The coolest cars made by non-car makers

From sewing machines to guns, televisions to aircraft, these are the companies that made other products before branching out into cars.

While some have gone on to become household names, others have disappeared into obscurity. Read on to see the cars that companies like Sony, Siemens and even Kalashnikov have built.


Sony unveiled a convincing-looking Tesla rival named Vision-S at the 2020 CES show. At the time the company said it had no plans to go further. But in early January again at CES Sony unveiled the Vision S 02, an SUV based on the earlier saloon.

The new seven-seater boasts twin electric engines, each good for 268bhp, though no target range has yet been mentioned. Intriguingly, on this occasion Sony said that the company "intends to explore entry into the EV market". It would not be completely unprecedented for an electronics firm to enter the car market – Samsung had a car-making arm in the ‘90s before selling it to Renault.


In 1888, New York piano maker William Steinway established the Daimler Motor Company in New York, licensing the name of Gottlieb Daimler. So just three years after the birth of the car as we know it, Daimler became the first European car company in America. Steinway died in 1896 before a car could be built, and his heirs sold their shares in Daimler to General Electric.

It was not until 1904 that the first ‘American Mercedes’ was finally built, a version of the Mercedes 45 hp, and examples were built up to 1907.

Outspan MINI

Outspan is a South African orange company. In the early 1970s it commissioned the Brian Thwaites company in Sussex to build a promotional car for Europe. Based on the highly-hackable Mini, a very lifelike orange body, complete with orange peel texture, was fitted over the Mini’s chassis. Of six cars built, three are still known to exist.

Outspan MINI - continued

We had a drive in one in 2019. “The cabin ambience is of a teenage fantasy bedroom circa 1973... none of the windows open, the temperature within soon turning as hot as a harvest-ripening sun.

It’s a surprise to discover that the Orange corners with the quicksilver zest of a standard Mini… With more ambitious pace – and 30-40mph feels ambitious in a globe with the head room to support top-hats – the Orange succumbs to corkscrew pitching that could quickly turn into a headline-grabbing incident.”

Boeing car

In 2019, Boeing and Porsche announced they were teaming up to develop an electric flying car concept. And this is it. Well, an early indication of what the as-yet-unnamed flying car might look like anyway.

Neither company has given any indication of when this might ‘take off’, but in 2018 research by Porsche suggested that the urban air mobility market could start to gain traction as soon as 2025.

Voisin C5

Before starting a car company, Gabriel Voisin (1880-1973) was better known for his aviation endeavours. The French aviation pioneer built the first manned aeroplane capable of powered flight and his company, Avions Voisin, was the first mass producer of aircraft in the world.

The end of World War One saw a dramatic drop in demand for aeroplanes, so Voisin began experimenting with powered bicycles and then a two-seater car that he developed based on a design by André Citroën. The result was the M1 in 1919. The car pictured, the C5, was produced between 1923 and 1928 and had a top speed of 78mph. His cars were some of the most luxurious in the world in their day, and are highly prized now; one ultra rare model – a C25 Aérodyne – was sold at auction in 2013 for US$1.9 million.

Apple iCar

Dubbed the Apple iCar, the tech giant had bold plans back in 2016 to revolutionise personal mobility – and to do for cars what it’s done for phones. Apple never showed an actual car, and the project was shrouded in mystery. Then, in 2019, Apple culled its ‘Project Titan’ team with the company saying it was switching its focus to autonomous systems rather than a car itself.

Since 2017, it has been testing a fleet of Lexus RX450h with self-driving tech on the streets of Cupertino, near its headquarters.

Siemens Elektrische Viktoria

Made famous for its telegraph-like invention of the 1840s and known today for its consumer goods, trains, medical equipment and IT tech, Siemens waded into unknown waters in 1905 by building an electric car. The Elektrische Viktoria had a top speed of 19mph and a range of about 60km (37 miles). It was available in three body styles: a four-seat convertible, a pickup and a van. Only about 50 models were sold.

In 2010, Siemens built a working replica based on early sketches but later that year the replica was involved in an accident in Germany and the leader of the project was killed.

Roborace powered by Nvidia

This is the Roborace driverless racing car, powered by US graphics processor giant Nvdia. Each Roborace consists of 10 teams running identical cars powered by Nvdia’s Drive PX2 chip. Rather than a battle of skill and bravery, it’s a competition of software supremacy.

Google Firefly

Waymo is Google’s automotive offshoot and has been designing driverless systems since 2009. Its most famous product to date has been the Firefly, the cute bug-shaped autonomous pods without a steering wheel or pedals.

They were a regular sight on the roads around Google’s Mountain View home, but the car was canned in 2017. Waymo will continue to develop autonomous tech, but use other companies’ cars as hosts.

