Category Archives: General Motors

The Legendary Cadillac, a Classic American Icon – One of our Favorite Vehicles

HOW CADILLAC BECAME “THE STANDARD OF THE WORLD”

 In the photograph above, Henry Leland is pictured standing on the left while Charles Kettering stands beside him on his right.“Founded more than 100 years ago in Detroit, Cadillac has stood for uncompromising performance, daring design and groundbreaking technology. From developing the world’s first electric self-starting engine and pioneering the integration of computer technology into vehicles, to being the first to offer drivers a color other than black and creating the fastest family of production cars with the CTS-V Series, it’s all a part of our history. Learn more about this iconic American brand and how it has shaped—and continues to define—the automotive industry.

 Henry Leland, the man who introduced the Cadillac to the world, (after Henry Ford began it’s work),  is pictured on the left, while Charles Kettering is on the right. The connection with Ford to the Cadillac is kept fairly murky in the company’s history, as Ford later became GM’s biggest competitor.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Side Notes:  How the Battery Ignition was Born

Resource:  Genesis2Scale.com (2015) Retrieved 1/30/2015 http://www.genesis2scale.com/__museum/_gm/_1910/_1913cadillac/1913cadillacmain.htm

“Electrical genius Charles F Kettering worked at National Cash Register (NCR), but tinkered in his barn in his spare time. In his 1909 tinkering, Kettering devised an ignition system for an automobile superior to the ones used at that time. Kettering experimented on a Cadillac automobile, a matter of luck for GM. Automobiles at that time typically used two types of ignition system, battery and magneto, drivers switching from one to the other. Dry cell battery ignition was used at low speeds while magneto ignition used at high speeds, each had its issues otherwise. Kettering devised a holding coil to produce one “fat” spark from the battery ignition. This improved performance at high speed and extended battery life ten times, a great improvement over the limiting 200 miles expected battery life. Kettering then approached Cadillac and in July 1909 Cadillac placed an order for 8,000 ignition sets for the 1910 Cadillac. Kettering remained at NCR, but formed a side business Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO)

In the summer of 1910, a dear friend of Henry Leland’s, automobile producer Byron T Carter, attempted to aid a woman with a stalled engine, a common occurrence. The spark lever was not set to retard and the crank kicked back and broke Carter’s jaw, a hand cranking injury also not too uncommon. Carter later died from pneumonia as a complication from the incident. Shortly afterwards, Kettering approached a grieving Henry Leland suggesting he could develop a self-starter. Leland responded “I’m sorry I ever built an automobile.” “I won’t have Cadillacs hurting people that way.” A practical self-starter was not a new idea. Even RE Olds stated the 1800s Olds Trap included an electric push button starter. Various mechanical and electrical starters were in use, but they were bulky and inefficient. Kettering developed a small, powerful, short-pulsed electric motor with an electrical system which operated at 24 volts in the starting position, then switched to 6 volts running. The starter operated with a small storage battery and outfitted with a generator to keep the battery recharged. With a storage battery and generator on the vehicle, it seemed logical to include electric lights, eliminating the need to refill the acetylene canister and the nuisance of exiting the car to match light the headlights which rain or wind could put out. The electrical system was declared ready on February 27, 1911. The system would first appear in the 1912 Cadillac Model 30. The self starter is one of the most important technological advances of the automobile. It became especially popular with women. The sale of electric automobiles peaked in 1912, the decline influenced by the Kettering self starter.”

 


 

 

1903 Cadillac1900s – Pioneering Interchangeable Parts

In 1902, Henry Leland, a master mechanic and entrepreneur boldly founds Cadillac, naming the new company after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit.  In fact, the Cadillac family’s historic coat of arms serves as the inspiration for the company’s Crest.  Six short years after its inception, Cadillac lays the foundation for modern mass production of automobiles by demonstrating the complete interchangeability of its precision parts.  As a result, Cadillac is the first American car to win the prestigious Dewar Trophy from the Royal Automobile Club of England.  Consequently-and-appropriately-Cadillac adopts the slogan “Standard of the World”

 

 

 

Cadillac-Ad-for-First-Electric-Starter-Motor-e1330374083213

 

1910s – Introducing the Electric Self-Starter.

