Meet some of the tuning groups building high-performance versions of production cars.
There are two roads you can go down for a performance car with an extra sharp edge. You can buy a car and take to any number of world-class tuning houses, or you can buy a car that's already been tweaked and tuned by one of the automaker's in-house tuning divisions. Not every automaker has a specific arm dedicated to building crazy fast cars, even if it makes high-performance versions of some of its models. Importantly, this is not a comprehensive list, but rather an introduction to the most notable tuning arms making high-performance versions of production cars in-house.
SVT is Ford's performance arm dedicated to building the most highly tuned versions of Ford's vehicles in the US. SVT was officially conceived in 1991 and officially founded in 1992 to create niche vehicles that will satisfy hardcore driving enthusiasts. Simultaneously, that would create a stable of high-performance halo vehicles to attract people to the brand. SVT's first credited vehicle was the 1993 SVT Mustang Cobra. Since then, SVT has delivered a steady stream of low-volume, high-performance vehicles including more Cobra and Cobra R Mustangs, the SVT Lightning truck, and, more recently, the Ford GT and Ford Raptor.
BMW's famed M division didn't sprout up overnight. It was born in May 1972 with just 35 employees as BMW Motorsport. The first official project was the BMW 3.0 CSL race car and it's street-legal homologation special version, but before then special racing models could be found all over the world. It was incredibly popular, but the first M badged car was the spectacular but ill-fated M1 supercar revealed in 1978. The 1979 M535i followed as a high-performance 5 Series, but the legendary 1985 M5 cemented the M badge as something special. That was followed by the 1986 M3, which cemented BMW as a performance icon. The E46 generation followed, and that model M3 became the benchmark of which all compact sports sedans are still judged. BMW now has a full stable of ultra-aggressive M cars and SUVs, not to be confused with the diluted M Sport models.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' SRT department grew from Team Viper, which put the hellacious V10-powered Dodge Viper on the road. The group was then merged with Team Prowler to form Specialty Vehicle Engineering (SVE). Constant evolution saw the group become Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO) for a brief time. PVO was using SRT as a brand name, but in 2004, the team was officially renamed SRT. Vehicles produced by the SRT division generally feature upgraded chassis, but the hallmark of any SRT-badged model is a brutally powerful engine. SRT has turned its hand to many Dodge, Chrysler, and later on Jeep models, and the division's back catalog includes the 425-horsepower Dodge Magnum SRT-8 and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, the 500-hp Dodge Ram SRT-10 powered by the Viper's V10 engine, and the 645-hp Dodge Viper SRT. However, on the smaller side, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 was a ferocious little car that dominated in autocross for years.
Currently, SRT is dominating the affordable horsepower wars with its 707-hp Challenger and Charger Hellcat models and the Hellcat-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. It's also responsible for the limited-run 840-hp street-legal drag racer, the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon.
Hyundai's N division is a newcomer to the performance side of the automotive industry. It debuted in 2013 with the unveiling of the i20 WRC, ready to compete in the 2014 season of the World Rally Championship. Then the former head of BMW's M division, Albert Biermann, was hired as Executive Vice President. The N division has had success in both rally and road racing, but its first performance road car was the 2017 i30 N, followed by the first US-bound model, the Veloster N for 2019, and in 2020, the i20 N. The N Division has also been responsible for the continued development of the RM (Racing Midship) concept, which recently culminated in the 810-hp RM20e. It might be young in years, but Hyundai N is quickly proving itself as a maker of fine driver's cars - something BMW's boys at M seem to have forgotten about.
AMG started out as an independent engine builder for Mercedes cars in 1967, founded by former Mercedes engineers Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher. Over the years, the company moved into developing custom cars built on Mercedes platforms with such success that DaimlerChrysler AG, owners of Mercedes back then, bought 51% of the company in 1999. Then in 2005, Daimler bought out the rest of Aufrecht's shares, and AMG is now owned entirely by Mercedes' parent company. The list of AMG models is extensive, and its trademark is brutal power mixed with Mercedes' luxury. Models wearing the AMG badge range from all-wheel-drive hyper hatches to the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer Black Series variants.
In recent years, AMG has taken over the full development of a number of models, starting with the AMG GT, and subsequently the next-generation Mercedes-Benz SL-Class.
Toyota Racing Development supports Toyota's racing interests worldwide and is responsible for developing performance versions of Toyota production vehicles. There are currently two branches of TRD: TRD Japan and TRD USA, although Australia also had a branch that lasted from 2007 to 2009.
TRD offers bolt-on parts and used to sell supercharged versions of its engines. However, it's best known for its TRD-badged vehicles and particularly the off-road-ready vehicles. Currently, four TRD variants are available in the US, with models such as the Avalon TRD and Camry TRD as the sportiest versions of the sedans with upgraded suspension, brakes, and an appearance package. The Tacoma and Sequoia are available in TRD Sport trim, which improves performance on the road, while the TRD Off-Road packages upgrade Toyota trucks and SUVs into even more adept adventurers. A TRD Pro badge means the vehicle it's mounted on is a hardcore off-roader ready for the wildest of trails.
Mopar can be a confusing term for younger car enthusiasts. The term originated in the 1920s as an amalgam of "Motor Parts" and was used on Chrysler's antifreeze labels. However, Mopar didn't become a brand for Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts until 1937. Enthusiasts started using Mopar as a catch-all word for any vehicle built within the Chrysler, and now FCA, parent companies. That includes Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, Ram, Imperial, Plymouth, DeSoto, Eagle, and AMC vehicles built from 1987 onwards. In reality, Mopar is currently an OEM performance parts company with several Mopar Custom Shops. The Mopar Custom Shops installs customer ordered parts before delivery and builds show cars. While Mopar doesn't have its own assembly lines, it does create limited-edition Mopar versions of various FCA models and is also responsible for the obscenely powerful 1,000-HP Hellephant crate engine.
Nissan's tuning arm was formed in 1984 but became a legend throughout the world following its second branded model, the 1990 Skyline GT-R Nismo. The first cars were based around Nissan's racecar-building prowess but follow-ups like the R33 Skyline 400R and S14 Silvia 270R showed off its street-tuning abilities. Nismo supplies both tuning kits and ready-built Nismo badged cars across the board. The Sentra and Juke both had the Nismo treatment, but the granddaddy of modern Nismo streetcars has to be the GT-R NISMO. It takes the already supercar-level coupe and turns it into the most hardcore production car Nissan has built. The hand-built 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 engine now propels the street-legal, track-focused Goliath to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds, but the chassis upgrades are where its really at for the motorsport-born sub-brand.