Peugeot Pepper: 5 Automakers’ Curious Side Businesses

ASIMO at Brooklyn Bridge Park

You’re probably aware that Japanese companies often have diverse product lines. Among other things, Sony makes televisions, speakers, and video-game consoles. Yamaha goes further, making everything from pianos to golf carts. While we recognize companies like BMW, Tesla, and Volkswagen specifically for their cars, many automakers carry on side projects, too.

You’re most likely familiar with Honda’s motorcycles, boat engines, and lawn mowers (not to mention its cars), but perhaps the company’s most impressive side project is ASIMO. A humanoid robot, its name is an acronym for “Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility.” Coming from a company known for the Accord and the Civic, it’s no surprise that ASIMO’s capabilities are geared toward helpful practicality, but its achievements are impressive nonetheless. Cars undoubtedly earn Honda the majority of its reputation, but a CR-V has never opened the New York Stock Exchange, walked the red carpet, or conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra—ASIMO has.

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We know BMW as the maker of the Ultimate Driving Machine, but as it turns out, “driving” may have a fairly loose definition. The wizards from Bavaria certainly know how to send power to the rear wheels, with the excellent M2 as evidence, but they also have nearly unparalleled expertise in aerodynamics and carbon fiber. Case in point: the 2014 U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team’s sleigh. What started as a simple corporate partnership ended with BMW building the team’s medal-winning sleigh and re-imagining the design along the way, making it more narrow and centering much of its weight. Normally, a side business doesn’t result in revolutionizing an existing product, but that’s exactly what BMW did for Team U.S.A.

Peugeots aren’t a common sight on United States roads—the last one sold here was the 405, in 1991—but don’t be surprised to find one on your dinner table. Although the company is best known for its cars (and bicycles), it began its foray into the business by crafting salt and pepper mills in 1842. Its patented milling system is incredibly robust, cracking peppercorns before grinding them, and the mills are considered among the best in the world. Of course, they should be good; the company has been building them for nearly 50 years longer than it has automobiles.

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When I say “Tesla,” you think of the Model S, Model X, roadster, or alternating current. What you might not think about, however, is the Tesla Powerwall. Although the company, named after the late 19th and early 20th century inventor, is best known for its electrically driven cars, it would be even more apt to acknowledge Tesla as a battery company first and a car company second. At the heart of every Tesla automobile is a set of lithium-ion batteries, and these batteries are where the company is betting the big bucks are to be made. Cars have earned the majority of the headlines, but Tesla is hoping its Powerwall will provide sustainable energy solutions for homeowners, with larger Powerpacks being built for commercial businesses. Now in partnership with Panasonic, the Tesla Gigafactory 1 is being constructed to help meet demand for cars and the company’s Powerwall and Powerpacks.

Of all the side businesses out there, this one might take the cake. Or the sausage, I suppose. Along with producing more cars than almost any other manufacturer on the planet, Volkswagen also produces currywurst and ketchup. The currywurst is a favorite in Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg plant, and the ketchup is designed to pair perfectly with it—just a hint of spice and a slightly more viscous consistency (as the resident CarGurus ketchup expert, I think it sounds delightful). Volkswagen isn’t selling these just a little bit here and there, either. In 2011, the company sold almost 5 million sausages. To put that in perspective, it sold just over 8 million cars. It’s a good thing cars have a higher profit margin than currywurst—otherwise we might be looking at Volkswagen in a whole new light.

What’s the weirdest non-car item an automaker has ever made?

-Matt Smith

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