With its Model Thirty, Cadillac debuts “the car with no crank” – the first production car to feature an electric self-starter, ignition and lighting.  Not only does this open up the driving experience to women, it also brings the Dewar trophy back to Detroit, making Cadillac the only car manufacturer to claim the distinction twice.  In 1915, Cadillac introduces the first mass-produced car with a V-Type, water-cooled, eight cylinder (V8) egine which goes on to become a signature of the Cadillac brand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1923 Cadiac

 

 

1920s – Elevating Style and Customization

The Roaring Twenties mark a new phase in the relationship between art and design.  In 1925, Cadillac pioneers the use of lacquer pain and, in 1926, offers customers more than 500 color combinations to choose from at a time when competitors offer dark and drab colors.  Then in 1926, the company recruits Harley Earl to design the 1927 LaSalle convertible coupe, making it the first American car designed by a stylist instead of an engineer.  The result is elegant, flowing lines, chrome-plated fixtures, and an overarching design philosophy that ensures that, by the end of the decade, the name Cadillac is synonymous with beauty and luxury.

 

 

 

cadillac1930s

 

1930s – Making History with the V16

In the height of the Depression, an undaunted Cadillac raises the bar yet again with the world’s first V-type 16-cylinde engine in a passenger car, which becomes on of the first iconic vehicles in Cadillac history.  In the words of a review of the time, the V16 was “so smooth and quiet throughout its range as to make it seem incredible that the car is actually being propelled by exploding gases.” A V-12 version follows, providing an alternative between the signature V8 and the V-16.  By mid-decade Cadillac is manufacturing some 68 body styles.  In 1937, a Cadillac-built V8 proves its worth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, breaking all previous stock car records.

 

 

 

1940_Cadillac_901940s- Introducing the Cadillac Signature Tail Fins

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Cadillac discontinues car production and devotes its resources to the war effort.  V8 engines, transmissions and power units are successfully used in M5 light tanks and M8 Howitzer Motor Carriages, helping the company live up to its slogan “Famous in Peace-Distinguished in Battle!”  After the war, Cadillac designer Harley Earl changes the profile of the American automobile once again, this time with the introduction of the tail fin.  Modeled after the Lockheed P-38 “Lightning” fighter plane, the tail fin is destined to become a integral part of American automobile styling for almost 20 years.  Now an industry staple, the first-ever Car of the Year award is presented to Cadillac in 1949, reaffirming the company’s impact on the automotive industry.

 

 

1950's Cadillac

1950s-Making Power Steering the New Standard

Cadillac embraces the post-war boom with open arms in 1950 and 1951 – car production exceeds 100,000 vehicles a year, nearly double that of prewar years.  As an added bonus, V8-powered Cadillacs finish third, tenth and eleventh at the 224 hours of Le Mans, one of the most grueling races in the world.  Setting the course for the rest of the decade, Cadillac becomes the first manufacturer to provide standard power steering on its entire fleet of automobiles.  The company follows this up with a string of safety innovations, including an “autotronic eye” which dims headlamps automatically.  With the Eldorado Convertible tail fins reach their highest expression.  By the end of the decade, they have secured their place as ne of the definitive icons of the fifties.

1960s – Unveiling Innovations in Performance and Comfort

Cadillac continues to make technological and stylistic strides in the sixties.  Self-adjusting brakes are adopted at the beginning of the decade.  The Wreathed Crest probably the most recognized Cadillac emblem of all, is reintroduced on the 1963 Eldorado.  In 1963, Cadillac made front seat belts available, which were made standard by law the following year.  Then , in 1964, introduces automatically-controlled headlamps and redefines luxury with Comfort Control, the industry’s first thermostatically regulated heating, venting, and air-conditioning system.  Over the next few years, variable-ratio power steering, electric seat warmers, and stereo radio are introduced in rapid succession.  In 1965, an American era comes to an end when tail fins are discontinued.

1974 Cadillac

1970s- Debuting Electronically Fuel-Injected Engines

Cadillac inaugurates the seventies by unveiling the  400 HP, 8 2L engine Eldorado.  Its completely redesigned axle boasts the highest torque capacity of any passenger car available at the time.  In 1974, the company pioneers the use of air cushion restraints (air bags) for passenger safety and catalytic converters to lower emissions. Then in 1975, Cadillac becomes the first car manufacturer to provide electronically fuel-injected engines in U.S. production cars.  And in 1978, the Seville ushers in the era of the computerized automobile with an onboard microprocessor in its digital display.

