• Japanese car company Mazda has succeeded in infusing all of its models with a degree of sportiness that has formed its reputation and attracted coveted young buyers. Despite the sporty edge in everything from a roadster to a large crossover, Mazda's vehicles are more than livable for day-to-day use, riding a fine line other automakers fail to do productwide.Mazda has close ties to Ford Motor Co., which held a controlling interest until 2008, and it's evident in the two companies' products. For example, the Mazda6 midsize sedan platform became the foundation for numerous midsize and larger vehicles that wear the Blue Oval.One of Mazda's signature cars, the MX-5 two-door convertible -- better known as the Miata -- is credited with sparking a roadster revival when it debuted in 1989. Many roadsters have since joined the market, but the Miata remains one of the best and most affordable -- a true driver's car.Mazda recently rolled out the Mazda2, a subcompact hatchback that shares its underpinnings with the Ford Fiesta hatchback and sedan. The Mazda3 compact sedan and hatchback have been among Mazda's best-sellers. It's fair to say Ford's successful Fusion midsize sedan is based on the Mazda6, not vice versa. Mazda sells no full-size sedan but does have a sporty rear-wheel-drive four-seater called the RX-8 that's powered by a rotary gas engine. Mazda's history with the intriguing rotary engine is long, but the technology has never delivered the efficiency and emissions hoped for, and the RX-8 is in the process of being phased out.The Tribute compact crossover is a close relative of the Ford Escape and is likewise available as a hybrid. The midsize CX-7, available in a turbocharged version, is distinct from Ford's midsize crossover. The CX-9 large crossover seats seven in three rows, though sporty rear-end styling limits headroom in the third-row seat. A model that's in a class by itself in the U.S. market is the Mazda5, a small minivan with sliding doors and six seats in three rows. A staple in overseas markets, vans of this size have otherwise disappeared from the U.S.Headquartered in Hiroshima, Japan, Mazda Motor Corp. is publicly traded. Though Ford's once-controlling stake has decreased to roughly 11 percent, it is still the largest global shareholder and maintains a close product-development relationship.
  • Toyota is a full-line vehicle manufacturer and variably the first or second largest global producer. Toyota's hard-earned reputation for reliability and quality was tarnished in 2009 and early 2010 by a series of high-profile recalls. Toyota has visibly allowed some of its strongest products -- often the best-sellers within their segments in the U.S. market -- to slip in terms of quality and competitiveness. Still, Toyota remains a high-volume seller and a leader in hybrid vehicles.Toyota's lineup begins with the subcompact Yaris, which comes in sedan and both two- and four-door hatchback forms. Next is the Corolla compact sedan, a best-seller that has been surpassed by many competitors. Though it's considerably larger, the Matrix hatchback shares the Corolla's platform. The midsize Camry sedan remains a best-seller, and the recently refreshed Avalon full-size sedan is an impressive combination of comfort, space, power and efficiency.Toyota's crossovers start with the RAV4, a compact that seats up to seven with an optional third-row seat. Arguably a large wagon rather than a crossover, the Venza seats five and offers generous cargo room. The Highlander midsize crossover seats five or seven with an optional third-row seat. To accommodate more people you'll need a full-size Toyota. The full-size Sequoia and Land Cruiser truck-based SUVs, and the Sienna minivan, all seat up to eight.Unlike some automakers, Toyota hasn't abandoned the midsize truck-based SUV market. The rugged FJ Cruiser, the company's most capable off-roader, remains, as does the 4Runner, a more comfortable and roomier model that also can go off road and tow heavy trailers.Toyota has the pickup-truck market covered with the Tacoma compact and the Tundra full-size truck. The Tundra has more drivetrain, box and cab options than ever before, but the domestic truck makers still offer more.Along with the hybrid-market-leading Prius, Toyota sells hybrid versions of the Camry and Highlander. Additional hybrids are forthcoming.Toyota is headquartered in Toyota city, Aichi, Japan.