Michelin PLR

Back in the 70s, Michelin built a prototype car for tyre testing. Based on the Citroën DS, and powered by two Chevrolet big block engines, its most notable feature was its 10-wheel design. Nicknamed ‘the centipede’, the PLR was the size of a truck and weighed 9500kg. It carried a lorry tyre in the middle which it tested at speeds of up to 100mph.


It’s all very well going into space but getting around once you’re there is a challenge. Ever since man first set foot on the moon, Nasa has been designing and building various types of vehicle to make extra-terrestrial exploration easier.

This is one of its Mars Rovers, unveiled in 2017 and looking more like Batman’s car than a roving laboratory. Nasa intends to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Grumman LLV

If you live in the USA, there’s a good chance your mail arrived in one of these today. The Grumman LLV is a light transport truck used by the United States Postal Service. Built in the 90s, and with more than 140,000 made, the LLV is still in service today. It was built by military and civilian aircraft producer Grumman - perhaps most famous for making the F-14 Tomcat fighter - which in 1994 merged with Northrop.

Samsung Digital Cockpit

Samsung is another tech giant getting in on the automotive action. At the CES show in 2020, it presented its Digital Cockpit – and used a pretty convincing prototype car to show it. Within the four-seat convertible’s cabin which it built with subsidiary Harman, Samsung showcased its future vision of in-car entertainment and safety.

Samsung’s Digital Cockpit uses 5G to link features inside and outside the car to give drivers and passengers a more connected experience. Inside, there are eight displays, eight cameras and the car can share information with other cars by displaying messages on its rear exterior display.

Samsung XM3 Inspire

The digital cockpit concept wasn’t Samsung’s first car project. In 2019 it unveiled the XM3 Inspire concept in a partnership with Renault. The XM3 is a rebadged version of the Renault Arkana SUV that was introduced in 2018.

The XM3 has a swooping rear for a sportier look. It’s expected to go into production this year in South Korea.

Messerschmitt KR200

After World War Two, the famed German aircraft maker Messerschmitt wasn’t allowed to make planes anymore so it went into the car business instead. Designed by Fritz Fend (1920-2000) - with unmistakeable aviation influences - and built under contract by Messerschmitt, the KR200 was nicknamed the ‘kabinenroller’ (cabin scooter).

This little three-wheeled, two-stroke bubble car was popular in a time when post war Europe needed cheap transport. It was built in 1955-1964, but the microcar market dwindled as much more comfortable but slightly larger cars like the Mini became affordable. Messerschmitt went back to aviation in 1968, and is today part of Airbus.

Kalashnikov Concern

Russia’s Kalashnikov is most famous for its ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, but in recent years the company has branched out from the world of weapons. In 2018 it revealed the CV-1, a retro-looking, Soviet era-inspired hatchback based on the IZH-21252 combi.

Kalashnikov claims the CV-1 will be as important to the electric car market as Tesla with its 90kWh battery and 680bhp. You have to admire its confidence, if not perhaps its design skills. Little has been heard of the project since.

Kalashnikov Concern

This isn’t Kalashnikov’s only foray into the world of cars. The company’s been making vehicles for the Russian military for a while. For the 2018 World Cup in Russia, it created these electric tricycles, called Ovum, for the police. It also made 30 electric motocross-style bikes.


Swatch redefined the leisure wear watch market with its highly personalised, plastic time pieces. And it was a philosophy it wanted to replicate with cars. In the early 80s, Swatch began concepting an idea for a small, stylish and customisable city car for the masses. It was nicknamed the Swatchmobile.

After an initial partnership with Volkswagen fell through, Swatch teamed up with Mercedes to create what was to become the Swatch Mercedes ART - SMART.

Yamaha OX99-11

Back in 1992, after a spell supplying F1 engines, Yamaha decided to build its own supercar. The result was the OX99-11. Powered by a 3.5-litre V12 race engine, the OX99 was built for Yamaha by its UK subsidiary Ypsilon and British motorsport company IAD. It featured a carbonfibre tub, a fighter jet-style cockpit and tandem seating.

The performance from the detuned F1 engine was highly impressive for the era: 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds and a rumoured top speed of 217mph. But an astronomical price tag and the recession of the early 90s brought the project to a premature end. Only three prototypes were made.

Yamaha Sports Ride Concept

At the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, motorbike and piano maker Yamaha launched a new sports car, the Sports Ride Concept. Yamaha brought McLaren F1 legend Gordon Murray on board to develop a carbonfibre chassis that would keep the car’s weight down. The Sports Ride Concept was intended to compete with cars like the Lotus Elise.

Although Yamaha didn’t confirm powertrain details at the time, it’s rumoured to use a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine with less than 100bhp.

Bosch IoT Shuttle

Bosch is hardly a stranger to the car world, but it’s more famous for making car parts than complete cars.

However at the 2019 CES show it previewed a concept for a driverless shuttle bus that uses its IoT tech. It’s unlikely the IoT Shuttle will make production. Instead, Bosch is using the vehicle as a test bed to show off its “networked mobility services” to car makers and ride-hailing companies.