 

 

 

1980

1980s- Bringing Computer Technology to Vehicles

Cadillac faces the dynamism of the eighties head-on with the dramatic Seville Elegante. A modern interpretation of the classic car designs of the thirties and forties, its sleek, sports car physique and distinctive “bustle-back” style are widely imitated throughout  the industry.  On the innovation front, Cadillac becomes the first car manufacturer to use integrated microprocessors to control ignition, fuel injection and vehicle diagnostics.

Reference:  Cadillac.com (2015).  Cadillac Heritage and History.  Retrieved January 30, 2015 from http://www.cadillac.com/experience/history-heritage.html

 

GM Cars of the Future: Firebird

The General Motors Firebird is a trio of prototype cars designed by Harley Earl, and engineered by General Motors for the 1953, 1956 and 1959 Motorama auto shows. They were very much inspired by innovations in fighter aircraft design at the time. None of the designs were intended for production, but instead were to showcase the extremes in technology and design that General Motors was able to achieve. The cars were recently placed on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and still make regular car show appearances.

The name “Firebird” was also used by the Pontiac division of General Motors for the line of pony cars, which has no direct relation to the concept cars.

 

Firebirds

Two of the three GM firebird concept cars, 1956 and 1959

 

 

General Motors had done research on feasibility of gas turbine engines in cars as early as the 1930s. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that they began building an actual engine, with Emmett Conklin leading the project. The top speed of all 4 of them are 200 MPH.

General Motors Firebird 1

Firebird I
By 1953, the research team had produced the Firebird XP-21, later referred to as the Firebird I, which was essentially a jet airplane on wheels. It was the first gas turbine powered car tested in the United States. The design is entirely impractical, with a bubble topped canopy over a single seat cockpit, a bullet shaped fuselage made entirely of fiberglass, short wings, and a vertical tail fin.[2] It has a 370 hp (280 kW) Whirlfire Turbo Power gas turbine engine, which has two speeds, and expels jet exhaust at some 1,250 °F (677 °C). The entire weight of the car is 2,500 lb (1,134 kg) and had a 100 inch wheelbase.

At first, Conklin was the only person qualified to drive it, and he tested it up to 100 mph (160 km/h), but upon shifting into second gear the tires lost traction under the extreme engine torque and he immediately slowed down for fear of crashing. The car was later test driven at the Indianapolis Speedway by race car driver Mauri Rose. The car was never actually intended to test the power or speed potential of the gas turbine, but merely the practical feasibility of its use. The braking system differs from standard drum systems, in that the drums are on the outside of the wheels to facilitate fast cooling, and the wings actually have aircraft style flaps for slowing from high speed.

 

General Motors Firebird II

A miniature version of the Firebird I crowns the Harley J. Earl Trophy, given to the winner of the Daytona 500.

 

Firebird II
The second concept car, the Firebird II in 1956, was a more practical design: a four-seat, family car. It is a low and wide design with two large air intakes at the front, a high bubble canopy top, and a vertical tail fin. Its exterior bodywork was made entirely of titanium (which turned out to be hard to make).[4] The engine output was 200 hp (150 kW), and to solve the exhaust heat problem it was fed through a regenerative system,[4] which allowed the entire engine to operate at nearly 1,000 °F (538 °C) cooler, and also power the accessories. Kerosene was the most common fuel used.[4] Another innovation on the car was the first use of four wheel disc brakes, with a fully independent suspension, as well as a sophisticated guidance system which was intended to be used with “the highway of the future”, where an electrical wire would be embedded into a roadway to send signals that would help guide future cars[5] and avoid accidents.

