Happy 100th Birthday, General Motors
It has been a long, strange trip
General Motors' centenary is September 16. By the time GM reaches its 102nd birthday, it will have survived a rough couple of years as it makes a big, relatively swift transformation from trucks back to cars. Look at everything that has happened to GM since its founding and you'll see that nothing of its current situation is particularly new. So to borrow a Polish toast, stolat! ... may you live 100 years.
September 16, 1908: Attorney Curtis L. Hatheway files articles of incorporation for William C. Durant's General Motors Company of New Jersey which at first, is little more than an empty holding entity. Shortly afterward, Durant sells Buick, which he's owned since late '04, to GM for $3.75 million, mostly in stock.
November 12, 1908: GM buys Olds Motor Works for about $3 million in stock and $17,279 in cash. Then GM buys Cadillac from Henry M. and Wilfred C. Leland for $4.67 million, the largest cash transaction in Detroit to that time. GM also buys Reliance, which later becomes GMC.
1909: Champion Ignition Company of Flint becomes a GM subsidiary, and GM buys Oakland Motor Car Company of Pontiac, Michigan. In its first two years, GM buys, or has substantial interest in 29 companies and factories.
October 26, 1909: A bank turns down Durant for a $2 million loan toward an $8 million purchase of Ford Motor Company.
1910: Cadillac (model year) is the first to offer closed-body cars, standard. 1910 Oldsmobile Limited seven-passenger touring car costs a hefty $4,600, and with its 60-hp, 707 cubic-inch inline six, beats the 20th Century Limited train in a race, earning its name.
September 26, 1910: A recession puts GM in a financial crunch. Bankers underwrite $20 million in loans to GM in return for $4.1 million in preferred and $2 million in common stock. The banking syndicate takes control and Durant is out.
November 3, 1911: Durant incorporates the Chevrolet Motor Company with his former Buick race-driver, Louis Chevrolet, building cars in Detroit. Durant buys Flint Wagon Works, where he builds the Little, competitor to the Ford Model T.
1912: Cadillac wins the Dewar Trophy for the first electric self-starter.
1914: Chevrolet Royal Mail and Baby Grand replace the Little as Durant's low-priced cars. Louis Chevrolet is disappointed the cars bearing his name are no longer big and expensive like his 1911-13 models, and returns to racing.
January 1915: Chevrolet introduces its Four-Ninety at the New York Auto Show. At $550 with electric lights and starter, it competes with the Ford Model T, and when the price is lowered to $490, becomes a major success. Meanwhile over at GM, automotive divisions are slimmed down to Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Oakland and General Motors Truck Company. Durant and several friends, including Pierre S. du Pont, start buying up GM stock and drive up its price.
December 23, 1915: Chevy stockholders vote to increase its capital value from $20 million to $80 million, and purchase controlling interest in GM. Durant is again running the show. Charles W. Nash quits as GM president, buys the Thomas B. Jeffery Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin and renames it Nash Motors.
1916: Durant forms auto parts holding company United Motors, which includes Hyatt and New Departure roller bearing companies, whose president is Alfred P. Sloan. Two years later, United Motors becomes a GM division, and GM Canada is formed.
1919: GM buys Guardian Frigerator, renamed Frigidaire, and buys 60-percent interest in Fisher Body for $5.8 million in cash and $21.8 million in notes.
1920: GM opens the $20 million Durant building in Detroit. Walter P. Chrysler resigns as head of Buick, cashing out his GM stock and forming his own automaker in 1924.
July 27, 1920: Post-war recession slows car sales and drives GM stock prices down to $21, from $27 a week earlier. Durant blames J.P. Morgan's firm for selling off shares and driving down prices, but Durant is again kicked out, this time for good. The Durant building is renamed the General Motors Building.
November 1920: GM sales plunge to 12,700 cars per month, down from 47,000 per month in June. By the end of the year, GM writes off $84 million worth of inventory.
May 10, 1923: Alfred P. Sloan becomes GM president the same year Buick introduces four-wheel brakes and GM Research Corporation introduces Ethyl gasoline.
1924: Sloan rationalizes GM's myriad brands as "a car for every purse and purpose." The step-up price hierarchy is Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Oakland, Buick and Cadillac. The Milford Proving Grounds opens.
1925: GM acquires the U.K.'s Vauxhall.
1926: Sloan sees too much space in the lineup. The base Olds model costs about 50-percent more than its Chevy counterpart, so Oakland introduces a lower-priced sub-brand to fill the gap: Pontiac, "Chief of the Sixes."
