Premium Automotive Group 2001
Ford’s Premium Automtive Group in 2001 when Lincoln was still part of PAG. From left: 2001 Volvo C70 Convertible, Aston Martin DB7 Vantage, Jaguar XJR, Lincoln LS and Land Rover Range Rover 4.6. Click image to enlarge

by Paul Williams

Early in the 20th Century, the independently owned McLaughlin Motor Car Co. was Canada’s largest and most successful manufacturer of cars. Based in Oshawa, Ontario, the company had a reputation for building fast, well-equipped vehicles of high quality. But by 1918, McLaughlin was part of General Motors (and apparently, quite happy to be). The last car with the McLaughlin name was sold in 1942.

From its earliest days, the car industry has been nothing if not volatile. But in the last decade, the pace of change sped faster as auto companies jostled for position and global market share. Even for full-time car watchers, the explosion of acquisitions and divestments, along with new and revived nameplates has been difficult to follow. What are we to make, for instance, of a recent report that Hyundai Motor Co., based in South Korea, will export Santro cars, made in India, to Mexico, where they will be sold under the Chrysler-Dodge brand? And now that DaimlerChrysler plans to sell its stake in Hyundai, will those plans be shelved?

So who builds the car you might be looking at? Here’s the current state of affairs, mainly as it affects Canadians, and starting with the complicated Ford Motor Co.

Ford’s Premier Automotive Group (PAG) is a necklace of automotive jewels that includes Sweden’s Volvo, and England’s Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin (the classic James Bond car). All are owned outright. Ford’s long-time luxury nameplate, Lincoln, was once part of this group; now it’s an internal division again, like Mercury.

And Ford has other interests, like a controlling interest in Mazda. That’s why you’ve seen so many joint projects between the two companies (the Ford Probe and the Mazda MX6, the Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute, the Ford Ranger and the Mazda B-series pickup).

How Ford came to own Land Rover is particularly interesting. Back in 1994, BMW bought Britain’s Rover Group (which included MG, Land Rover and Mini), and set about modernizing their product line. After an investment of several billions of dollars with little to show for it, BMW threw in the towel and looked for an exit. Basically, they divided the company and sold Land Rover and Range Rover to Ford for a reported US$2.9 billion in 2000.

This is why the current Range Rover is powered by, for now at least, a 4.4-litre BMW V8 engine (the Land Rover Discovery uses an aluminum V8 engine originally derived from General Motors, and the replacement for the Discovery, the LR3, will use the 4.4-litre V8). Watch for possibly Jaguar engines to replace these “foreigners” in the future.

2003 MINI CVT. Photo: Laurance Yap. Click image to enlarge

In the meantime, BMW kept and completely redesigned the Mini, which it launched as a separate MINI brand.

That left MG and Rover cars (which don’t impact our market, although MG apparently has plans). In order to divest itself of this money-losing company, BMW sold MG and Rover to a British consortium for 10 pounds sterling (about 25 bucks). BMW included a $1 billion U.S. loan to help them on their way.

Tantalizingly for some, BMW kept the rights to the Triumph, Riley and Austin Healey names (all hallowed British sporting marques) as part of the deal. And let’s not forget BMW separately bought Rolls Royce, and is currently rolling out new models of those cars.

Speaking of ultra-luxury cars, Bentley is owned by Volkswagen. After selling over 40-million Beetles (or Bugs) and Golfs (or Rabbits), surely this is proof that if you save your pennies, your dollars will grow.

Bugatti Veyron
Bugatti Veyron. Click image to enlarge

Volkswagen also owns Audi, Lamborghini and Bugatti, definitely demonstrating a taste for the finer things in life, plus SEAT (Spain) and Skoda (Czech Republic).

The once-quirky Swedish Saab is now a button-down GM, and has been since 1995. GM also owns Vauxhall (England), Opel (Germany) and Holden (Australia, and the source for the new Pontiac GTO, not available in Canada). GM also has a stake in Japanese makers Subaru, Suzuki and Isuzu, along with its domestic stable of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC, Saturn and lately, of course, Hummer (the latter through a marketing agreement with AM General, a descendent of the old American Motors). In the late ’90s, Honda was building Isuzus for GM, but it doesn’t do that anymore.

2004 Chevrolet Epica
2004 Chevrolet Epica. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

Oldsmobile has been discontinued (although puzzlingly you can still buy an Alero and a couple of other Olds’ models) and GM recently picked up a slice of the formerly bankrupt Daewoo Company that it has revived in a new Chevrolet compact and intermediate line (Aveo, Optra and Epica). Suzuki will sell a version of the Epica, called a Verona.

Still with me?

For a while, GM owned Lotus, but that company is now owned by a Malaysian automobile manufacturer called Proton.

DaimlerChrysler is another complicated story. Did Daimler-Benz merge with Chrysler, or did they simply buy Chrysler? The jury’s still out, but the result is a joint interest in Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep and Smart (that one originally shared with Switzerland’s Swatch company), and partial ownership of Mitsubishi. There are no more Plymouths, and Dodge cars seemed, for a while, to be disappearing, but there is a revived Maybach to compete with Rolls and Bentley. Chrysler hopes it will never again be reliant on, well, Reliants.

Hyundai, by the way, is also partially owned by DaimlerChrysler, explaining why it can sell Santros – built by Hyundai’s subsidiary in India – as Dodges in Mexico. However, DC has indicated it wants to sell its 10.5% stake in Hyundai. Hyundai itself owns Kia, another Korean carmaker.

Japan’s Honda stands alone, along with its North America-only Acura luxury division. Fellow Japanese manufacturer Toyota, although having participated in several joint projects with GM, also continues as a stand-alone company. Its Lexus line competes in the luxury sector, and in the U.S., its Scion brand is a line of youth-oriented subcompacts. Toyota also owns truckmaker Hino (which we see here), and mini-car producer Daihatsu (which we don’t).

The French company Renault heavily invested in Nissan and its luxury division, Infiniti, creating a whole new alliance for the North American market. There are no Renault vehicles here, however.

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. Click image to enlarge

Finally, Porsche is a stand-alone company, half of which is owned by members of the Porsche and Piech families. Although it has a long association with Volkswagen, and major shareholder Ferdinand Piech (nephew of Ferry Porsche) was until 2002 head of the entire Volkswagen company, Volkswagen has no ownership role in Porsche.

You’ll notice there’s no Canadian maker in this automotive game of Monopoly, although we’ve built, and build, just about everything for everyone. Remember the Volvo Canadian? Back in the 1960s, it was shipped from Sweden in pieces, and assembled in Nova Scotia. Now we build Hondas in Alliston, Ontario, Toyotas in Cambridge, Ontario, and continue to build a vast array of vehicles from US-based companies.

However, in an unusual twist, a subsidiary of Canadian-based multinational Magna International is assembling BMW X3s at its factory in Graz, Austria. It’s not what you’d call a homegrown product, but I guess there is a Canadian connection.

McLaughlin may have done the sensible thing by joining with GM in 1918, but it’s too bad that with all this corporate commotion, we still don’t have an actual Canadian car.

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