Hudson, Packard, Borgward, Glas - all of them produced quality and modern cars but they ceased because of bad management.
In the late '40s the Hudson sold very well, but in the early '50s they chosen to build a compact car instead of develop a V8 engine for their medium and full-size lineup. The new compact car, the Hudson Jet didn't sold well, and the company hadn't had any other choice than merge with Nash.
Could the player do better?
I think historical car manufacturers as AI controlled opponents are must have for an interesting single-player mode. There could be fake names, but in the US the player should compete against the Big Three. In Europe there should be an equivalent of VW, Mercedes, Renault, Fiat etc. They are needed to play "could I done better than XY did?" scenarios.
Again, no real names because of copyright issues, but everyone would recognize a German company, which makes rear-engined sports cars with an air-cooled flat six.
Or a French car with hydro-pneumatic suspension and avantgarde design.
IMHO fantasy names with modified exterior designs but with real mechanical parameters are the way to go. This would be the historical mode, beside that there should be a "random" mode, or a a semi-historical.