1927: LaSalle's design comes from newly hired Harley Earl's GM Art & Colour Section. The new brand is designed to go after Packard, which is grabbing sales in the price gap between Buick and Cadillac.
1929: GM acquires controlling interest in Adam Opel AG and adds two more sub-brands. First, Oldsmobile launches its upmarket, V-8-powered Viking, to fill the Oakland-to-Buick gap, and late in the year, Buick launches the six-cylinder Marquette, fitting between Pontiac and Olds. Both are produced through late 1930.
January 1930: Cadillac introduces its first V-16-powered car at the New York Auto Show, less than three months after the stock market crash. It's made from two 45-degree V-8s, totaling 452 cubic inches and conservatively rated 165-185 horsepower.
1931: GM forms Holden Limited of Australia.
1934: GM's two-cycle diesel engine powers the first American-produced diesel train.
1935: Opel Olympia is the first mass-produced car with unibody construction while Chevy, Pontiac, Olds, Buick, LaSalle and Cadillac get the all-steel "Turret-top" from Fisher Body.
1936: Buick Century is "the banker's hotrod," with a big Buick's 120-hp, 320.2 cubic-inch inline eight shoehorned into a smaller Special body. It earns its name from the claimed top-speed of 100 mph.
Last week of December 1936: Workers occupy several Flint, Michigan plants (including Fisher Body and Chevy) in a sit-down strike that turns violent, during the height of the Great Depression.
February 11, 1937: The strike ends with GM recognizing the United Auto Workers.
1938: Buick Y-Job, America's first concept is from Harley Earl's Art & Colour Section, now renamed the Styling Department.
1939: GM Futurama exhibit is a highlight of the World's Fair at New York.
1940: Oldsmobile offers the first fully automatic transmission, the four-speed Hydramatic as a $47 extra. GM produces its 25-millionth U.S.-made car. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt names GM President William Knudson chairman of the Office of Production Management, helping America gear up for World War II.
1942: GM shifts all its production to the wartime effort.
March 18, 1947: Durant dies, virtually penniless at age 85. His last venture had been a bowling alley in Flint.
1948: Cadillac line and Olds 98 launch early in the '48 calendar year with GM's first all-new postwar styling. The Cadillacs are distinguished for their relatively subtle tailfins, inspired by the Lockheed P-38 Lightning' twin vertical stabilizers.
1949: Cadillac, Motor Trend's first Car of the Year, and Oldsmobile come with GM's first high-compression, overhead valve V-8s, of 331 and 303.7 cubic-inches, respectively. Olds Rocket 88 inspires Ike Turner to write what some consider the first ever rock 'n roll song.
1949-50: The Autorama, in New York and Boston the first year, and New York the second, is GM's first big display of post-war, mid-century exuberance.
1951: GM LeSabre and Buick XP-300 dream cars are unveiled.
1952: Cadillac, Buick and Olds offer optional power steering. Power brakes are offered on the three the following year.
1953: The Motorama is the mid-century future, GM-style, with dream car and dream home/kitchen (Frigidaire, remember) displays. Between now and 1961, Motoramas show (un-branded) Firebirds I, II & III, the Cadillac LeMans, LaSalle II, Buick Wildcats I, II & III and Centurion, Olds F-88, Pontiac Bonneville-Special and Chevrolet Corvette, the last of which goes into limited production in Flint, Michigan, in '53.
1955: Chevy Bel Air features optional small-block V-8, the division's first eight-cylinder engine in 37 years. Buick and Oldsmobile pioneer the four-door hardtop.
1957: Chevrolets Corvette and Bel Air, and Pontiac Bonneville are GM's first cars offered with fuel injection.
1959: models have all-new, lower-wider-longer bodies rushed to market to battle the 1957 Chrysler Corporation Forward Look. The '59 Cadillac becomes an icon with the biggest tailfins ever.
1960: Chevy Corvair is GM's first compact car and Motor Trend's Car of the Year. Unlike the competition, it's not a cut-down full-size car; it's a "European"-style car, with an air-cooled, rear-mounted flat six and a swing-axle rear suspension. Chevy experiments with rear-engined full-size sedans and a mid-engine flat-eight Corvette.
1961: Tempest is Pontiac's first compact, and earns Car of the Year status. Buick Special's aluminum V-8 goes into production, and Rover later buys the design, which powers numerous British models for years to come.
