Whatever your relationship with the automobile, it is important to understand who built it. The trouble with auto manufacturers is that they are always building stuff for each other. This post will help sort out who built what, for who, and why it matters.

First thing first, let’s get acquainted with the major automotive families. Automotive families are different makes that are all made by the same manufacture. Many times manufactures will want to produce a regular run of vehicles, and then a more luxurious run of models. They will produce what is essentially the same vehicle, but badge them differently and pack one with all the high end wonders people love.

The major automotive families include …

Toyota, Lexus, and Scion. Honda and Acura. Nissan and Infinity. Hyundai and Kia. BMW and Mini. Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat. Jaguar and Land Rover. Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury. Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, Plymouth and Eagle (Here shortly, toss in Fiat). General Motors, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Pontiac, Buick, Hummer, Saturn, and GMC (As well as Opel, Vauxhall, Holden and Daewoo). You can always tell a terrible product, because they will have numerous names for the same bad product.

These groups of vehicles will all be the same at their nuts and bolts level, but will vary when it comes to options. The parts are generally interchangeable and the overall level of quality will not vary much from the “low end” model to the “top shelf” version. Rather, the extra bells and whistles will be added to the more expensive vehicle. Please note, those “top shelf” options, are often well worth the money if you can afford them, and if you genuinely love motoring.

Then there comes a whole new level of odd. Manufacturers will often buy and use, parts or whole vehicles that another manufacturer has built. They may purchase and use an engine, or they may just affix their badge to an entire vehicle. They may decide that they will forego competition, and work in cahoots with another manufacturer. The rest of this post will begin to catalog the list of who made what for you, as a comprehensive list would be rather long.

Let’s just put this out there, Dodge likes building trucks, and they are reasonably good at it. They also like buying cars and engines that other people built, and selling them as their product. Dodge has been selling Mitsubishis as their product since the 80s. Remember the Dodge Conquest, which was really just a Mitsubishi Starion? The two got in bed together and decided to make cars, under the name Diamond Star Motors (often shortened to DSM). The name derived from their two logos morphed together. Dodge sold a lot of Mitsubishis and used Mitsubishi engines in even more body styles that Dodge themselves made. Some of them were winners, most of them were not.

With Dodge and Mitsubishi, it is hard to say exactly what is what, and what was based on what, and which was a rebadge, and which was a joint venture under DSM, so here is a short list of basically what is what.

Mitsubishi Starion – Dodge, Chrysler and Plymouth Conquest
Mitsubishi Eclipse – Eagle Talon – Plymouth Laser
Mitsubishi Galant – Dodge Avenger – Chrysler Sebring – Dodge Stratus – Chrysler Cirrus
Mitsubishi Mirage/ Colt – Dodge Colt – Plymouth Colt -Eagle Summit
Mitsubishi 3000GT – Dodge Stealth

Since selling Mitsubishi’s went over better than selling a Dodge, they decided to give Mercedes a shot. Dodge consulted with Mercedes regarding styling on some of their cars and then also started buying their motors. The Mercedes motors are more often seen in the newer SUV’s from Jeep.

You’ll almost never see a Chrysler TC, but the fact that Chrysler hood-winked Maserati into building them a car is legendary. The funny part, they came with a motor designed and built by Shelby and Chrysler (2.2 turbo), Chrylser and Maserati (a 2.2 turbo based on the Shelby 2.2 turbo), or a Mitsubshi 3.0.

Chrysler by Maserati

Then, in a stunning and unprecedented turn of events, Dodge swindled Volkswagen into selling one of it’s models. The Dodge Grand Caravan (the Chrysler Town and Country) was rebadged and sold as a VW Routan.

GEO, now here is a brand that is just a mess. General motors took a look over at Dodge and said, “we can do that, and we can do it better!” Not only was GM going to rebadge Japanese imports, they were going to use three different Japanese manufacturers, just to keep things interesting. Furthermore, some of these were made for GM by the Japanese manufacturer, some were built by GM using the majority of a Japanese car.

The GEO Prizm was a GM built car based on the Toyota Corolla and the Toyota Sprinter. It’s a Corolla with a few GM relays tucked in for fun.
The GEO Metro is a Suzuki Swift, and the GEO Tracker is a Suzuki Sidekick. The early models were produced by Suzuki in Japan.
The GEO Spectrum was short lived, and is a rebadged Isuzu I-Mark. The Spectrum became the GEO Storm, which was an Isuzu Impulse.
Hats off gentlemen, you really worked hard on this one.

Then there is Ford and Mazda. Mazda has sold many a Ford. The B series trucks are Fords, the Mazda Tribute is a Ford Escape, the Mazda Navajo was basically a rebadged Ford Explorer sport. Mazda goes on to use Ford transmissions in many of its passenger cars. I don’t know why they get a long so well, but Ford and Mazda are just peas in a pod.

Since Mazda was busy selling all of these Fords, Ford got a hold of those boys at Yamaha and ordered up a round of 60 degree, V6, quad cam, variable length intake manifold, engines. They labeled them the SHO engine (Super High Output – not a joke) and jammed them in the Taurus. Ford went on to order an even superer V8 version of the same Yamaha engine, only with a split port style intake valve setup, and then they put it in the same lame car.

The Ford Galaxy, was rebadged as a Volkswagen Sharan, and a Seat Alhambra. Mercury (Ford) rebadged the Nissan Quest as a Mercury Villager. Many newer Jaguars use Ford engines. You can buy the same part (same part number even) at Lincoln for half of what it costs at Jaguar.

Isuzu, having sold it’s product to GM, called Honda up and offered a trade. The Honda Passport was just a rebadged Izuzu Rodeo. The Isuzu Trooper was also rebadged as an Acura SLX. Isuzu returned the favor by badging the Honda Civic as an Isuzu Gemini and the Honda Odyssey as the Isuzu Oasis.

A Honda Crossroad is a Land Rover Discovery. Saab rebadged the Subaru Impreza for a year or two as the Saab 9-2X series. In the late 80s, Subaru rebadged the Isuzu Trooper as a Subaru Bighorn.

The lists go on, and on, and on, and on. Just about every make has rebadged something, at some point. It’s not a terrible thing, but you may not be buying what you think you are buying. What you have to keep in mind is that manufacturers will often want to test the waters. Rebadged cars are an inexpensive way to get into to a market with out the expense and risk of developing an entirely new vehicle. When Honda wanted into the SUV market, they rebadged an Isuzu before building an SUV of their own.

Another problem with rebadging is that often times a brand’s image and reputation is marred by the rebadging. When Jaguar built cars based on Fords, Jaguars reputation declined. They were looked at as cheep, poorly built Fords, when they are in fact expensive, poorly built Fords.

The bottom line is, whatever you are driving, working on, or considering buying, research who actually made it. Knowing who actually made the car my change your opinion of the vehicle, or your opinion of the manufacturer who actually made the car.

Happy motoring.