The oldest car companies in the world

As Skoda celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2020, we look back at some of the world’s oldest (and youngest) car companies

  • Skoda – 125 years young

    Skoda – 125 years young

    © Skoda

    Skoda is celebrating its 125th birthday in 2020 and 115 years since the company launched its first car. It’s come a long way. The Czech company, which is part of the mighty Volkswagen Group, is launching 30 new cars from 2019 to the end of 2022. At least a third of these will be partially or fully electric. To mark the occasion, we look back at some of the oldest – and newest – car companies still operating in 2020.

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  • Skoda – 1895

    Skoda – 1895

    © Skoda

    The Skoda story began in 1895, when cycling fanatics Vaclav Laurin and Vaclav Klement started designing and building bicycles under the name Laurin & Klement. The cycles sold well, so the pair began making motorcycles in 1899, producing nearly 4,000 motorbikes of all types. The first car was the Voiturette A, although the first vehicle to wear the Skoda badge was the Laurin & Klement / Skoda 110 of the late 1920s.

  • Peugeot – 1810

    Peugeot – 1810

    © Peugeot

    Although Peugeot didn’t build its first motor car until 1891, the company dates back to 1810. Two Peugeot brothers, Jean-Pierre and Jean-Frederic, established the company having converted their father’s corn mill into a steel mill. The company became associated with saws, tools, coffee grinders, bicycles and, famously, salt and pepper mills.

  • Holden – 1856

    Holden – 1856

    © Newspress

    General Motors has wielded the axe on Holden, with the brand set to disappear in 2021. It’s a sorry end for a proud Australian company, which can trace its roots back to 1856 when James Alexander Holden opened a saddlery in Adelaide. Car production started in 1908, before Holden was bought by GM in 1931.

  • Vauxhall – 1857

    Vauxhall – 1857

    © Vauxhall

    The Vauxhall Iron Works was founded in 1857 by the engineer Alexander Wilson. It’s the UK’s oldest surviving car brand, with the first models rolling off the production line in 1903. Today, the company is owned by the French PSA Group, with many of its cars sharing platforms with Peugeot and Citroen models.

  • Opel – 1862

    Opel – 1862

    © Opel

    Opel was founded by Adam Opel in Russelsheim, Germany, in 1862. The company started by building sewing machines, with the first employee arriving in 1863. Having entered the booming bicycle business in 1886, the company built its first car in 1899. Today, like Vauxhall, Opel is part of the PSA Group.

  • Mercedes-Benz – 1883

    Mercedes-Benz – 1883

    © Mercedes-Benz

    Benz & Co. Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik (renamed Benz & Cie. in 1899) was founded in Mannheim by Carl Benz in 1883. Six years later, Benz submitted a patent application for a ‘vehicle with gas engine operation’ to the Imperial Patent Office. This was the birth of the modern automobile.

  • Renault – 1898

    Renault – 1898

    © Renault

    Renault was established in 1898 by the brothers Louis, Marcel and Fernand Renault. The story began on Christmas Eve 1898, when Louis Renault climbed rue Lepic in Paris in his ‘Voiturette’. He received 12 orders that night, which encouraged the brothers to form the company Renault Freres.

  • Fiat – 1899

    Fiat – 1899

    © Fiat

    On 11 July 1899, in Palazzo Bricherasio in Turin, the Societa Anonima Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili – Torino was founded. This was subsequently simplified to Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (FIAT). With a workforce of around 30 people, the first Fiat was the 3.5HP.

  • Buick – 1899

    Buick – 1899

    © Buick

    Officially, Buick is the oldest active North American car company. It can trace its roots back to 1899, when the Scottish born David Dunbar Buick established the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company. Three years later, the Buick Motor Company was established in Detroit. It quickly established itself as the largest car manufacturer in America.

  • Dodge – 1900

    Dodge – 1900

    © Dodge

    Although Dodge didn’t start building its own vehicles until 1914, the company can trace its roots back to 1900. Brothers John and Horace Dodge established a machine shop in Detroit and developed a reputation for quality. The company could count Ransom E. Olds and Henry Ford as customers.

  • Cadillac – 1902

    Cadillac – 1902

    © Cadillac

    Cadillac was named after the French army officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the man who built the ‘Ville d’Etroit’ on the western shore of Lake Erie. This was to become Detroit. The Model A was the first Cadillac to leave the factory gates. Well over 11 million cars had been sold by the time Cadillac celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2002.