Maytag C

Maytag is an American washing machine manufacturer now owned by Whirlpool. The company started in 1893 making feeding machines for farmers, launching its first washing machine in 1905. Five years later, Maytag’s founder bought the Mason Automobile Company, which had been started by the Duesenbergs, and built 1,500 cars under the Maytag-Mason name.

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Lightburn Zeta

Australian engineering company Lightburn started out making cement mixers and washing machines. But in 1963 it went into the car business. The first car off the production line at its Adelaide factory was this, the Zeta. Available in ‘sedan’, ‘utility’ and ‘sports’ body styles, only 400 cars were made before the factory closed just two years later.

Peel P50

The Peel Engineering Company, named after a small town on the Isle of Man, originally made fibreglass boats and fairings for motorbikes. In the early sixties, it set out to build a microcar for city use.

The Peel P50 was born, in 1962. It was sold for £199 – around £5000 in today’s money. Recognised in 2010 by Guinness World Records as the smallest car in the world, the P50 had room for one person and a bag of shopping. In 2011, the company started making the P50 again to order in both petrol and electric versions; top speed is about 28mph for both.

LG car

LG’s connected self-driving car is like a home office on wheels. The concept is 10 years away from production, but at the CES show in 2020 it was a taster of what tech companies think the future of autonomous cars will be like. As you approach it, it already recognises you through facial recognition and assigns you to one of its four recliner seats. Each chair has a controller and a touch screen for a truly personalised experience.

And with AI and cloud tech, you can pick up TV shows and movies right where you left off. Press a button, and a snack tray rolls out from underneath your seat. Instead of a windscreen, a huge OLED display gives you a real-time view of the road.

Saab 92

Saab is perhaps better known for its cars, but back in the late thirties it was making legendary military aircraft. It went into the car business out of necessity. After the war years Swedes had to wait a long time for imported cars from the USA, so Saab started building for the domestic market.

Its first car was the gorgeous 92 (prototype pictured). Its design was very aerodynamic for the time and soon after production started it 1949, it was on being rallyed on Swedish roads. Saab Cars went out of business in 2012, but the aircraft maker continues today.

Toyota Model AA

Toyota had been going for nearly 10 years before it started making cars. The company, founded by Sakichi Toyoda (1867-1930), started off in the textiles business, making loom machines. Sakichi’s son Kiichiro took over and in 1936 Toyota created its first car, the AA.

When the company’s 50th anniversary came around, Toyota went on the search to find one. Then, in 2008 the car pictured was found in Russia and is now on display at the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands.


KTM is an Austrian motorcycle manufacturer, famous for its off-road bikes. In the early 1990s it started making street bikes and then progressed into cars. The KTM X-Bow was launched at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show and was KTM’s first car. It’s designed for road use, but – with just 790kg of weight – comes into its own on the track.

Mitsubishi Model A

Mitsubishi began life as a shipbuilding company, diversifying into mining, insurance and steel. In 1917, the Model A was the first series production car built in Japan. Hand built and based on the Fiat Tipo 3, the Model A was a four door, seven seat town car and could hit 60mph.


Honda started out making piston rings for Toyota before branching out into motorised bicycles with two-stroke engines. Its first complete motorbike was called the Dream and in a very short time Honda grew to become the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. It would be a couple of decades before it turned to four wheels. In 1963 the T360 pick-up was made (pictured), a small kei car that revved out to 8,500rpm in a nod to Honda’s motorbike beginnings.

Bombardier NEV

From private jets to jet skis, Bombardier has a diverse portfolio of products, but it would be 50 years before it built a car. The electric Bombardier NEV (Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle) arrived in 1997. Designed as something of a posh golf cart for gated communities and resorts, the NEV had a top speed of only 25mph and a 30 mile range.

Airbus car

Hot on the heels of Porsche and Boeing’s plans to create a flying taxi, Audi and Airbus teamed up in 2019. The plans have since stalled, but the joint PopUp Next concept was never intended to enter production.

Audi says it was a test bed into the world of autonomous air taxis and has concluded it will be a long time before this kind of vehicle is ready for mass production.

Ineos Grenadier

Chemicals group Ineos isn’t a household name, but its owner is the richest man in the UK. In 2017, Ineos founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe (pictured) decided to embark on an ambitious automotive project named after the London pub where the idea was conceived. The first car from Ineos Automotive is the Grenadier, billed as the spiritual successor to the Land Rover Defender. It will be a no-nonsense, boxy 4x4 with BMW engines. Ineos expects to shift 25,000 cars a year when it goes on sale in 2022, probably to be built in an old Smart factory in France.


The coolest cars made by non-car makers The Sony Vision S 02 may be the latest car to be made by a company that doesn’t make cars – but it’s only the latest in a long line