Your Favorite Car Brand May Have a Surprising Owner History

Even if a luxury brand holds no value to you, cars are often sold by the badge on their hoods. However, car brands aren’t monoliths. Automakers collaborate more often than some may realize. For example, GM and Honda are developing EV technology together. Toyota and BMW partnered to make the Supra and Z4; the former worked with Subaru to create the 86/BRZ. And as with any other company, automakers are sometimes bought out by other automakers.

Volkswagen owns a number of mainstream and luxury car brands…and a motorcycle brand

Many car companies have dedicated luxury brands, or rather sub-brands. Toyota has Lexus, for example, Nissan has Infiniti, and Honda has Acura. American automakers have luxury brands, too.

GM owns Chevrolet and owned Pontiac, Saturn, and Oldsmobile before shutting them down. But it also owns Cadillac and GMC, and briefly owned Saab. GM also had a stake in Subaru at one point, which is why the Saab 9-2X is essentially a luxury WRX. And Ford owns Lincoln and used to own Mercury before shuttering it.

The car and motorcycle brands owned by Volkswagen
The car and motorcycle brands owned by Volkswagen | Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

But in terms of unexpected luxury car brand ownership, the most surprising might be Volkswagen. Motor Trend describes Volkswagen as “an automotive giant,” which is a fairly accurate assessment. That’s because in addition to mainstream car brands like Seat, Skoda, and, of course, Volkswagen, the German automaker has a number of luxury ones under its wing.

Bugatti Chiron
Bugatti Chiron | Bugatti

To start, VW owns Audi and Porsche. It also owns Lamborghini. That’s why the Urus, Audi RS Q8, and Porsche Cayenne ride on the same platform and use similar powertrains, Car and Driver reports. Ditto the Volkswagen Golf R and the Audi S3. Bugatti is also under VW’s ownership, which means the Chiron, the most expensive car in the world, is technically a Volkswagen.

VW hasn’t stopped at owning car brands, though. It bought Ducati several years ago. Though as of this writing, it’s considering selling it, Bugatti, and Lamborghini off.

However, Volkswagen owns one more luxury car brand: Bentley. Though it originally wanted to own Rolls-Royce, which BMW now owns, MT reports. Kind of.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley have complicated ownership histories

A green restored 4 1/2 Litre Blower Bentley
Restored 4 1/2 Litre Blower Bentley | Bentley

Rolls-Royce and Bentley have a partially-shared history. Founded in the early 1900s, the two British brands were originally independent entities. However, not long after Bentley launched the ‘Blower,’ it went into receivership and was bought out by Rolls-Royce. As a result, many subsequent Bentley models were built on Rolls-Royce platforms.

But in the 70s, Rolls-Royce itself experienced financial pressure. The British government stepped in and separated the automotive branches from Rolls-Royce’s aerospace division. Think like what Peugeot did to its car, motorcycle, and bicycle businesses, but due to monetary duress.

Engineering company Vickers bought Rolls-Royce Motors in 1980, MT reports. But in the late 90s, it decided to sell, and Volkswagen seemingly out-bid BMW. However, it turned out that while VW bought the Bentley name, the England-based factory, and the engineering information, it hadn’t bought the rights to the Rolls-Royce trademark, the New York Times reports.

That technically still belonged to the Rolls-Royce aerospace company, which licensed the rights to the car brand, MT explains. And it decided to sell those rights to BMW, which had partnered with it to make commercial jet engines.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley, though, aren’t the only car brands that have or have had international owners.

Some car brands have passed through multiple international hands

Today, a Chinese company, Geely, owns Volvo, Consumer Reports explains. However, from 1999-2010, Ford owned it. Ford at one point also owned Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, and even Aston Martin.

But now, Jaguar and Land Rover are one company, owned by the Indian automaker Tata Motors. Mazda and Aston Martin are now both independent, though Mercedes-Benz has a 20% stake in the latter. Mercedes’ parent company Daimler also once briefly merged with Chrysler. That’s why the Dodge Challenger rides on an updated version of a Mercedes platform, MuscleCarsandTrucks explains.

Speaking of independence, that’s what Ferrari has been since 2014. Up until then, Fiat had maintained a majority share in its fellow Italian brand. But even after unloading its Ferrari shares, Fiat, the ‘F’ in FCA, still has plenty of other brands under its wing.


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When Chrysler merged with Fiat, it created a car brand arrangement to rival Volkswagen. Besides Fiat and Chrysler, FCA also owns Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Lancia. And when it merged with PSA to form Stellantis, it gained even more brands in its portfolio. Specifically, Peugeot, Citroen, Opel, and the luxury car brand DS, reports.

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