  • Ford – 1903

    Ford – 1903

    © Ford

    Henry Ford built a 4hp quadricycle in 1896. Seven years later, the Ford Motor Company was incorporated with 12 investors and 1,000 shares. The first Model A was sold on 23 July 1903, with the famous Model T arriving five years later.

  • Lancia – 1906

    Lancia – 1906

    © Lancia

    Lancia was founded in 1906 by Vincenzo Lancia in partnership with Claudio Fogolin. Although the early cars were simple and straightforward designs, Lancia would go on to build some of the most innovative and beautiful vehicles in the world. Today, Lancia is a shadow of its former self, with just one car and one market left to its name.

  • Rolls-Royce – 1906

    Rolls-Royce – 1906

    © Rolls-Royce

    The birth of Rolls-Royce was a meeting of minds. Henry Royce had established a successful electric and mechanical business in 1884 and built his first car in 1904. In July of that year, he met Charles Rolls, who sold cars in London. This led to the creation of Rolls-Royce in March 1906.

  • Daihatsu – 1907

    Daihatsu – 1907

    © Daihatsu

    Daihatsu can trace its roots back to the industrial revolution in Japan, when Seizo Co. Ltd was founded in Osaka. The company established itself in the field of engine production, before Japan was hit by an earthquake and the Great Depression of 1929. Having diversified, the company was renamed Daihatsu Motor Company in 1951, although the name dates back to 1930.

  • General Motors – 1908

    General Motors – 1908

    © General Motors

    General Motors (GM) was founded in 1908 by William C ‘Billy’ Durant. The company would go on to create a formidable portfolio of automotive brands, including Buick, Oldsmobile, Oakland (later Pontiac), Cadillac, Chevrolet, Opel and Vauxhall. This picture shows a statue of Durant (left) and Josiah Dallas Dort, co-founder of GM and the Dort Motor Car Company.

  • Bugatti – 1909

    Bugatti – 1909

    © Bugatti

    In 1907, Ettore Bugatti developed a 50hp car and offered it to the Deutz engine factory in Cologne. The car was manufactured under licence and Bugatti became head of production. Two years later, Bugatti left Deutz, and with his severance pay he leased an old dyeworks building in Molsheim, Alsace. The company was called Automobiles Ettore Bugatti. The rest is history.

  • Suzuki – 1909

    Suzuki – 1909

    © Suzuki

    The story of Suzuki begins in 1909 when the company started producing looms in Hamamatsu, Japan. Michio Suzuki, the company’s founder, harboured dreams of converting the business to car manufacturing. In 1937, the first prototype vehicle was created, but plans were halted by the outbreak of the Second World War. The first production car was the Suzulight of 1955.

  • Morgan – 1909

    Morgan – 1909

    © Morgan

    The Morgan Motor Company was founded in 1909 when Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan created the Morgan Three-Wheeler. The first production Morgans were single-seat ‘Runabouts’ powered by either a single cylinder 4hp engine or a 8hp V-twin unit. The Runabouts were unveiled at the Olympia motorcycle show in 1910.

  • Audi – 1910

    Audi – 1910

    © Audi

    Pinpointing a date for the creation of Audi is a little difficult. In 1932, Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer merged to create Auto Union. You could argue that Audi can trace its roots back to 1885 and the founding of Wanderer, or indeed 1899 and the founding of Horch. However, the creation of Audi Automobilwerke GmbH Zwickau in 1910 is arguably the most accurate date.

  • Alfa Romeo – 1910

    Alfa Romeo – 1910

    © Alfa Romeo

    Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (ALFA) was established on 24 June 1910. Five years later, the company changed its name to Alfa Romeo when Nicola Romeo took charge of operations. Alfa can trace its roots back to the creation of Societa Anonima Italiana Darracq (SAID), but things changed when the business relocated to Milan.

  • Chevrolet – 1911

    Chevrolet – 1911

    © Chevrolet

    Chevrolet was founded by Louis Chevrolet and William C. Durant in 1911. Durant was a former racing driver and founder of General Motors in 1908 who transformed the fortunes of Buick. Having left GM in 1910, he was keen to re-establish his credibility in Detroit, hence the alliance with Louis Chevrolet. The famous ‘bow tie’ badge followed two years later.

  • Nissan – 1911

    Nissan – 1911

    © Nissan

    Nissan can trace its roots back to 1911 and the creation of the Kaishinsha Motor Car Works. The first car was the DAT, an acronym of the surnames of the company’s investors. The Nihon Sangyo holding company was established in 1928, with the Nissan name derived from an abbreviation used on the stock exchange.

