation B.M.W. stands for “Bayerische Motoren-werke” which means Bavarian Motor Works. Bavaria is a southern province of Germany.
  • The Bavarian flag colours are blue and white, reflected in the BMW logo which also represents an aeroplane propeller… because the company built aircraft engines for many years.
  • BMW was quite famous for its four-cylinder engines in the later 20th century in cars like the 2002 and early 3-Series. Hence their Munich headquarters building is shaped like four cylinders.


  • Started by the Chinese government in 1997 and is still state-owned.
  • Main products are passenger vehicles, minibuses and SUV’s.


  • American, part of GM (General Motors) with headquarters in Detroit, Michigan.
  • Started in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet and General Motors founder, William C. Durant. He used Chevrolet’s success to merge with General Motors a few years later.
  • The Chevrolet bowtie logo (golden since 2004) is rumoured to have been inspired by a wallpaper pattern but more reliable sources indicate that it pays tribute to the Swiss heritage (cross on flag) of one of its founders.
  • Took over the Korean Daewoo brand in 2011. Chevrolet had been using (or re-branding) Daewoo products for a while.


  • American. Company headquarters are in Michigan, U.S.A.
  • Founded in June 1925 by Walter Chrysler.
  • Known as one of the “Big Three” in the USA.
  • Also sells Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles as well as Mopar and SRT performance parts and accessories.
  • Merged with Daimler-Benz in 1998 to form DaimlerChrysler, the merger split up in 2007.
  • In 2014, Chrysler merged with Fiat to form FCA: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.


  • Original production began in 1932, as Dat Motorcar Company.
  • Nissan took control in 1934 and the small car “Dat-son” inspired the new company name, Datsun.
  • The name was phased out / discontinued by Nissan in 1986 but re-launched around 2013.


  • American company with its headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, U.S.A.
  • Started as the Dodge Brothers Company in 1900 by John Francis Dodge and Horace Elgin Dodge.
  • At first producing parts for the auto industry from their base in Michigan, USA, the first Dodge Brothers cars were built in 1914.
  • The company was sold to Chrysler in 1924, a few years after its founders had passed away.


  • This famous sports car maker was founded in 1939 in Modena, Italy.
  • Company founder Enzo Ferrari started from a base of Alfa Romeo’s racing division and the first Ferrari-badged cars appeared around 1947.
  • Fiat part-owned Ferrari in the 1970’s and 80’s with ownership rising to 90% in 1988. In 2014 Ferrari was split from FCA to form its own group.
  • The most expensive car ever sold is a 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO which, in 2018, sold for US$ 70 million.
  • Ferrari is the oldest and most successful racing team in Formula 1.


  • Founded as “Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino” in 1899 in Turin, Italy, by Giovanni Agnelli.
  • Fiat merged with Chrysler to form FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) in 2014.
  • Fiat assembled cars in South Africa from 1950, with full production starting at Rosslyn around 1966.
  • Besides passenger and commercial vehicles, Fiat has also produced railway engines, military vehicles, farm tractors, aircraft and weapons.


  • American. Started in 1903 by Henry Ford, who famously played a big part in the development of the conveyor belt… to speed up production (and lower costs) of Ford automobiles in the early 20th century.
  • Henry Ford had started a car company before, in 1901, but it became Cadillac after he left.
  • The Ford logo with its cursive font (typeface) first made its appearance in 1909 but it took almost 20 years for the blue colour and oval badge to appear.
  • The American company has big footprints in the UK (Dunton, Essex) and Germany (Köln/Cologne), where a lot of its products are researched, designed and developed.


  • Geely is a privately-held vehicle manufacturer in Hangzhou, China. It was founded in 1986 in Taizhou, China.
  • The group started producing cars in 1997 and currently sells Geely Auto, Lotus, Lynk & Co, PROTON, and Volvo vehicles.

GWM / Haval

  • GWM (Great Wall Motors) was founded in 1984 in Baoding, China.
  • The company initially produced trucks (and pick-ups), the first car was only built in 2010.
  • It is China’s biggest SUV and pick-up truck manufacturer.
  • SUV’s were re-branded “Haval” from about 2013 and function as a sub-brand.


