Un­like some con­sumers, car buy­ers still have choices

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By Larry Printz

SUP­POSE you’re shop­ping for a men’s dress shirt at a depart­ment store. There seem to be a num­ber of brands to choose from: Calvin Klein, Tommy Hil­fin­ger, Van Heusen, Ea­gle, Izod, Ar­row, Chaps, DKNY, Don­ald J. Trump, Ge­of­frey Beene, Joseph Ab­boud, Michael Kors, Sean John, Ike Be­har, Valentino, Ted Baker and Ken­neth Cole.

Yet all are pro­duced un­der the aus­pices of one com­pany: Phillips Van Heusen. It’s not so dif­fer­ent when it comes to cars.

You’d prob­a­bly never sus­pect that Audi, Bent­ley, Bugatti, Du­cati, Lam­borgh­ini, Porsche, SEAT and Skoda are owned by Volk­swa­gen.

Sim­i­larly, Fiat Group owns Alfa Romeo, Fer­rari, Lan­cia and Maserati, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and SRT. This is why the new Dodge Dart and Jeep Chero­kee use an Alfa Romeo plat­form, while the Dodge Jour­ney is sold in Europe as the Fiat Freemont, and the Chrysler 300 has been re­badged as the Lan­cia Thema.

But that’s not the case with Ford, which had owned Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and most of Mazda. Ford re­tained a 3.5 per cent stake in Mazda, but sold its Bri­tish brands to In­dia’s Tata Mo­tors in 2008. Two years later, Ford sold Volvo to Chi­nese auto maker Zhejiang Geely Hold­ing Group, leav­ing Ford to sell Fords and Lin­colns.

Gen­eral Mo­tors, which pro­duces Buick, Cadil­lac, Chevro­let, and GMC, as well as Opel in Ger­many, Vaux­hall in Eng­land and Holden in Aus­tralia, sold its one ac­qui­si­tion, Saab, to Dutch sports car maker Spyker Cars in 2010. A year later, pro­duc­tion ground to a halt. Now Saab’s as­sets are owned by the Chi­nese-backed Na­tional Elec­tric Ve­hi­cles Swe­den, which plans to restart pro­duc­tion by year’s end.

Hmm. Swedish cars built by Chi­nese com­pa­nies? Does that seem strange?

Wait, it gets stranger. Who would have guessed that Ger­man au­tomaker BMW would own two quintessen­tially Bri­tish brands: Mini, which it ac­quired in 1994, and the li­cense to pro­duce Rolls-Royce cars, which it bought four years later from aero­space com­pany Rolls-Royce PLC?

And speak­ing of un­likely bed­fel­lows, how about Re­nault? The French com­pany owns 43.4 per cent of Nis­san, the Ja­panese au­tomaker be­hind In­finiti. And last week, the Re­nault-Nis­san al­liance an­nounced plans to deepen co­op­er­a­tion of ve­hi­cle de­vel­op­ment with Mit­subishi, a com­pany that had been in­de­pen­dent since it ended its re­la­tion­ship with Chrysler, which lasted from 1971 to 2009.

By con­trast, Daim­ler AG looks like a piker. It owns only Mercedes-Benz and Smart, and holds a small stake in Tesla.

Over in Asia, Toy­ota is a true jug­ger­naut, sell­ing Lexus, Scion, Toy­ota, Dai­hatsu and Hino Mo­tors prod­ucts. And it has small stakes in Tesla, Isuzu and Fuji Heavy In­dus­tries — Sub- aru’s par­ent com­pany.

Mean­while, aside from Ford’s small stake, Mazda is a stand­alone auto maker, as is Honda, which also builds Acuras.

Fi­nally, there’s Korea, where Hyundai and Kia share some­thing be­sides a chair­man. Strip the top off of the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Op­tima and you’ll find the same plat­form and me­chan­i­cal bits. But like the rest of the line-up, the two cars were de­signed in dif­fer­ent stu­dios and were fi­nanced, built and sold by sep­a­rate com­pa­nies.

It may seem you no longer have a lot of choice, but you do. Un­like a dress shirt, you can still buy a car or truck from a hand­ful of com­pa­nies, rather than just one.

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