  • Aston Martin – 1913

    Aston Martin – 1913

    © Aston Martin

    Aston Martin was founded by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford in 1913. Back then, the company operated in a small London workshop. The company was named after the Aston Clinton hillclimb in Buckinghamshire, specifically after Lionel Martin raced to victory in a car built by the pair.

  • Maserati – 1914

    Maserati – 1914

    © Maserati

    On 1 December 1914, Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto Maserati opened the Societa Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati workshop in Bologna. Twelve years later, the brothers worked on the Tipo 26 – the first car to be named Maserati and to wear the famous Trident badge.

  • BMW – 1916

    BMW – 1916

    © BMW

    BMW can trace its roots back to 1916 when the Flugmaschinenfabrik Gustav Otto company merged with Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke AG (BFW) under government orders. Elsewhere, in 1917, the Rapp Motorenwerke company became Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH, which was converted into a limited company in 1918.

  • Isuzu – 1916

    Isuzu – 1916

    © Isuzu

    In 1916, the Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Company partnered with Tokyo Gas and Electric with the aim of producing vehicles. Two years later, the Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Company signed an agreement to produce the Wolseley A-9 for the domestic market, with the first Isuzu truck appearing in 1934. Tokyo Automobile Industries, the predecessor of Isuzu Motors, was established in 1937.

  • Mitsubishi – 1917

    Mitsubishi – 1917

    © Mitsubishi

    Like Isuzu, Mitsubishi is another Japanese company with its roots in the shipbuilding industry. The story began in 1917 when the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Company produced its first car: the Mitsubishi Model-A. It was the first mass-produced car in Japanese history. One could argue that Mitsubishi can trace its history back to 1870 with the founding of a shipping company founded by Yataro Iwasaki.

  • Bentley – 1919

    Bentley – 1919

    © Bentley

    In 1912, W.O. Bentley raised £2,000 and formed a partnership with one of his brothers to form Bentley & Bentley: the British Empire concessionaires for Doirot, Flandrin & Parant (DFP). The company imported cars from the French marque to race at Brooklands. Bentley Motors was established in 1919 underpinned by W.O. Bentley’s philosophy that “we are going to make a fast car, a good car, the best in its class”.

  • Citroen – 1919

    Citroen – 1919

    © Citroen

    At the end of the First World War, the industrialist Andre Citroen decided to establish a company of his own. The first car to bear his name was the Type A of 1919 – the first mass-produced European car. A century later, the company can list the likes of the Traction Avant, 2CV, DS, SM and GS to its name.

  • Mazda – 1920

    Mazda – 1920

    © Mazda

    The Toyo Cork Kogyo Company was formed in Hiroshima in 1920. Originally established to manufacture tools, the company didn’t create its first vehicle until 1931. The Mazda-Go was a three-wheeled truck, but the first passenger car, the R360 Coupe, didn’t arrive until 1960.

  • Jaguar – 1922

    Jaguar – 1922

    © Jaguar

    Although the Jaguar name wasn’t used until 1935, the company can trace its roots back to the Swallow Sidecar Company, established by William Lyons and William Walmsley in 1922. Milestones include the XK120 in 1948, the E-Type in 1961 and the I-Pace electric SUV in 2018.

  • MG – 1924

    MG – 1924

    © MG

    Morris Garages (MG) was established in 1924 by Cecil Kimber, the general manager of Morris. He built performance versions of standard Morris vehicles, including the 14/28, which was based on the Morris Oxford. The company moved to Abingdon in 1929 before cementing a reputation as one of the world’s preeminent sports car manufacturers. Today, MG is under Chinese ownership, following the collapse of the business in 2005.

  • Chrysler – 1925

    Chrysler – 1925

    © Chrysler

    Chrysler was established as the Chrysler Corporation in 1925. Walter Percy Chrysler created the company after the organisers of the New York Motor Show refused to allow him to display the prototype Chrysler Six at the 1924 show. Undeterred, he drove it into the lobby.

  • Pontiac – 1926

    Pontiac – 1926

    © Pontiac

    The Pontiac story began in 1893, when the Pontiac Buggy Company was established in Michigan. In 1907, founder Edward Murphy began building cars under the name of the Oakland Motor Car Company, before General Motors bought a stake in the business. GM created Pontiac in 1926, naming it after a local Indian chief.