Specifications

Wheelbase = 120 in (3,048 mm) [6]
Length = 234.7 in (5,961 mm) [6]
Ground clearance = 5.5 in (140 mm)

Firebird III

Firebird III

Firebird III on display at the Century 21 Exposition, Seattle, 1962.
The third design, the Firebird III, was built in 1958 and first shown at Motorama in 1959. It is another extravagant concept with titanium skin, and no fewer than seven short wings and tail fins that were tested extensively in a wind tunnel. It is a two-seater powered by a 225 hp (168 kW) Whirlfire GT-305 gas turbine engine, and a two cylinder 10 hp (7.5 kW) gasoline engine to run all the accessories. Its exterior design features a double bubble canopy, and more technical advancements to make it more practical, such as cruise control, anti-lock brakes, and air conditioning. It also featured “space-age” innovations, such as special air drag brakes, like those found on aircraft, which emerged from flat panels in the bodywork of the car to slow it from high speeds, an “ultra-sonic” key which signaled the doors to open, and an automated guidance system to avoid accidents and “no hold” steering. The steering was controlled by a joystick positioned between the two seats. This gave the car a more futuristic feel and simulated the experience of flying a plane.

Specifications

Wheelbase = 119 in (3,023 mm) [8]
Length = 248.2 in (6,304 mm)
Height = 44.8 in (1,138 mm) (canopy top)[8]
Ground clearance = 5.3 in (135 mm)

 

Firebird IV Ext. 6
Firebird IV (XP-790)
The Firebird IV debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, it was displayed in three variants Firebird IV Runabout and Stiletto.

The Firebird IV, another sleek, turbine-powered car with strong aircraft styling cues.

The Runabout 3-wheeled concept car by GM is the “Runabout”. The vehicle had a front wheel that could turn 180 degrees to allow parking in the tightest of spots and the rear end of the car contained two detachable shopping trolleys with wheels that would fold away when the trolley was parked in the vehicle. The Runabout had space for 2 adults in the front and 3 children in the rear.

The GM-X Stiletto was an advanced, high-performance car with styling strongly influenced by aerospace design. It featured aircraft-type steering, a maintenance monitoring system with toggle switch controls, and a three-way speaker system for inside/outside communications.[10] In 1969 the GM-X Stiletto got a nose job, some new paint and was renamed as the Pontiac Cirrus.

These vehicles were first presented at the General Motors Futurama Exhibit in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair.

Motorama theme (1956)

The 1956 motorama movie projected a future contrasted with the present; in the present (1956), a nuclear family of hot and perspiring convertible occupants are attempting to travel to the beach – but they are stuck, immobile, in an insufferable freeway traffic jam. In a flashforward to the future, they are cruising at high speed in air conditioned comfort along an automated freeway (with no other vehicles to be seen) in their turbine-powered Firebird. The concept (now over fifty years old) was that this future was not unreasonably remote, and would be provided by General Motors, yet is consistent with current projections (2008) for future automotive travel using electronic vehicle control and improved highway infrastructure.

Reference


Wikipedia. General Motors Firebird. (2014)  Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_Firebird

 

Transitioning soldiers equipped to become GM automotive technicians

 

  • Unique training provided on-base at Fort Hood; next class underway
  • 12-week course includes classroom, online and hands-on training
  • Participants also receive career counseling, job placement services

FORT HOOD, Texas — The U.S. Army, General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) hosted a graduation ceremony Tuesday for the first Shifting Gears: Automotive Technician Training Program class.

 

General Motors: Shifting Gears Program

 

Created from a multi-year partnership between the two companies and the Army, the 12-week, on-base program empowers transitioning soldiers with the skills required to secure careers as service technicians nationwide at GM dealerships nationwide.

Twenty-three soldiers received their certification as GM technicians during the ceremony. Shifting Gears equips soldiers with technical expertise and experiential training, building on core Army disciplines to provide students with invaluable self-management and problem-solving skills.

Shifting Gears is part of the Army’s Soldier for Life support program, helping soldiers reintegrate into their communities after leaving the Army. Upon successful course completion and program graduation, veterans receive career counseling, job-placement recommendations and employment assistance from Army Soldier for Life centers, and access to available GM technician employment opportunities through GM’s authorized dealer network.

“GM has supported our nation’s military for more than 100 years. Along with our thousands of employees who have served in the military, we’re eager to provide opportunity and advocate for these transitioning soldiers,” said GM Global Chief Diversity Officer Ken Barrett. “They offer such skill, ability and experience – and they’re going to be valued employees for our dealer partners.”