1962: Buick Special wins Car of the Year for its new V-6, which is still in production. GM assembles its 75-millionth car, a Pontiac Bonneville convertible.
1963: Buick Riviera was first offered to Cadillac as a new-age LaSalle. Design chief Bill Mitchell instructs designer Dave North to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts and look at medieval armored suits for inspiration; the look shows up for the '65 Riviera's vertical hideaway headlamp cover. This is also the model year for the C2 Corvette, offered with a split-window in the fastback coupe for one year only.
1964: Chevelle/Malibu are Chevy's new mid-size, A-body cars, complementing Pontiac Tempest/LeMans, Olds F-85/Cutlass and Buick Special/Skylark. John DeLorean drops a 389 V-8 into the Tempest/LeMans to create its first GTO. Olds does the same with a 400 V-8 and F-85/Cutlass to make the 4-4-2 and the muscle car era commences.
1965 Chevy Impala: All-new design is a big hit, with more than 800,000 sold. GM's Futurama II opens at the New York World's Fair.
Late 1965: Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed" is published.
1966: Oldsmobile Toronado luxury coupe is General Motors' first front-wheel-drive car and Motor Trend's Car of the Year.
1967: Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird compete with Mustang and Barracuda and the Cadillac Eldorado is a new front-drive luxury coupe sharing its platform with the Toronado and rear-drive Riviera. GM builds its 100-millionth car, a Chevy Caprice.
1968: Corvette, the third generation, or C3, debuts in late '67. 1968 Pontiac GTO is Car of the Year.
1968: The 50-story General Motors Building opens in New York.
1969: "GM without Chevrolet would have 26 or 27 percent of the automobile market." - chairman and CEO James Roche at the annual board meeting, as quoted (indirectly) in Karl Ludvigson's January 1972 Motor Trend story "The Big Bust," about anti-trust efforts against the automaker. GM's U.S. market share was in the 50- to 60-percent range for most of the 1950s-70s.
1970: Chevy Monte Carlo is a value-priced "personal luxury coupe" and GM lifts the over-400-cubic-inch engine ban on Chevy Chevelle SS, Pontiac GTO, Olds 4-4-2 and Buick GS.
1971: Chevrolet Vega subcompact is Motor Trend's Car of the Year, and like other '71 models, can be run on no-lead or low-lead gasoline.
1972: GM builds cars in South Korea with partner Daewoo. Visiting Moscow, President Nixon presents Premier Leonid Brezhnev with the gift of a 1972 Cadillac Eldorado, triggering the beginning of the fall of the Soviet Union.
1973: Oldsmobile Toronado is offered with an optional driver's side airbag. Buick and Cadillac get the option for '74.
1975: Cadillac Seville and other GM cars come with catalytic converters to comply with the Clean Air Act.
1976: Cadillac Eldorado is the last American convertible ever. For now.
1977: Chevy Impala/Caprice, Pontiac Catalina/Bonneville, Oldsmobile Delta 88/98, Buick LeSabre/Electra and Cadillacs are "downsized." The Chevys take Car of the Year.
1978: Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme maintains its status as America's best-selling car, after downsizing along with Chevy Malibu/Monte Carlo, Pontiac LeMans/Grand Prix and Buick Century/Regal.
1979: Buick Riviera is Car of the Year and the first front-wheel-drive version of this model, although it has long shared its platform with the Cadillac Eldorado and Olds Toronado.
1979: GM sells Frigidaire to White Consolidated Industries.
1980: Chevrolet Citation is Car of the Year, and shares its new front-drive, transverse-engine (four or V-6), MacPherson strut front suspension platform with the Pontiac Phoenix, Oldsmobile Omega and Buick Skylark.
1983: GM announces the Saturn project and in a separate move, forms a joint venture with Toyota, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), named in honor of Durant's United Motors (see 1916 entry).
1984: The days of autonomous divisions are over as GM groups Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada (C-P-C) and Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac (BOC) together in a massive reorganization. GM acquires Electronic Data Systems Corporation (EDS), a defense contractor.
1984: Pontiac Fiero is Car of the Year, and '84 Chevy Corvette is the new C4, as the sports car skips the '83 model year.
1985: GM acquires Hughes Aircraft Company, a defense electronics contractor.
1986: GM acquires Lotus, a move that leads to the DOHC-engined 1989 Corvette ZR-1.