  • Japanese. Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.
  • Founded by Soichiro Honda in 1946, it is one of very few Japanese car makers started by an individual (not a group or government). He stepped down in 1973.
  • This multi-nation group manufactures automobiles, aircraft, motorcycles, power equipment, garden equipment, marine engines, personal watercraft and power generators.
  • Honda has been the largest manufacturer of motorcycles since 1959 and also the world’s largest producer of internal combustion engines.
  • First to launch a dedicated luxury brand, Acura, in 1986.
  • Honda’s logo is a stylised letter H inside a rounded rectangle, with performance models (like any Type-R derivative) receiving a red background for the logo.


  • South Korean. The Hyundai group was started by Chung Ju-yung in 1947 as a construction business which he controlled until the turn of the millennium.
  • It later started building vehicles (1967), ships (1973) and electronics (1983), among many other areas of business.
  • In the late 1990’s, the group broke into various pieces which included the modern-day Hyundai motor company.
  • At the time, the business bought majority shares in Korean rival Kia, forming the Hyundai Motor Group.
  • The Hyundai “H” logo is said to be a stylised depiction of two people shaking hands – the company and the customer.


  • Isuzu is a Japanese firm which was founded in 1878 as a petroleum company and (after some company mergers in 1934) as a vehicle and engine manufacturer.
  • The name Isuzu was first used in 1949 and means “50 bells” in Japanese.
  • Isuzu does not have a traditional logo (at the moment) but rather uses bold lettering in their own typeface for branding.


  • Founded in 1922 as the Swallow Sidecar Company producing motorcycle side-cars and later, automobile bodies.
  • The spin-off “S.S. Cars Limited” produced vehicles with Jaguar name badges and was renamed “Jaguar Cars” in 1945.
  • Jaguar merged with the British Motor Corporation in 1966, later BMH, then Leyland Motor Corporation before becoming British Leyland. The group was nationalised in 1975.
  • Jaguar detached from British Leyland the mid 1980’s and was acquired by Ford in 1990. Land Rover joined the group in 2000 when BMW sold it to Ford.
  • Jaguar Land Rover was sold to Tata in 2008 to become a British-registered and wholly owned subsidiary.


  • The name “jeep” started as US Army slang (or slur of “GP” for General Purpose Vehicle) of a four-wheel drive vehicle in WWII.
  • The first Jeep, a prototype from a US Army tender, was built by the Bantam Car Company in 1940. Willys and Ford updated the design and Willys-Overland was awarded the initial production contract. Ford was awarded a secondary (licensed) contract to increase production.
  • The first civilian Jeep was launched in 1945.
  • From 1954, Hotchkiss built Jeeps under license from Willys. Mitsubishi and Toyota also produced them.
  • The brand Jeep can lay claim to being the first four-wheel-drive vehicle on the consumer market, pipping Land Rover by just a few years.


  • Korean. Headquarters in Seoul, South Korea.
  • Founded late in 1944 as “Kyungsung Precision Industry“ – initially producing steel tubing and bicycle parts. Name changed to Kia Industries in 1952.
  • First domestic bicycle produced in 1951. Production start of small Honda-licensed motorcycles from 1957.
  • Mazda-licensed trucks from 1962 and cars from 1974.
  • Kia went bankrupt in 1997 but entered into a shared ownership agreement with fellow Korean brand, Hyundai, a year later.
  • Kia famously head-hunted the ex-Audi designer, Peter Schreyer, in 2006 and he is responsible for the brand’s new design language; including its “tiger’s nose” grill layout.

Land Rover

  • The first vehicle was built in 1948 and, as the name suggests, was a product of the Rover Company.
  • The initial Land Rover (known as Series 1) spawned two updates (Series 2 in 1958 and 3 in 1971) before the design got a major revision for the 1983 model “110” and “90” – so called for their wheel-base in inches.
  • These utilitarian vehicles, also favoured by the world’s military, were called “Defender” from 1990 onwards and remained in production until January 2016, marking 67 years of continuous production since the first model appeared in 1948.
  • The luxurious Range Rover was first introduced in 1970 and represents the pinnacle of luxury SUV motoring, especially in its current, 4th generation.
  • Other vehicles launched along the way are the Discovery (1989), Freelander (1997), Range Rover Sport (2005), Evoque (2011), Discovery Sport (tbc) and Range Rover Velar (2017).
  • Together with Jaguar, Land Rover is owned by the Tata group since 2008.