  • Volvo – 1927

    Volvo – 1927

    © Volvo

    Volvo – which is Latin for ‘I roll’ – was trademarked in 1915, but the company didn’t start producing cars until 1927. That was when Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson founded the company and the first car ‘Jakob’ left the factory in Gothenburg.

  • Ferrari – 1929

    Ferrari – 1929

    © Ferrari

    Scuderia Ferrari was founded in 1929 to “buy Alfa Romeo racing cars and take part in the races on the national sports calendar and in the calendar of the Associazione Nazionale Automobil Clubs”. The first Ferrari, a 125 S, drove out of the Maranello gates in 1947.

  • Toyota – 1937

    Toyota – 1937

    © Toyota

    Toyota can trace its roots back to the creation of the Toyoda Spinning and Weaving Company in 1918. The company built its first car, the Model AA, in 1936, and in 1937, the Toyota Motor Company was established.

  • Volkswagen – 1937

    Volkswagen – 1937

    © Volkswagen

    The history of Volkswagen begins with the development of a car for the Nazi party in 1934. Three years later, the Company for the Preparation of the German Volkswagen Ltd was formally established, with the name changing to Volkswagen in 1938.

  • Saab – 1937

    Saab – 1937

    © Saab

    The Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (Swedish Aircraft Company) was founded in April 1937, with a factory in Trollhattan completed a year later. Initially producing aircraft, Saab started building cars in 1947.

  • Jeep – 1941

    Jeep – 1941

    © Jeep

    In July 1941, Willys-Overland Motor Company of Ohio received an order to build the Willys MB for the American military. There are many theories regarding the origins of the Jeep name, but Willy-Overland filed the original trademark in 1943.

  • Kia – 1944

    Kia – 1944

    © Kia

    Kyungsung Precision Industry was founded in December 1944, with the company renamed Kia Industries in 1952. Having established itself, first as a bicycle manufacturer, then producing trucks, the first passenger car was unveiled in 1974. The Kia Brisa was based on the Mazda 1000.

  • Porsche – 1931

    Porsche – 1931

    © Porsche

    Ferdinand Porsche founded his engineering office in 1931, so you could argue that this was the birth of the company. The company began by offering development and consultancy work, but the first car to wear a Porsche badge didn’t arrive until 1948. The fact that Porsche celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018 suggests that it sees 1948 as the company’s genesis.

  • Land Rover – 1948

    Land Rover – 1948

    © Land Rover

    The original Land Rover was inspired by the Willys Jeep after Rover’s chief designer Maurice Wilks used one at his holiday cottage in Wales. The first Land Rover was unveiled at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show and it was outselling traditional Rover cars within a year.

  • Lotus – 1948

    Lotus – 1948

    © Lotus

    Colin Chapman built his first car in a garage in 1946 or 1947. He called it an Austin Seven Special and it competed in mud-plugging trials in 1948. The first car to wear the Lotus name arrived in 1949, while the Lotus Engineering Company was founded on 1 January 1952.

  • Honda – 1948

    Honda – 1948

    © Honda

    Honda has crammed an awful lot of brilliance into a relatively short space of time. Soichiro Honda established his first company in 1937 to produce piston rings. Although business was good, Honda suffered a double blow in the form of an earthquake and the Second World War. The Honda Technical Research Institute rose from the ashes, with the Honda Motor Company born in 1948.

  • Abarth – 1949

    Abarth – 1949

    © Abarth

    After a career racing motorcycles and cars, Carlo Abarth founded the eponymous company with Guido Scagliarini in 1949. The company’s success was built on producing aftermarket performance products and tuning kits. In 1958, Abarth created its first masterpiece: the Fiat 500 Abarth.

  • Seat – 1950

    Seat – 1950

    © Seat

    The Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo (SEAT) was established to get Spain moving following the Second World War. The first factory opened in Barcelona in 1953, with early success built on the strength of Fiat products. In 1986, Volkswagen took a 75 percent share in the business, before increasing this to 99.99 percent in 1990.

  • Subaru – 1953

    Subaru – 1953

    © Subaru

    Fuji Heavy Industries established the Subaru name in 1953, with the company producing its first car (the 1500) in 1954. The first mass-produced Subaru was the 360, a car known in Japan as the ‘people’s car’. Today, the Subaru brand is synonymous with all-wheel-drive technology.

  • SsangYong – 1954

    SsangYong – 1954

    © SsangYong

    SsangYong’s origins can be traced back to 1954 when the South Korean company was established. The company started by producing trucks and buses for export, before changing its name in 1977. The SsangYong Group acquired the company in 1986, before forming a strategic alliance with Daimler-Benz in 1991.