  • Buick is one of four General Motors makes that survived the company's 2009 bankruptcy. This surprised many because of the brand's reputation for older buyers, but two recent successful models had brought down the average buyer's age considerably. Buick is also one of the best-selling foreign brands in China, an important emerging market. GM's stated competitor for Buick is Lexus, Toyota's luxury division. The company sees Buick as a premium brand, leaving Cadillac as the luxury marque to compete with German imports.The first model in Buick's renaissance, the Enclave, is arguably the best-executed of GM's large crossovers, which include the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia. (The Saturn Outlook was discontinued.) It seats seven or eight in three rows of seats. The mid/full-size LaCrosse sedan -- which was developed in the U.S., China and Germany -- has also sold briskly. Buick will continue selling the larger Lucerne sedan into 2011. The newest addition, the midsize Regal sedan, is based on a top-selling European model. Buick plans to expand its lineup with more cars and crossovers.In the wake of its bankruptcy, and pending an initial public offering of stock, Detroit-based GM is privately held predominantly by the U.S. Treasury, which owns more than 60 percent. The Canadian government owns roughly 12 percent, and bondholders from the now-defunct GM (Motors Liquidation Co.) hold about 10 percent. More than 17 percent belongs to a United Auto Workers health care and pension trust that the union accepted in lieu of earlier cash commitments. The UAW will sell its interest to fund the trust once the company goes public.
  • Adam Opel GmbH (commonly known as Opel) is an automobile manufacturer based in Germany. The company was founded on January 21, 1863 and began making automobiles in 1899. Opel was acquired by General Motors in 1929 and continues as a subsidiary. Opel is GM's largest European brand and with Vauxhall forms GM's core European business.
  • Also known for its motorcycles and other products, Honda is an import success story -- a small company that has had best-selling models in many U.S. vehicle classes. Once a leader in efficiency and other environmental concerns, Honda is suffering an identity crisis as competitors meet or exceed its reputation for mileage, quality and reliability. Though Honda beat Toyota to the U.S. market with a gas-electric hybrid car, the company's simpler technology doesn't provide the dramatic efficiencies seen in hybrids from Toyota's and Ford's various brands. Honda's styling, and that of its Acura luxury division, has come under fire recently as well.Despite these slips, Honda's well-earned reputation still shows in popular, well-rounded models like the CR-V compact crossover, the Fit subcompact hatchback and the Civic compact sedan and coupe, the latter of which are impressive despite being years into their current generation. The midsize Accord sedan and coupe remain steady sellers, though the new Accord Crosstour wagon struggles to find buyers. The Insight five-seat hatchback hybrid has underperformed in the market, perhaps because its mileage doesn't compare to that of the Toyota Prius or even the Civic Hybrid. A new two-seat hybrid, the CR-Z, offers even lower mileage, confounding shoppers. Honda's larger vehicles include the unique Element SUV and the mid/full-size Pilot crossover, which seats eight in three rows. Though it was one of the first crossovers of its type, the Pilot has seen its quality slip. The Odyssey minivan remains a strong competitor in a shrinking field. Although it never caught on as hoped, the clever Ridgeline pickup truck soldiers on.Headquartered in Tokyo, Honda Motor Co. remains one of very few independent, unaffiliated automakers.
  • Swedish automaker Volvo's name is synonymous with safety. Although the company has more safety provisions than most automakers, they aren't all reflected in crash tests, where other brands often match and occasionally exceed a comparable Volvo model's ranking. Likewise, Acura and Mercedes-Benz beat Volvo to market with radar-based systems that detect an imminent collision and apply the brakes. Volvo has plenty of safety innovations under its belt, including various airbag innovations and Roll Stability Control, the first system capable of sensing a rollover in progress and acting to forestall it.Broader than ever, Volvo's lineup includes the compact C30 hatchback, S40 sedan and related S50 wagon. The S60 sedan, which led the company into a more contemporary styling direction when introduced, has been redesigned and now echoes the styling seen on other recent Volvo models. The S80 serves in the role of full-size sedan, though it's not as large as the typical luxury flagship from Germany. The C70 retractable-hardtop convertible is a favorite for all-season use, thanks to front-wheel drive, four seats and side airbags that deploy upward for side-impact protection -- rare in a droptop.The V70 wagon has been discontinued, but the XC70, aka the Cross Country, remains on the market. For crossover fans, the XC60 is a more manageable size than Volvo's first crossover, the XC90, which seats up to seven.After 11 years of losses, Ford Motor Co. sold Volvo Cars to Chinese automaker Geely in August 2010, making it the first major brand bought by a Chinese company. Volvo is still headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden.
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