October 1987: A.J. Foyt drives the 2.0-liter Oldsmobile Aerotech, designed by Ed Welburn, to a record 267.88-mph flying mile.
1989: Geo models include the NUMMI-built Prizm (Toyota Corolla). Chevy gets its sub-brand, finally, and the new GEO brand lasts until 1997, longer than Viking and Marquette, but not as long as LaSalle or Pontiac.
1989: GM purchases 50 percent of Saab Automobile AB. "Roger & Me," about GM chairman Roger Smith and the depressed city of Flint, Michigan, launches Michael Moore's filmmaking career.
1990: GM's new electric car concept, the Impact, debuts in Los Angeles.
July 30, 1990: First Saturn rolls off assembly line in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Roger Smith attends on his penultimate day as GM chairman.
1992: The automaker loses $23.5 billion, and California's pension fund finds itself oversubscribed on GM stock, leading to the board-backed "palace coup" in which Jack Smith replaces Bob Stempel as chairman.
1993: GM sells Lotus to Bugatti International.
1994: Ron Zarrella is hired away from Bausch & Lomb to be GM's veep for North American sales. He's promoted to executive vice president for the corporation and president of GM North America in '98, and spends seven years at GM instituting a "brand marketing" strategy. Hughes Electronics launches DirecTV.
1996: EDS splits off from GM.
1997 Corvette is the new C5. 1997 EV1 electric car debuts in late '96, available by lease only. GM builds 1,117 between '96 and '99, with the last leases ending in 2003.
1999: GM's red-letter year? First Chinese-market Buicks roll off joint-venture assembly line with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation. Delphi Automotive Systems is spun off, eventually files for bankruptcy. GM enters into an agreement to provide XM radio in cars and trucks, and signs a memo of understanding with AM General to acquire exclusive rights to the Hummer brand.
2000: GM announces plans to phase out Oldsmobile, America's oldest brand extant, as auto journalists attend the 2001 Bravada press launch in Belize. The attempt to cut back on "too many divisions" is offset by GM's purchase of the remaining interest in Saab Automobiles.
September 1, 2001: President and CEO Rick Wagoner hires GM/BMW/Ford/Chrysler veteran Bob Lutz to be GM's chief "car guy." Three months later, Zarrella returns to Bausch & Lomb.
October 2001: HydroGen1 fuel-cell Opel Zafira sets 11 endurance records in Mesa, Arizona.
2002: Cadillac CTS' Sigma platform launches luxury division's return to rear-wheel-drive cars.
2002: Autonomy fuel-cell concept uses by-wire technology. GM acquires most of South Korea's Daewoo Motor Company.
2003: Cadillac Sixteen concept introduces division's future design language. GM sells Hughes Electronics to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
2003: HUMMER H2 is the division's first original model, based on the Chevy Tahoe platform. It's heavy enough to escape EPA fuel mileage testing.
2004: HydroGen3 fuel cell Opel Zafira crosses 14 European countries for 6,200 miles. An Alero is the last Oldsmobile off the line, 107 years after Ransom Eli Olds built his first car.
2005: Corvette is C6 (actually, more like C5.5).
2006: "Who Killed the Electric Car?", a sort of documentary, criticizes GM for crushing its expensive, leased EV1 electric cars instead of selling them to the public.
2007: Aura moves Saturn, now a division and not a subsidiary, slightly upmarket and into the import-fighting spot that Olds had occupied.
January 7, 2007: GM introduces the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid concept. Later announces production by late 2010.
2008: Buick Enclave launches a renaissance for GM's oldest living division and with Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia, lead a shift away from truck-based SUVs.
2008: Cadillac CTS is Motor Trend's Car of the Year.
July 7, 2008: Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announces that GM may try to sell its Hummer division, as high fuel prices and a poor market drives customers from trucks back to cars. A week later, GM "reorganizes" again, shifting more quickly from trucks to cars and cutting costs as part of an effort to raise $15 billion to make it to 2010.
July 15, 2008: GM's latest reorganization cuts costs by $10 billion and plans to sell assets and borrow more money in order to raise $4 billion to $7 billion by the end. This reorg is a move to placate Wall Street until new, more fuel efficient product and the full effects of the fall '07 UAW contract kick in by late '10/early '11.todd lassa
SOURCES: General Motors archives, Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics and Lawrence R. Gustin's invaluable biography, "Billy Durant, Creator of General Motors" (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1973, re-published 2008). www.press.umich.edu