Special Report

Discover America's Most Iconic Car Brands

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America was once the home of the world’s greatest automobile manufacturers, and it was pretty undisputed. Alas, that era has come and gone, leaving only nostalgia in its wake. Still, can’t we be proud of what still exists today? Legacy, modernism; America still has a lot of offer when it comes to iconic brands (is there anything more American than a lifted F-250 Super Duty?). Let’s look through some of the most iconic car brands from America’s history, plus a few that are still around today.

To compile this list, 24/7 Wall Street researched some of the historic brands that used to operate within the United States, as well as some of the brands that are still in operation. Using some editorial discretion, each of these brands was selected and intended to “feel” American. Additionally, they all play (or played) some major role in the meta-narrative of the American Automobile Industry.

Ford

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Ford is one of the largest and most iconic car companies in the world.
  • Date Founded: 1903
  • Popular Car Models: Model T, Mustang, Explorer, F-150
  • Operation Status: Active

Founded in 1903 by Henry Ford, the Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) revolutionized the automotive industry, and pretty much the world. On top of the car itself, Ford also pioneered assembly line production and contributed to how people worked for the next 100 years. The company has been truly iconic at a global scale, although it has somewhat struggled in the past few decades.

Chevrolet

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Chevrolet is one of the last big American automobile makers.
  • Date Founded: 1911
  • Popular Car Models: Bel Air, Corvette, Silverado, Camaro
  • Operation Status: Active

Chevrolet was founded in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet and William C. Durant and is considered one of the American automobile giants.  The company is/was known for creating cars with solid performance at reasonable, consumer-level pricing (think the Corvette and Camaro). Today, Chevrolet is owned by General Motors (NYSE: GM)

Jeep

Jeep was originally founded for wartime vehicle production.
  • Date Founded: 1941
  • Popular Car Models: Wrangler, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Renegade
  • Operation Status: Active

Jeep was originally founded in 1941 as a way to produce military vehicles during WWII. Its primary vehicle, the Willys MB, was hugely influential, eventually paving the way for it to begin creating civilian cars in post-war America. They kept a lot of that rugged identity, something clearly seen in their marketing and vehicles like the iconic Wrangler. Today, Jeep is owned by FCA, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE: FCAU).

Cadillac

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Cadillac gets its name from the original founder of the city of Detroit.
  • Date Founded: 1902
  • Popular Car Models: Eldorado, Escalade, CTS, XT5
  • Operation Status: Active

Cadillac was maybe one of the first American car brands that really pushed the idea of luxury vehicles, eventually becoming synonymous with elegance itself (i.e., “the Cadillac of blank”). Models like the Eldorado and Escalade are closely tied to American opulence and high society, but the brand has been struggling through an identity crisis in recent decades. The brand was bought by General Motors in 1909.

Dodge

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Dodge helped to popularize American muscle cars.
  • Date Founded: 1900
  • Popular Car Models: Charger, Challenger, Durango, Ram
  • Operation Status: Active

Dodge is another early automobile brand, with a founding even before that of Ford and Cadillac. They helped to popularize the image of “American muscle cars” with models like the Charger and Challenger. They also entered the truck market with great success. Today, they are owned by Stellantis (NYSE: STLA).

GMC

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GMC mostly focuses on SUVs and light trucks.
  • Date Founded: 1912
  • Popular Car Models: Sierra, Terrain, Yukon, Canyon
  • Operation Status: Active

Usually shortened to just GMC, the General Motors Truck Company (later the GMC Truck & Coach Division) was founded for the purpose of utility. The brand is characterized by SUVs, pickups, vans, and a whole lot more. Historically, they also created fire trucks, ambulances, and military vehicles, but really delve into those sectors as heavily today. They are owned by General Motors.

Buick

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Buick is one of the oldest car makers in the United States and has produced some of the most iconic cars.
  • Date Founded: 1899
  • Popular Car Models: Riviera, Enclave, Regal, Encore
  • Operation Status: Active

Buick is easily one of the oldest car brands in the United States, being founded in 1899, before the turn of the previous century. Later on, the brand evolved into a premium/luxury vehicle manufacturer, an identity it still holds today. Buick also helped to establish General Motors, the brand that owns it today. After Oldsmobile shuttered in 2004, Buick became the oldest surviving American carmaker.

Lincoln

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Lincoln has been creating luxury vehicles for Ford for decades.
  • Date Founded: 1917
  • Popular Car Models: Continental, Navigator, Aviator, Nautilus
  • Operation Status: Active

Lincoln, founded in 1917, is one of the luxury vehicle brands that Ford created over the years. They innovated things like the electric convertible roof and played a huge role in creating a “refined” driving experience for people looking for luxury. They are owned by Ford today.