  • Alpine – 1955

    Alpine – 1955

    © Alpine

    Societe des Automobiles Alpine was founded by Jean Rédélé on 25 June 1955. He believed that “motorsport is the best way to sell production cars”, reasoning that “victory is the best sales tool”. The first Alpine, the A106, was based on the Renault 4CV platform.

  • Mini – 1959

    Mini – 1959

    © Mini

    The Mini marque was born in 1959, although this mustn’t be confused with the modern Mini company, which is a sub-brand of BMW. The modern version made its production debut in 2000, before going on sale in 2001.

  • Lamborghini – 1963

    Lamborghini – 1963

    © Lamborghini

    The history of Lamborghini Automobili began in 1963, but Ferruccio Lamborghini founded a tractor factory at the end of the Second World War. The great man bought a large plot of land in Sant’Agata Bolognese, where the company is still based today.

  • Lada – 1966

    Lada – 1966

    © Lada

    Avtovaz, the first Russian car manufacturer, was founded in 1966. It began by producing popular cars for the domestic market, the first being the Lada 1200. The first four-wheel-drive Lada, the Niva, arrived in 1977.

  • Hyundai – 1967

    Hyundai – 1967

    © Hyundai

    The Hyundai Motor Company was incorporated in 1967, with mass production of the Ford Cortina commencing in 1968. A decade after the company was founded, Hyundai launched the Pony – one of Korea’s first passenger cars.

  • Caterham – 1973

    Caterham – 1973

    © Caterham

    In 1959, Caterham Cars was established as a Lotus sales outlet, selling Sevens and Elites. In 1973, Caterham Cars took over the production rights for the Lotus Seven.

  • Proton – 1983

    Proton – 1983

    © Proton

    Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Berhad (Proton) was incorporated in May 1983 to sell motor vehicles and related products, including accessories, spare parts and other components. Proton’s first car, the Saga, launched in 1985.

  • McLaren – 1985

    McLaren – 1985

    © McLaren

    McLaren Cars was founded in 1985 by Ron Dennis, before the company created the iconic McLaren F1 in 1992. For many years, the company was listed as ‘dormant’, before a new era began in 2010 with the birth of McLaren Automotive.

  • Geely – 1986

    Geely – 1986

    © Geely

    Although Zhejiang Geely Holding Group was founded in 1986, the company didn’t start producing cars until 1998. Today, outside of China, the company is most famous for its ownership of Volvo, Polestar, Proton and Lotus.

  • Acura – 1986

    Acura – 1986

    © Acura

    Acura was established in 1986 as the premium arm of Honda. The company began with the Integra and Legend, but hit the headlines when the NSX was given the Acura badge in North America. Today, the company offers a range of saloons and SUVs, along with the modern version of the NSX.

  • Lexus – 1989

    Lexus – 1989

    © Lexus

    The Lexus story began in 1983 when the Toyota chairman Eiji Toyoda asked his staff if they could build a world-beating luxury saloon. A car good enough to take on – and beat – the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The result was the Lexus LS 400 of 1989. Three decades on, it’s clear that Toyoda’s team was more than capable.

  • Infiniti – 1989

    Infiniti – 1989

    © Infiniti

    Nissan was another Japanese company with premium aspirations. The project started in 1985 when a team was tasked with building a premium brand capable of taking on the best American and European brands. The Q45 and M30 arrived in 1989, along with 51 dealers in the United States.

  • Smart – 1994

    Smart – 1994

    © Smart

    The Smart story began in 1989 when Nicolas G. Hayek, the inventor of the Swatch watch, announced plans to launch a city car. After negotiations with Mercedes-Benz, the Micro Compact Car AG was founded, with its headquarters in Switzerland. The Smart City Coupe made its debut at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show.

  • Tesla – 2003

    Tesla – 2003

    © Tesla

    Tesla arrived in 2003. You may have seen the name on social media…

  • Genesis – 2015

    Genesis – 2015

    © Newspress

    The Hyundai Genesis first appeared in 2004, but the long term aim was for Genesis to become a standalone brand. Genesis Motors was founded in 2015. Today, the company offers everything from the G70 saloon to the G90 luxury car.

  • DS Automobiles – 2015

    DS Automobiles – 2015

    © DS Automobiles

    Although DS Automobiles tries to leverage some brand equity from the legendary Citroen DS of 1955, its story doesn’t start until 2015 when the company split from its mother brand. Previously, DS cars had been sold under the Citroen banner.