  • Japanese. The luxury division of Toyota with headquarters in Nagoya, Japan.
  • The first Lexus model, the luxurious LS sedan, was launched in 1989.
  • Lexus models were sold under Toyota’s brand (and with equivalent Toyota models) in Japan until 2005, when the brand got its own stand-alone identity.
  • The Lexus logo is a letter L inside an oval, depicted in a simple but elegant and sophisticated way.


  • Part of a large Indian conglomerate founded in 1945.
  • The automotive division “Mahindra & Mahindra” also started in 1945 and has become one of the largest vehicle manufacturers on the planet.
  • It is currently the biggest producer of tractors in the world.
  • The headquarters of the vehicle division are in Mumbai, India.
  • In its early days, the company produced a Willys Jeep copy under license.
  • Subsidiaries of this brand include BSA, Ford India (part share holding), Mahindra Reva, Peugeot motocycles, Pininfarina and Ssangyong.
  • The Mahindra logo is a very stylised letter M but its three converging lines also symbolise the three branches (or philosophies) of the company rising to success.


  • Italian. Founded by Alfieri Maserati in Bologna, Italy, in 1914.
  • The Maserati brothers (five in total) were involved with automobiles and racing, even building Grand Prix cars.
  • The company was sold to a private family in 1937 and its headquarters was shifted to Modena, Italy.
  • Maserati has a strong racing history, including the only Indy 500 win for an Italian brand in 1940.
  • The company was taken over by Citroën in 1968. It changed hands again in 1975 to De Tomaso and about ten years later, Chrysler started buying shares in the firm.
  • Maserati has had close ties with Ferrari (also sharing technology) since Fiat ownership commenced in about 1993.


  • Japanese. Started as the Toyo Cork / Kogyo Company in 1920 but near bankruptcy a few years later. By 1931 moved from manufacturing machine tools to vehicles with the introduction of the Mazda-Go autorickshaw.
  • Toyo Kogyo produced weapons in WWII and only changed its name to Mazda in 1984, although all vehicles already bore that name.
  • Mazda partnered with Ford from 1974 to 2015 with the American giant owning up to 33.4% of the company at some stage.
  • There are many shared products from this cooperation, including 323 / Laser / Escort, Ranger / Courier / BT-50, 121 / Fiesta.
  • Mazda is one of very few automobile makers who successfully used rotary engines in production vehicles.
  • The company also employed rotary engines – among others – for impressive results in the motor racing field. Its most famous victory is the four-rotor 787B win of Le Mans in 1991.
  • Their logo is a stylised letter “M” shaped like wings inside an oblong / oval. The brand’s ethos is continuous growth and improvement.


  • German. Headquarters in Stuttgart.
  • Oldest car company in the world.
  • Founded by merger of car companies Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (1890) and Benz & Cie (1883).
  • First car (Benz) built in 1886, financed by Bertha. She also took the first long-distance trip of 106km two years later, to visit her mother in Pforzheim.
  • Named after 1926 merger and Emil Jelenik’s daughter Mercedes. Vehicles are called Mercedes-Benz and the holding company Daimler.
  • The three-pointed star logo symbolises the company’s activities on land, in the air, and on water.
  • Merger with Chrylser from 1998 to 2007.


  • Initially the name of a compact vehicle made by the British Motor Corporation. The original Mini was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis and featured a revolutionary transversely-mounted engine and front-wheel drive.
  • As part of BMW, later British Leyland, Mini became its own brand in 1969, taking over from the “Austin Mini” or “Morris Mini” name badges.
  • BMW gained ownership of Mini when it acquired the Rover group (formerly British Leyland) from British Aerospace in 1994. The German firm sold the Rover group six years later but retained two brands – Mini and Rolls Royce.
  • The original Mini was produced until 2000 and was known / badged / changed as many other vehicles including Austin (or Morris) 850, Austin Seven, Morris Mascot, Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet.
  • The original Mini was available as a 2-door sedan, estate, van or coupe utility. Some of its offspring include the Mini Moke, Mini Marcos and Mini Wildgoose motorhome.
  • The new Mini was introduced in the year 2000, the second generation appeared six years later and generation three was launched in 2014.


