American Auto Manufacturers Quiz


By: Seth Thomas

6 Min Quiz

Image: byllwill/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Credit for inventing the internal combustion powered vehicle way back in 1808 goes to French inventor, François Isaac de Rivaz. It was unsuccessful, but others kept trying until there was a budding industry making “horseless carriages” at the end of the 19th century.

Among many inventors and entrepreneurs who built the foundation for America’s auto industry were Ransom E. Olds, Henry Ford, J. Frank Duryea and David Dunbar Buick. The race was on, both in building cars and, yes, racing them that early in the car’s history.

Initially, automobiles were seen as luxuries and even extravagances for the wealthy. In the early years of American car building, steam and battery power competed with internal combustion using gasoline as fuel, the latter combination of course becoming dominant.

In the early 20th century, there were dozens of American carmakers, many of them too small to remain competitive and survive for more than a decade. Competition became fierce among the fledgling carmakers, with many vying to offer models that average workers could afford. It was Ford’s revolutionary application of the moving assembly line that helped bring the price of a new car into reach of many families. 

Building power of size became evident early on, as William C. Durant showed by putting together the multi-brand empire called General Motors. Each decade saw more carmakers fall away as the larger ones consolidated market share. Today, in addition to Ford, General Motors and Chrysler (well, to be accurate, Fiat-owned FCA), there are new makes like Tesla.

Jump in and see how much you know about America’s great auto making dynasties!

Which American automotive entrepeneur is largely credited with revolutionizing the auto manufacturing process?

Henry Ford is credited with implementing the moving assembly line in 1913 to build the Ford Model T in larger quantities for lower cost. The assembly line process spread throughout the auto industry.


What brand has been General Motors' largest volume seller since the 1920s?

Chevrolet has long been GM's highest volume brand.


What famed movie car can still be bought new, five decades after it raced across the screen in one of the most famous filmed car chases ever?

Inspired by “Bullitt,” the 1968 film in which actor Steve McQueen drove a green Mustang fastback in one of the big screen’s greatest car chases, Ford has offered several “Bullitt” special edition Mustangs over the years. The latest came in 2019.


What led to Mercury's demise?

Ford neglected its Mercury diviison until the brand was selling nothing but thinly disguised versions of Ford vehicles with little marketing support. The last Mercury-branded car was made in January 2011.


General Motors tried to make its Saturn brand's buying and ownership experience "different." What was unique about Saturn's actual cars?

Saturn cars became known for their plastic body panels, which resisted dents. The roof was made of steel, however. General Motors ended the brand in 2009.


Cadillac experienced booming sales from the 1950s through the 1980s, but then began to decline in the 1990s. What was the cause?

Import brands became much more competitive in the luxury car market, forcing Cadillac to reinvent itself with more modern models.


Ford formed Premier Automotive Group in the early 2000s to handle the European luxury brands it had acquired, including Aston Martin, Land Rover, Jaguar and Volvo. Which two American brands were also rolled into this umbrella?

As a last-ditch effort to save the Mercury brand, Ford reorganized Mercury and Lincoln under its Premier Automotive Group, which was eventually disbanded as Ford sold off the import luxury brands it had acquired since the 1990s.


When was General Motors' Saturn brand conceived?

Though Saturn didn't offer cars until 1990, the brand was conceived in 1982 to provide a domestic alternative to Japanese compacts.


What was Plymouth named after?

The Plymouth car brand name, launched by Chrysler in 1928, was inspired by Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims' landing spot, and, believe it or not, Plymouth binder twine, a product popular with farmers at the time.


Who is credited with saying "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses'"?

Though historians are at odds over who actually said it, Henry Ford is usually credited with this quote. It means that consumers can't always express exactly what they want as a new product.


Where was the Walter P. Chrysler Museum located?

The Walter P. Chrysler Museum, which was located in Auburn Hills, Michigan, opened in October of 1999 but closed in 2012. It opened again briefly in 2016 but closed permanently in December that year.


Which two automotive brands had one of the same founders?

Henry Martyn Leland was first part of the team that founded Cadillac, and then later part of the team that formed Lincoln.


When did the new DeLorean Motor Company start selling new DeLorean vehicles?

The DeLorean Motor Company of Humble, Texas, founded by British expat Stephen Wynn to service and restore DeLoreans, bought the original Northern Ireland-based DeLorean company’s trademarks, intellectual property and vast stocks of remaining parts liquidated after its bankruptcy. Wynn is waiting for implementation of federal regulations passed in 2016 that would allow small manufacturers to build “new” versions of old cars without having to meet modern emissions and safety standards. As of fall 2019, the regulations were still on hold. Wynn could build up to 400 new DeLoreans per year once they’re in place.


