Forced marriages, bits on the side and strange couplings - anything goes in modern motor manufacturing

Vehicle manufacturing used to be such a polite, staid and straightforward affair with particular brands flying the flag for their home country, competing against one another and exporting to the world.

Well times have changed – and how! Modern vehicle manufacturing is all about forced marriages, shifting liaisons, polygamy and other unlikely couplings between the manufacturers.

Take Fiat, for example. The hot-blooded Italian, is now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, an unlikely Italian-American marriage if ever there was one. The seventh biggest auto maker, it owns Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Lancia, Abarth, Ferrari, Maserati and some commercial vehicle manufacturers as well.

Today vehicle manufacturers are occasionally merging, but more frequently cooperating with their former rivals to create shared platforms - that’s design, engineering and production - on an unprecedented scale.

So what’s driving this unlikely corporate promiscuity between manufacturers? Well in a word: money. Designing and bringing new vehicles to production is a billion dollar business, so if you’re a manufacturer it makes sense to share the development costs with another manufacturer and increase your profits.

All over the world major manufacturers are increasingly sharing engines, drivetrains and components, then differentiating their vehicles from their stable mates with design and features in as many ways as possible.

The Renault-Nissan-Daimler dalliance

In Mexico Daimler AG is building a factory with Renault-Nissan to produce Nissan’s premium Infiniti. They’re already producing four cylinder engines for Mercedes C-Class and Infiniti Q50 cars and jointly developed the latest Smart and Renault Twingo. The small Mercedes A and B class models will also share the same platform as Renault’s Megane and Clio models.

Given this blossoming relationship is marriage on the cards for Daimler and Renault-Nissan? It would seem not – both are just happy with the way things are, producing beautiful children but leaving things open for saucy little dalliances on the side. How very modern!

Renault-Nissan itself was something of a forced marriage when the French manufacturer rescued its Japanese counterpart from the depths of the Asian Financial Crisis with a controlling 44 per cent shareholding. It’s now one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers. Renault benefitted from Nissan’s 4WD expertise and the Renault Koleos now shares the same platform as Nissan’s Dualis and X-Trail.

The Mitsubishi Fuso by Daimler

Daimler itself is huge, owning Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes AMG and Smart Automobile while also owning, or part owning, a whole host of truck and bus manufacturers including, bizarrely, Mitsubishi Fuso. It also has shares in Tesla and Renault-Nissan and owns 25 per cent of premium motorcycle brand MV Agusta.

That other giant, Toyota, is slightly less promiscuous, producing just five brands, though it too holds stakes in Daihatsu, Tesla, Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru) and Isuzu. It also has joint ventures in China, India and the Czech Republic. Toyota’s stake in Fuji Heavy Industries gave birth to the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ twins, which are built by Subaru.

Tata’s post-colonial revenge

Ford has part ownerships and alliances all over the place, including a 2.1% stake in Mazda, a share of Aston Martin and joint ventures in China, Thailand and Turkey. Ford shares the C1 platform used on its Focus with Volvo’s S40 and V50 and the Mazda 3.

The American giant once owned those most British of cars, Jaguar and Land Rover, but sold them to India’s Tata Motors, who bought them in a curious act of post-colonial revenge.

Then there’s Volkswagen, which owns pretty well everything else in the motoring world including Audi, SEAT, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti, Scania and Skoda. It’s also had an ongoing relationship with Porsche that stretches way back to its origins. After a long, long engagement they finally “married” in 2009.

Volkswagen’s MQB platform for its transverse front wheel drives is used across much of its extended “family” to VW, SEAT, Audi and Skoda.

Happily married Hyundai

Speaking of happy motoring marriages, that other giant, Hyundai, is possibly the most monogamous of all the manufacturers. It bought Kia in 1998 in another forced marriage during the Asian Financial Crisis. A brief dalliance with Daimler Chrysler to form the Daimler-Hyundai Truck Corporation ended in 2004 when Daimler Chrysler sold its interest in it. Since 1998 it’s been upward and onward for the Hyundai Kia group, which shares factories, parts and platforms across the Hyundai and Kia range.

Chevrolet Niva’s strange parentage

General Motors makes vehicles in no less than 37 countries under 13 different brand names while holding stakes in other manufacturers in China, India, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt.

One unlikely GM product is the upcoming Chevrolet Niva, a joint venture with Russian manufacturer AvtoVAZ. It’s the modernised descendent of the Lada Niva, AvtoVAZ’s little 4WD that launched a thousand jokes, but which was actually a crude but effective off-road vehicle with its Fiat-derived mechanicals.

The Niva’s parentage is about as weird and convoluted as it gets: AvtoVAZ, which also made notoriously awful Fiat clones, is now part-owned by Renault Nissan. That makes the 2016 Chevrolet Niva an American-Russian car with Italian roots that’s part owned by the French and Japanese. It was designed by a Czech designer in China, with the prototype show model built in Australia by General Motors Holden - so it’s a dinky-di Aussie as well!

These days anything seems possible and you just never know what saucy motoring dalliances are waiting around the corner. Should BMW ever let go of Rolls Royce, who knows, we may even see the Hyundai-Kia-Rolls Royce group!

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