About General Motors

General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world’s largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM, its subsidiaries and joint venture entities sell vehicles under the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling brands. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at http://www.gm.com

About GM Military Support

With thousands of military veteran employees, General Motors’ support for the United States armed forces spans generations. Today, Chevrolet assists Cell Phones for Soldiers, Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, a variety of employment and grassroots initiatives, and is the Official Vehicle of the Army-Navy game. The GM Military Discount program offers discounts on most Chevrolet, Buick and GMC vehicles for active duty, reserves, retirees, veterans (within one year of separation) and spouses of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and National Guard. GM proudly participates in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative aimed at finding meaningful employment for veterans transitioning to civilian life.


Resource:  

General Motors News. (2014)  First ‘Shifting Gears’ Technician Training Class Graduates: Transitioning soldiers equipped to become GM automotive technicians.  Retrieved 11/4/2014 from: http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2014/Oct/1028-shifting-gears.html

General Motors History & Film Clips

History of General Motors

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia*


220px-Detroit_Renaissance-Center

The Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, is the world headquarters of General Motors.

The history of General Motors (GM), one of the world’s largest car and truck manufacturers, reaches back more than a century and involves a vast scope of industrial activity around the world, mostly focused on motorized transportation and the engineering and manufacturing that make it possible. Founded in 1908 as a Holding Company for McLaughlin and Buick Stocks and allied in 1919, in Flint, Michigan, as of 2012 it employs approximately 202,000 people around the world. With global headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, United States, GM manufactures its cars and trucks in 35 countries.

In 2008, 8.35 million GM cars and trucks were sold globally under various brands. The GM automotive brands today are Vauxhall, Daewoo, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet (including the Corvette—nominally a Chevrolet Division product), GMC, Holden, Opel, and Wuling. Former GM automotive brands include McLaughlin, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Hummer, Saab, and Saturn.

In addition to these brands selling assembled vehicles, GM also has had various automotive-component and non-automotive brands, many of which it divested in the 1980s through 2000s. These have included Euclid and Terex (earthmoving/construction/mining equipment & vehicles); Electro-Motive Diesel (locomotive, marine, and industrial diesel engines); Detroit Diesel (automotive and industrial diesel engines); Allison (transmissions, gas turbine engines); Frigidaire (refrigeration and air conditioning); New Departure (bearings); Delco Electronics and ACDelco (electrical and electronic components); GMAC (finance); General Aviation and North American Aviation (airplanes); GM Defense (military vehicles) and Electronic Data Systems (information technology). In short, there are few, if any, industrial sectors or categories in which GM did not play a major role in the Twentieth century, worldwide.

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GM’s headquarters from 1923 until 1996, a National Historic Landmark, is now Cadillac Place state office building.

General Motors was founded by William C. Durant on September 16, 1908 as a holding company after a 15 year contract with the McLaughlin’s of Canada. Initially, GM held only the Buick Motor Company, but it rapidly acquired more than twenty companies including Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Oakland, now known as Pontiac. Durant signed a 15-year contract in Canada with the exchange of 500,000 shares of Buick stock for 500,000 shares of McLaughlin Stock. Dr. Campbell, Durant’s son-in-law, put 1,000,000 shares on the stock market in Chicago Buick (then controlled by Durant).

Durant’s company, the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, had been in business in Flint since 1886, and by 1900, was producing over 100,000 carriages a year in factories located in Michigan and Canada. Prior to his acquisition of Buick, Durant had several Ford dealerships. With springs, axles and other key components being provided to the early automotive industry by Durant-Dort, it can be reasoned that GM actually began with the founding of Durant-Dort.

Durant acquired Oldsmobile later in 1908. The next year, he brought in Cadillac, Cartercar, Elmore, Ewing, and Oakland (later known as Pontiac). In 1909, General Motors also acquired the Reliance Motor Truck Company of Owosso, Michigan, and the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company of Pontiac, Michigan, the predecessors of GMC Truck. A Rapid became the first truck to conquer Pikes Peak in 1909. In 1910, Welch and Rainier were added to the ever-growing list of companies controlled by GM. Durant lost control of GM in 1910 to a bankers trust as the deal to buy Ford for $8,000,000.00 fell through, due to the large amount of debt (around $1 million) taken on in its acquisitions R S McLaughlin Director and friend left at the same time.