Why did GMC and Pontiac merge in 1996?

General Motors brought its Pontiac and GMC divisions together to reduce the number of low-profit, single-brand dealership franchises, although they remained separate brands.


How did Cadillac survive the Great Depression?

In 1933, as General Motors was debating whether or not to drop Cadillac, service executive Nicholas Dreystadt, a former Mercedes-Benz executive, implored the company to discontinue a horribly discriminatory policy that had dealers refuse to sell Cadillac to African-Americans. May were able to buy them anyway, by paying white men to act as fronts for them. The policy was dropped, and Cadillac sales soared by 70 percent for 1934. Dreystadt was made head of Cadillac that year.


What town was the home of Studebaker?

Studebaker was founded in South Bend, Indiana, in 1852 as a maker of horse-drawn carriages. It began making cars in 1902.


Before Tesla Motors introduced its luxurious electric Model S, there was the Tesla Roadster, which consisted of Tesla's electric drivetrain in car bodies supplied by another manufacturer. Who did this fledgling American manufacturer partner with?

Tesla originally worked with Lotus to build the Tesla Roadster, which was based on the small Lotus Elise chassis.


AM General was the auto company chosen by the U.S. Army to produce the military vehicle that became the Humvee. Which other companies submitted bids for the project?

Chrysler Defense and Teledyne Continental also submitted proposals for the Army's vehicle project in 1979.


Panoz is a small American maker of sports and raceing cars, founded in 1988. Where did its startup capital come from?

Don Panoz earned his wealth in the pharmaceutical industry; he headed the research group that developed transdermal drug delivery systems, including the "nicotine patch." Until he died in 2018, Don Panoz owned the comapny with his son, Dan.


Which two automotive brands sold a Model A?

Ford offered a Model A in 1903, and Cadillac's first car, also that year, was called Model A, as well. Ford reprised the Model A name in 1927-1931. Bonus trivia: Duesenberg, the American luxury car maker most famous for the Model J and SJ, offered a Model A in 1923.


In what decade was the ram introduced as the Dodge brand's mascot of sorts?

Dodge rolled out the iconic ram head in 1932. In 2009, the company split off its pickup truck business into a new division called Ram.


Which American car company's founder had previously started a car company in Europe?

Sir Herbert Austin's cars were already well-known in England when he went looking for investors to start building cars in America. The resulting company, American Austin, began building the tiny cars in Butler, Pennsylvania in 1930. The firm folded in 1935 but returned under new ownership in 1936 as American Bantam. The company would go on to develop the prototype for what became the first Jeep for the U.S. Army.


What brand held the third top-selling spot in America from the early 1930s into the 1950s?

Chrysler's Plymouth division established itself as a solid rival to Ford and Chevrolet, holding the third spot in sales for more than two decades.


What was America's leading car producer for a brief time before Chevrolet and Ford took the top spots?

Oldsmobile made the most cars in America from 1903 until 1905. Volume was low: 4,000 cars in 1903 and 5,508 in 1904.


What was the purpose of the very first Jeep vehicle, as built by Willys-Overland?

The Jeep was first used for military transport during World War II. The "civilian Jeep" became available in 1945, known as the CJ2A.


Where did Walter P. Chrysler work before founding Chrysler?

After running Buick for three years, Walter Chrysler left over disagreements about General Motors' company direction. He was hired to turn around ailing Willys-Overland in 1919 but left in 1921 to do the same for Maxwell Motor Company. He then made Maxwell part of his new Chrysler Corporation in 1925.


What American luxury electric car company went defunct in 2013?

Fisker Automotive was founded by Henrik Fisker in 2007 to make high-end plug-in hybrid cars, but did not achieve the same success as some rivals and went bankrupt six years later. Mr. Fisker launched a new electirc car maker in 2016, with the first model, an SUV, due in 2021.


William C. Durant founded General Motors but was quickly removed from power. What brand did he then form as revenge (of sorts)?

Chevrolet was conceived as a way for William C. Durant to elbow his way back into the GM fold. He formed Chevrolet in 1911, and in 1918, Chevrolet came under the GM umbrella, so his plan worked.


In Buick's early days, the brand produced some truck models, but then stopped to focus on more traditional passenger vehicles. What vehicle was considered Buick's first truck in 70 years?

Although the Rendezvous was an early example of a crossover, it (and its Pontiac sibling, the Aztek) were both considered trucks or SUVs by General Motors.


What did David Dunbar Buick make before founding his car company?

David Dunbar Buick invented a process to coat cast iron bathtubs with porcelain enamel.


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