  • One of its founding companies dates back to 1870 but the unified company was disbanded after WWII.
  • Its most infamous product during that time was the Mitsubishi A6M Zero – a Japanese fighter plane.
  • The current brand is shared by four companies whose diverse products include mining, shipbuilding, telecom, financial services, insurance, electronics, automotive, construction, heavy industries, oil and gas, real estate, foods and beverages, chemicals, steel and aviation.
  • The Mitsubishi Motors division has its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.
  • Famous vehicles include the Lancer (and Lancer Evo), Pajero / Montero, Colt / L200 and 3000 GT.
  • Very dominant appearances in motorsport, especially events like the WRC and Dakar Rally.


  • Japanese. Founded in 1933 under Nissan group.
  • Headquarters in Nishi-ku, Japan.
  • Brands include Nissan, Datsun and Infiniti.
  • Since 1999 it is part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
  • Very successful in motor racing with legendary GT-R and Le Mans racing cars.


  • German, founded in 1862 by Adam Opel.
  • Started with sewing machines and bicycles.
  • Part of General Motors since 1948.
  • Famous products include Kadett, Kapitän, Blitz (truck), Ascona, Rekord, Commodore, Senator, Admiral, Olympia, Astra, Corsa and Vectra.
  • Identical products marketed as Vauxhall in the UK from the 1970’s onwards.
  • Part of Group PSA (Peugeot) since 2017.
  • Update: became a subsidiary of Stellantis early in 2021.


  • French. Founded in 1810 as a manufacturer of coffee grinders and bicycles.
  • The lion trademark was applied for by Emile Peugeot in 1858. Armand Peugeot built the company’s first car – an unsuccessful steam-powered tricycle in 1889.
  • Peugeot has had great victories in many forms of motorsport including the World Rally Championship, Dakar rally, Le Mans, World Endurance Championship, Pikes Peak and the world’s first motor race from Paris to Ruoen.
  • Peugeot has a trademark on three-digit car names with a zero in the middle, hence Porsche had to rename their 1960’s 901 to 911.


  • German. Headquarters in Stuttgart.
  • Founded in 1931 as an automotive consulting firm by famous engineer, Ferdinand Porsche.
  • One of its first assignments was to design the Volkswagen – later to be known as the Käfer / Beetle. During WWII it designed the military versions Kübelwagen and Schwimmwagen (amphibious).
  • The first “official” Porsche car was the 356 introduced in the late 1940’s, designed by Ferry Porsche while his Dad Ferdinand was imprisoned for war crimes.
  • The 356 was based on a Beetle but severely modified to meet the company’s criteria. Three evolutionary stages (A, B and C) were released.
  • The most famous Porsche, the 911, was launched in the mid 1960’s.
  • Other models include the 914, 924/944, 928, 964, Boxster and Cayman.
  • Under VWAG management, Porsche shares components with Audi and Volkswagen to sell mass-produced SUV’s like the Cayenne (Touareg / Q7) and Macan (Q5).
  • One of the world’s most prolific and successful motorsport brands.


