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Home The Market Rear view: No. 9 - Sales and mergers

Rear view: No. 9 – Sales and mergers

Car companies large and small, a historic rally and a major online auction house all got new owners in 2020

Year in Review

“Merger of equals” has been a standing joke among automotive insiders at least since Daimler’s “merger” with Chrysler late in the 20th Century. Merger, indeed. Try acquisition that left Mercedes-Benz large and in charge, at least until a few years later when it unloaded the American automaker to an investment firm, Cerberus. 

Next came recession and bankruptcy and something called Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, now with Italians rather than Germans in charge until… 

Until late 2019 when yet another merger among equals was announced, this one involving FCA and PSA, that second set of initials standing for the French-based company that owns Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Vauxhall.

In 2020 we learned that this new automaking conglomerate, paperwork to be finished early in 2021, will be called Stellantis, from the Latin verb stello, meaning, we’re told, “to brighten with stars.”

So far, the brightest star among online collector car auctions has been Bring a Trailer, founded in 2007 by Randy Nonnenberg and Gentry Underwood, who thought someone should curate cars being offered for sale on the internet and, in the process, created an enthusiast community that included the likes of Jay Leno and author Malcolm Gladwell.

In 2020, Nonnenberg and Underwood sold their company to Hearst Autos, which already had acquired automotive enthusiast magazine titles Car and Driver, Road & Track and Autoweek

Like BaT, another home-brewed, grassroots company was sold in 2020. In this case, it was Meyers Manx, which nearly 60 years ago produced the first of its dune buggies. But now Bruce Meyers is in his mid-90s and he and his wife, Winnie, sold their business to Trousdale Ventures.

Yes, Trousdale Ventures is an investment firm, but it’s headed by car guy and racer Phillip Sarofim, who has placed long-time car designer Freeman Thomas in charge as the chief executive and chief creative officer of the dune buggy company.

Thomas is a veteran of Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Chrysler design studios, helped create the Audi TT and the VW New Beetle and a flock of stunning Chrysler concepts, so look for the Meyers Manx vehicle portfolio not only to continue, but to expand.

Another historic and California-based automotive entity also was sold in 202, and like Meyers Manx, the new ownership is well respected in the collector car community. The entity is the California Mille and the new owner is Hagerty, the insurance company that is expanding into a collector car lifestyle brand.

In the early 1980s, northern California car dealer and collector Martin Swig and automotive journalist John Lamm took part in the annual re-creation of the famed Mille Miglia rally in Italy. Swig came home and a few years later launched his own version, the California Mille, which became one of the most popular of American vintage sports car rallies.

Since Swig’s death in 2012, his sons, David and Howard, have operated the rally, which will now continue under the leadership of the Swig and Hagerty families, McKeel Hagerty noting that the event will continue to emphasize “important cars, little roads, and wonderful friends.”

Year in Review Series

Looking back at the most influential automotive stories and events of 2020.

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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