By Paul Williams
The automobile industry has always been volatile. Companies form, companies dissolve; companies merge, companies divide. Brands come and go, and only a few models last for more than a decade. So it has always been, and if you think the early 21st Century is singular in its instability, you’d be wrong. When it comes to cars, it’s actually quite typical.
But it has to be admitted that there have been many changes over the past few years in the global automotive sector. Consumers are left bewildered when their favourite brand suddenly disappears from the marketplace, and even industry watchers are challenged by all the wheeling and dealing that’s taking place at the highest corporate and government levels.
Just get used to the idea that Ford owns Jaguar? Never mind, they don’t anymore. General Motors owns Saab? Not now. Did you hear that Canadian company Magna International is acquiring GM Europe’s Opel brand? No, that didn’t work out.
On the other hand, marques familiar to Canadians and Americans like Pontiac, Saturn, Oldsmobile and Mercury are now history.
For the record, the list below indicates where things stand now. Note that I haven’t included all global brands, choosing to focus instead on mainstream and prestige cars familiar to Canadians. I have included a few European marques, just to provide an idea of a particular manufacturer’s global reach.
And in some cases, actual ownership is hard to pin down. Does Fiat “own” Chrysler? Does Ford “own” Mazda? Is Porsche owned by Volkswagen?
The current and future status of Chrysler is the most complex. Most business news reports refer to Chrysler’s emergence from bankruptcy in 2009 in terms of a “sale” to Fiat, with Fiat holding an initial 20 percent stake in the company, rising to 55 percent. It’s commonly stated that Fiat owns most of Chrysler’s assets and is running the company. Its Board is comprised of representatives from Fiat, the U.S. and Canadian governments and the United Auto Workers. The CEO is Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne. If Fiat doesn’t “own” Chrysler now, it will soon (unless the whole manoeuvre collapses).
General Motors also filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and is now majority owned by the American, Canadian and Ontario governments and the United Auto Workers. This is presumably a temporary arrangement, while the company revives. GM has recently eliminated a number of brands as it moves forward.
Regarding Mazda, Ford has a diminishing and non-controlling interest in Mazda, but the two companies remain strong partners (2010 Ford Fiesta and Mazda2, for example, are built on the same platform).
Nissan-Renault is a major alliance, although we don’t see Renault-branded cars in North America. Germany’s Daimler recently took an ownership role in Nissan-Renault, with a one-time cross-shareholding amounting to 3.1 per cent of each company’s share capital.
Porsche, formerly an independent company with strong ties to Volkswagen, is now 49.9 per cent owned by VW. A full merger is expected in 2011, barring complications. Only two years ago, it was Porsche that tried to take over Volkswagen, but now the reverse is underway.
As of June, 2010, here’s who owns what in the automotive sector:
Hummer (Europe, Asia)
Opel (Europe, Asia)
Vauxhall (United Kingdom)
(Suzuki is partially owned by Volkswagen – 19.9 per cent)
Porsche (in process)
Skoda (Czech Republic)
Suzuki (partial ownership)