General Motors, which celebrates its 100-year anniversary this month, has provided the country and the automotive industry a rich and diverse history. Many achievements and some growing pains have occurred during this industry giant’s life. Here are just a few of these many industry-changing accomplishments. The staff at Underhood Service wishes General Motors another 100 years of success.
General Motors (GM) was formally chartered on Sept. 16, 1908, in Hudson County, NJ.
The company was founded by William (Billy) Durant who was at the time running the Buick Motor Co. A little more than a year after starting GM, Durant boldly combines Buick with early automakers Oldsmobile, Cadillac and the Oakland Motor Car Co.
In 1908, Buick’s production was 8,820, by 1909 that total doubled and in 1910, production rose to 30,525. One of the first acquired companies, Oldsmobile was a leader in development. Its curved dash, 7 hp 1-cyl. Oldsmobile from 1902 got about 50 miles on five quarts of gasoline and could cruise at about 18 mph. By 1911, the Oldsmobile Limited had a whopping 707 cu. in., 60 hp. 6-cyl. engine and could cruise at speeds between 60 and 70 mph.
Cadillac Automobile Company, organized on Aug. 22, 1902, was named to honor the French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.
The Model K, Oakland’s 4-cyl. powered car, gained popularity for its hill-climbing capabilities. In 1909, 491 units were built and a year later, that number “climbed” to 4,639.
In 1909, Durant was fascinated when an inventor named Albert Champion (the “AC” in ACDelco) gave an impromptu demonstration of a new low-cost kind of spark plug with a porcelain base. Durant added Champion’s infant company to the growing General Motors family.
Two truck builders the Rapid Motor Vehicle Co., founded in 1904 in Detroit, and the Reliance Motor Company of Owosso, MI, founded in 1902 consolidated with GM in 1911 to form the General Motors Truck Company.
In 1909, future GM partner Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co., (Delco) was founded in Dayton, OH, by Charles Kettering and Edward A. Deeds following the production of Kettering’s electric ignition system.
Kettering’s electric self-starter was first offered on the 1912 Cadillac and is still widely considered the most important automotive innovation of the 20th century. Kettering went on to become the head of research for General Motors for 27 years from 1920 to 1947.
The 1909 acquisitions seemed too much, and within two years, GM faced bankruptcy, and Durant was ousted as part of a deal in which bankers took control in exchange for bailing out the automaker.
During his departure from GM, Durant began forming an alliance with Louis Chevrolet (Chevrolet Motor Car Co.) in 1911 and helped the manufacturer with its 1915 release of the 490 model, which had electric lights and a self-starter.
In 1914, Cadillac offers the industry’s first V-type, water-cooled 8-cyl. engine. This 314 cu. in. engine produced 70 hp at 2,400 rpm and was made standard on all Cadillac models.
You can’t keep a determined man down. In 1916, Durant surprised the GM board with the announcement that he had accumulated a controlling interest in the automaker once again with the help of Pierre S. du Pont. In 1922, Champion’s division was re-named AC Spark Plug Company and AC quickly became one of the industry’s most recognized aftermarket parts brands.
In 1916, Chevrolet was producing about 62,000 vehicles.
By 1918, Chevrolet joined GM, selling 80,434 cars.
By 1920, GM was offering a line of seven autos.
Called the “Grandfather of the U.S. corporate bureaucracy,” Alfred Sloan becomes GM’s president and CEO in 1923, and remained at the company until 1956.
The first GM assembly operation outside of North America was opened in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Oct. 25, 1923.
GM’s Pontiac Six, named for the chief of the Ottawas, was introduced in January 1926 and by July, 39,000 had been sold.
In 1927, LaSalle, named after French explorer Rene Robert Cavelier de la Salle, was produced by Cadillac and was designed by Harley Earl. In 1941, GM discontinued the LaSalle.
By the end of 1929, Adam Opel A.G. of Germany became associated with GM, and eventually became the largest automobile manufacturer in Europe. The merger between Opel and GM was completed in 1931.
By 1930, Pontiac was outselling its “big brother” Oakland vehicles. In 1932, Oakland production ceased, and the company was named the Pontiac Motor Company.
Fisher Body introduced dual windshield wipers in 1936, enhancing visibility for driver and passenger alike in rain and snow, on all GM vehicles built in the U.S.
GM introduced the industry’s first fully automatic transmission, called Hydra-Matic, on the 1940 Oldsmobile. Like many prior GM innovations, it was soon adopted by the entire industry.
General Motors made “sealed beam” headlamps standard on its 1940 model year models. The sealed unit extended the headlamps’ life and ensured consistency in the beam throughout the bulb’s life.
In 1943, the truck division was renamed GMC Truck & Coach Division when GM finalized the purchase of the Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Co.
GM staged its first Motorama annual touring auto show in 1953 at New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria hotel. General Motors’ first power brakes were offered on the 1954 model year Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Buick product lines.
In 1954, Chevrolet introduced its famous, powerful and durable small-block V8 engine on its 1955 model year cars and trucks.
GM first introduced cruise control in 1958, allowing the driver to set the vehicle’s speed at a constant rate on the 1959 model year Cadillac lineup.
1963 the “muscle” car is born, as a big-block V8 engine is fused with a midsize LeMans model. The 1964 Pontiac GTO set a new standard for street power and soon gave birth to an entire new market segment. In 1979, the initial application of digital electronic twin-bore throttle body fuel injection (EFI, also called TBI) was introduced on the Cadillac Seville, replacing the carburetor.
In 1980, GM offered the first application of a microprocessor programmed closed-loop air/fuel managed engine control on a Cadillac V8 engine.
In 1996, GM introduced the EV1 the first modern production electric vehicle from a major automaker. It was available as a lease in California and Arizona. In 1999, the EV1 is discontinued and by 2003, all 2,200 EV1 vehicles are removed from the roads by GM after the company said the units were not profitable. In January 2007, GM introduced the concept version of the electric Volt which will be able to travel up to 40 miles on electric power. A gas engine powers a generator to recharge the battery and keep the vehicle running when its lithium-ion battery pack is low on power. In August, GM reported that 33,411 people had signed up to show their intent to buy a Volt when the rechargeable car is released in 2010.
In 2007, nearly 9.37 million GM cars and trucks were sold globally under the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, HUMMER, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Vauxhall and Wuling On August 16, more than 100 GM classic and iconic vehicles traveled in parade formation up Woodward Avenue during the GM Century Cruise, part of the 14th annual Woodward Dream Cruise.
Source: General Motors
Edward Sunkin has been the editor of Underhood Service since April of 1999. He has been a member of the Babcox family of automotive aftermarket publications beginning in December 1994, when he joined the jobber/parts specialist magazine Counterman as an associate editor. Sunkin also spent three years as managing editor Engine Builder, learning about the engine and small parts rebuilding and remanufacturing industry.
Besides Underhood Service, Sunkin also serves as the editor of Tomorrow’s Technician, an automotive-related trade magazine delivered to more than 50,000 students enrolled in NATEF-affiliated schools.