Car Brands You’ve Never Heard Of
Compared with other industries, a handful of names dominate the automotive market. But for every Toyota or Ford, there’s a Donkervoort or a Faraday. From little-known foreign cars to niche automakers and electric-vehicle startups, here are some car brands you may not have known existed.
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Thanks to its record-breaking stock-market debut, Rivian may not be such an unknown anymore. Still, this American maker of electric trucks and SUVs is far from a household name, despite the Rivian R1T being named MotorTrend’s Truck of the Year. The R1T and R1S, an SUV, are available exclusively online and start at $67,500 and $70,000, respectively.
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This Netherlands-based carmaker may not have been on your radar, but with a name such as Donkervoort, you won’t forget it anytime soon. Founded in 1978, it makes race cars with an old-school sensibility, including the 435-horsepower Donkervoort D8 GTO Individual Series. The base price is a mere 162,900 euros, or roughly $184,000.
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For some truly futuristic stuff, look no further than Aptera, which is working on “harnessing the power of the sun” to make its cars go up to 1,000 miles on a single charge. The truly alien-looking vehicles are reservable on Aptera’s website, but so far, that’s a privilege reserved for the company’s investors. They start at $25,900.
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If you love the idea of a luxurious electric car that’s not as well-known as Tesla, Karma would like to talk to you. This California-based automaker, founded in 2014, sells the sporty, streamlined GS-6, which starts around $85,000. Your odds of having the only one on the block are pretty darn good: Forbes says Karma sold only 75 cars in the first few quarters of 2021.
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Callaway’s vehicles will probably look familiar: The company specializes in taking well-known GM models including the Corvette C8, Silverado, and Camaro, and tricking them out for performance-crazed buyers. The cars are delivered to buyers fully rebranded.
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One of the most notable Chinese auto manufacturers, Geely is still a relative unknown for Americans — but that’s not for a lack of trying. Technically, it’s already in the U.S. market, because it’s the parent company of Volvo. However, its namesake brand, plus others under its umbrella including the buzzy Lynk & Co., haven’t made the leap.
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California-based Lucid began making its first vehicle, the all-electric Air sedan, just a few months ago. The Air is no small investment — it starts at $77,400 — but it has attracted favorable press and has a range of more than 500 miles (take that, Tesla). Wall Street sees it as a viable Tesla competitor; the company was added recently to the Nasdaq 100.
Want to drive your own tank? Did you rue the day GM’s gas-guzzling Hummers disappeared (before being reborn as an electrical vehicle)? Rezvani, a little-known car manufacturer based in California, may have the vehicle for you. Its Tank, billed as a “Tactical Urban Vehicle,” starts at a mere $155,000. The truly eye-popping Hercules Military Edition (meant for civilians, despite the name) comes with features such as bulletproof glass, body armor, a smoke screen, night vision, electrified door handles, and its own gas masks.
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If you’ve heard of Mahindra, it may be because this Indian automaker churns out tractors in the United States and around the world. But its passenger vehicles are hugely popular in the company’s home country and it has a U.S. automotive production plant (in Detroit, no less) making the Roxor off-roader.
Descended from another name on this list, Karma, Fisker is taking reservations for its electric SUV, the Ocean, one model of which even has a solar roof that can generate additional electricity for the motor. The price tag is a bit friendlier to the average Joe than many of the flashy electric SUVs on the market: It’s expected to start under $40,000.
To anyone well-versed in American car manufacturing, Lordstown will be a familiar name — the Ohio town was home to a GM plant that shut down in 2019. That plant has gotten a second life as the home of Lordstown Motors, which will kickstart production with its electric Endurance pickup, expected sometime in 2022.
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This Chinese car brand is one of the foremost offerings among parent company SAIC Motors’ brands. SAIC, the largest auto manufacturer in China, sold 5.6 million vehicles in 2020 and started Roewe in 2006. The brand is based on Rover, the defunct British carmaker, and SAIC tried to buy that name, too, but lost out to Ford.
Minivan drivers want a hip new electric option, too, and a startup named Canoo hopes to oblige. Of course “minivan” doesn’t sound as cool as “lifestyle van,” and so the company’s first vehicle is branded as the latter (or “a loft on wheels” if you really want to feel cool). It’s slated to launch in late 2022, and the company will be based in Bentonville, Arkansas, home of none other than Walmart.
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Though roots going back to the 1800s make it one of the world’s oldest carmakers, this Czech brand is still little known stateside. Now owned by Volkswagen, it is nonetheless sold in much of the rest of the world, including China, Russia, and India. The most popular model is the Škoda Octavia, a practical, family-friendly sedan.
Yet another EV startup, California-based Faraday hopes to bring its flagship vehicle, the luxurious FF91 crossover, to market by the middle of next year. It has had a bit of a rough start, though, including allegations that thousands of the vehicle’s pre-orders have been fabricated and doubts that the company is ready to begin mass production.
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How fast is fast enough? For SSC North America, a maker of sports cars in Washington, there may be no satisfactory answer. Its SSC Tuatara is the world’s fastest production car, achieving a max speed of 286.1 mph in recent tests. Still, the Tuatara is road legal and available for regular customers, not just race-car drivers. You’ll need to fork over (gulp) more than $2 million to make it your own, though.
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A glance at Zotye’s cars may have convinced you that you were seeing double, for good reason: This Chinese company is known for knocking off the designs of other vehicles. Among its most infamous: The Zotye SR9, a (much, much cheaper) clone of the Porsche Macan. Local media have reported that Zotye has declared bankruptcy and is trying to reorganize. Ford had agreed to develop EVs with Zotye, but ended the agreement early this year.