  • French. Headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt, France.
  • Founded in February 1899 by as “Société Renault Frères” (Renault Brothers Company) by Louis Renault and his brothers Marcel and Fernand.
  • The first car, already built and test-driven late in 1898, was called “Voiturette 1CV” (Cart with 1 horsepower) and sold to a friend of Louis’ father.
  • By 1903, Renault was producing their own engines and in 1905 they successfully started producing taxis. Some were later used for troop transportation in WWI.
  • The company also produced military vehicles, ammunition and aircraft engines during WWI.
  • In 1908, Renault was the largest French auto maker and large volumes of Paris or London taxis were Renaults.
  • A year later, as the sole remaining brother, Louis renamed the company “Société des Automobiles Renault” (Renault Automobile Company).
  • Between the wars, Renault rapidly expanded its vehicle line-up but also built trucks (some with Diesel engines), agricultural and industrial machinery.
  • During WWII and the German occupation of France, Renault was forced to build military trucks. The plant was bombed (and severely damaged) twice but reopened not long after the liberation of Paris in 1944 but its founder was imprisoned for political reasons. He died while awaiting trial. The company was nationalised a few weeks later.
  • Following severe financial losses, Renault was restructured in the mid 1980’s and started collaborating with Volvo in 1990. After a failed merger, Renault was privatised in 1996 and went on to merge with Nissan in 1999. This alliance included Daimler (Mercedes and smart) from 2010.
  • Famous models include the 5, 9, Espace minivan, Clio, Twingo and Scenic.
  • Renault also successfully competed in motorsport with multiple wins in rallying, Formula 1 and Le Mans.


  • Japanese. Founded in July 1953 as part of the Subaru Corporation – formerly known as Fuji Heavy Industries.
  • Famous for vehicles with boxer (or flat / horizontally-opposed cylinder) engines.
  • Also known for “Symmetrical All Wheel Drive” which alludes to all four drive shafts being the same length.
  • Very successful in rallying with the Impreza / WRX / STi range.


  • Japanese with headquarters in Hamamatsu, Shizuoko.
  • Founded in 1909 by Michio Suzuki as the Suzuki Loom Company to produce silk and cotton weaving looms.
  • First attempts at building cars around 1937 were halted by WWII.
  • When the cotton industry collapsed in 1951, by which time the company had rebuilt war damage and moved to its present headquarters, it decided to manufacture affordable, reliable vehicles (starting with motorised bicycles).
  • In 1954, Suzuki was producing about 6,000 bikes per year and changed its name to Suzuki Motor Company Ltd.
  • A year later, the first vehicle was introduced. It was called “Suzulight” and based on a (British) Lloyd 400.
  • Suzuki successfully competed in motorbike racing from the 1960’s onwards.
  • Joint venture “Maruti” with the Indian government signed in 1982, first cars produced a year later.


  • Indian. With headquarters in Mumbai, India.
  • This large conglomerate / group has its founding roots in 1868 with chemicals, energy, engineering, information systems and communication, as well as steel and various services like finance, logistics, management, insurance and hotels. Consumer products include décor, ceramics, tea and coffee, optics, electronics, books, fashion and salt.
  • The subsidiary Tata Motors is India’s largest producer of commercial and passenger vehicles.
  • It owns or produces Tata, Daewoo, Hispano, Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles.
  • Tata manufactures passenger and commercial vehicles including sports cars, SUV’s, buses and coaches as well as construction equipment, military vehicles and automotive parts.
  • The rustic Tata TELCOLine bakkie refers to Tata Motors’ former name, Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (TELCO).


  • Toyota is a Japanese automotive manufacturing company started by Kiichiro Toyoda in 1937 with its headquarters in Toyota City, Japan.
  • Toyota City or Toyota-shi is formerly known as Koromo-shi.
  • Update: produced more than 10 million vehicles in 2020 and almost 11 million in 2019.
  • Brands in the Toyota Group include Toyota, Lexus, Hino, Ranz and Daihatsu.
  • Toyota also owns minority shares in Subaru, Isuzu (update: until 2018), Mazda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Panasonic.


  • German, with headquarters in Wolfsburg.
  • Their logo is a stylised V and W (for Volks-Wagen) inside a circle.
  • Started in 1937 and grew from post-WW2 worker’s union and Beetle factory.
  • Its holding company VWAG is always among the biggest car makers in the world. It owns Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, MAN, Porsche, Scania, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen.


  • Founded in 1927.
  • Swedish. Headquarters in Gothenburg.
  • Always big on safety, has invented or pioneered the use of many automotive safety features.
  • Their logo represents the old symbol for iron – a circle with an arrow pointing upwards and to the right.
  • Also makes trucks, busses, construction equipment, marine and industrial engines.
  • Bought by Geely (Chinese) in 2010.

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