Chrysler

Chrysler is one of the major brands founded in Detroit, Michigan.
  • Date Founded: 1925
  • Popular Car Models: 300, Pacifica, Voyager, Aspen
  • Operation Status: Active

Chrysler was founded in 1925 from the bones of the Maxwell Motor Company. They are one of the big three brands of Detroit and are the American subsidiary of Stellantis. Walter Chrysler, the founder, also created the Plymouth and DeSoto brands in 1928.

Plymouth

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Plymouth was created to be a low-priced, high-value car for consumers.
  • Date Founded: 1928
  • Popular Car Models: Road Runner, Barracuda, Fury, Duster
  • Operation Status: Inactive (Discontinued in 2001)

Plymouth, our first discontinued car brand on the list, was founded in 1928 and discontinued in 2001. It was originally founded by Walter Chrysler, and models like the Road Runner and Barracuda have become iconic classics. They were initially created to compete with the “lower-priced segments” that Chevrolet and Ford were expanding into. Before being discontinued, Plymouth was part of the Chrysler Corporation before its merger with Stellantis.

Pontiac

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The Firebird was one of the more popular models from Pontiac.
  • Date Founded: 1926
  • Popular Car Models: GTO, Firebird, Grand Prix, Solstice
  • Operation Status: Inactive (Discontinued in 2010)

Pontiac is a more modern example of an iconic American car manufacturer that is now defunct. Originally founded in 1926, Pontiac created some quite famous car models, including the Firebird, GTO, and the Grand Prix. It was shuttered in 2010 in the aftermath of the 2008-2010 car crisis but was formerly a part of General Motors.

Edsel

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Edsel was touted as the cars of the future, but ended up a commercial failure.
  • Date Founded: 1955
  • Popular Car Models: Citation, Corsair, Pacer, Ranger
  • Operation Status: Inactive (Discontinued in 1960)

Edsel was founded in 1995 and named after Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford. The brand was established to compete with Chrysler and General Motors in specific market segments. They were similar in price to Mercury and even shared a body type with them. As part of the marketing campaign, Edsel’s were marketed as the “Cars of the Future.” It was known as a commercial failure and was discontinued by Ford in 1960.

Oldsmobile

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Oldsmobile was discontinued in 2004, but it remains an iconic and nostalgic brand.
  • Date Founded: 1897
  • Popular Car Models: Cutlass, 88, Toronado, Aurora
  • Operation Status: Inactive (Discontinued in 2004)

Few brands feel as iconic to even say as Oldsmobile does. The brand was one of the oldest American car-making brands, founded in 1897. They pioneered all sorts of body types and technological innovations and created legendary models like the Cutlass and 88. It also introduced the first-ever mass-produced car, the Curved Dash. The brand was owned by General Motors until it closed in 2004.

DeSoto

The DeSoto brand was named after Hernando de Soto, a Spanish Conquistador.
  • Date Founded: 1928
  • Popular Car Models: Firedome, Adventurer, Powermaster, Firesweep
  • Operation Status: Inactive (Discontinued in 1961)

Founded in 1928 by Walter Chrysler, DeSoto was positioned as a mid-priced brand within the Chrysler Corporation. DeSoto introduced features like Airflow design, along with some pretty popular models like the DeSoto Firedome and Adventurer. Despite initial success, changing market dynamics led to DeSoto’s discontinuation in 1961, although it still is one of the more iconic brands from the era.

Mercury

Mercury created some iconic cars decades ago, but lost its way and was discontinued in 2011.
  • Date Founded: 1938
  • Popular Car Models: Cougar, Marauder, Montclair, Grand Marquis
  • Operation Status: Inactive (Discontinued in 2011)

Mercury is a recently discontinued car brand that was founded by Ford in 1938. It was intended to slot between Ford and Lincoln’s price ranges and the brand was a mid-level option with models like the Cougar and Marauder. Mercury went out of business in 2011.

Imperial

Dashboard from a vintage Chrysler Imperial
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  • Date Founded: 1955
  • Popular Car Models: Imperial Crown, Imperial LeBaron, Imperial Custom
  • Operation Status: Inactive (Integrated back into Chrysler in 1975)

Imperial was established in 1955 as a standalone luxury brand by the Chrysler Corporation. Their primary focus was on creating top-tier luxury vehicles, launching from 1955-1975 and then again from 1981 to 1983. It was originally a model of car from Chrysler, but eventually it was spun into its own division.

Tesla

Tesla
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Tesla is a modern car manufacturer that has changed the American automotive landscape and pushed for electrification.
  • Date Founded: 2003
  • Popular Car Models: Model S, Model 3, Model X, Model Y
  • Operation Status: Active

We had to do it. There are plenty of old manufacturers that represent what the American car landscape used to look like, but no other company has changed modern American carmaking like Tesla (NYSE: TSLA) has. The brand has ignited the fire pushing the U.S. to electrify and is one of the only successful car-makers to reach mass production in decades. The brand’s identity is strong, and the company has ballooned to meet the massive wave of demand. Plus, it’s not owned by one of the big legacy brands.

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