Durant left the firm and co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Company in 1911 with Louis Chevrolet. R S McLaughlin in 1915 built Chevrolet in Canada and after a stock buy back campaign with the McLaughlin and DuPont corporations, and other Chevrolet stock holders, he returned to head GM in 1916,as Chevrolet owned 54.5% with the backing of Pierre S. du Pont. On October 13 of the same year, GM Company incorporated as General Motors Corporation after McLaughlin merged his companies and sold his Chevrolet stock to allow the incorporation, which in turn followed the incorporation of General Motors of Canada(reverting to General Motors Company upon emergence from bankruptcy in 2009 that left General Motors of Canada Limited as a privately owned Canadian Company). Chevrolet entered the General Motors fold in 1918 as it became part of the Corporation with R S McLaughlin as Director and Vice-President of the Corporation ; its first GM car was 1918’s Chevrolet 490. Du Pont removed Durant from management in 1920, and various Du Pont interests held large or controlling share holdings until about 1950.

In 1918 GM acquired the Chevrolet stock from McLaughlin Motor Car Company of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, manufacturer of the McLaughlin automobile since 1907 (later to be renamed McLaughlin-Buick) as well as Canadian versions of Chevrolet cars since 1915. The company was renamed General Motors of Canada Ltd., with R.S. “Colonel Sam” McLaughlin as its first president and his brother George as vice-president allied with the Corporation 1919. Superior Court of Ontario Canada documents show the Corporation as indirect parent of General Motors of Canada Limited. General Motors of Canada is a 100% owned Canadian Company.

GM’s headquarters were located in Flint until the mid-1920s when it was moved to Detroit. Its building, originally to be called the Durant Building, was designed and began construction in 1919 when Durant was president, was completed in 1923. Alfred P. Sloan became president that year, and the building was officially dedicated as the General Motors Building in 1929. GM maintained this headquarters location, now called Cadillac Place, until it purchased the Renaissance Center in 1996. The Buick Division headquarters remained in Flint until 1998 when it was relocated to the Renaissance Center.

In 1925, GM bought Vauxhall of England, and then in 1929 went on to acquire an 80% stake in German automobile manufacturer Opel. Two years later this was increased to 100%. In 1931, GM acquired Holden of Australia.

In 1926, GM created the Pontiac as a “companion” to the Oakland brand, an arrangement that lasted five years. The companion outsold its parent during that period, by so much that the Oakland brand was terminated and the division was renamed Pontiac.

General Motors acquired control of the ‘Hertz Drive-Ur-Self System’ (now better known as The Hertz Corporation), the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company together with its subsidiaries, Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company in 1926 from John D. Hertz who joined the main board (John Hertz purchased the car rental business back from GM in 1953 and took it public the following year). GM also acquired the Yellow Coach bus company, and helped create Greyhound bus lines.

During this period (and into the 30s), Sloan and his team established the practice of targeting each of GM’s automotive divisions to a specific demographically and socio-economically identifiable market segment. Despite some shared components, each marque distinguished itself from its stable mates with unique styling and technology. The shared components and common corporate management created substantial economies of scale, while the distinctions between the divisions created (in the words of GM President Sloan) a “ladder of success”, with an entry-level buyer starting out at the bottom with the “basic transportation” Chevrolet, then rising through Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and ultimately to Cadillac.

While Ford continued to refine the manufacturing process to reduce cost, Sloan was inventing new ways of managing a complex worldwide organization, while paying special attention to consumer demands. Car buyers no longer wanted the cheapest and most basic model; they wanted style, power, and prestige, which GM offered them. Sloan did not neglect cost, by any means; when it was proposed Chevrolet should introduce safety glass, he opposed it because it threatened profits. Thanks to consumer financing via GMAC (founded 1919), easy monthly payments allowed far more people to buy GM cars than Ford, as Henry Ford was opposed to credit on moral principles. (Nevertheless, Ford did offer similar credit arrangements with the introduction of the Model A in the late 1920s but Ford Credit did not exist until 1959.)

GM surpassed Ford Motor Company in sales in the late 1920s.

The 1930s

In 1930, GM also began its foray into aircraft design and manufacturing by buying Fokker Aircraft Corp of America (U.S. subsidiary of Fokker) and Berliner-Joyce Aircraft, merging them into General Aviation Manufacturing Corporation. Through a stock exchange GM took controlling interest in North American Aviation and merged it with its General Aviation division in 1933, but retaining the name North American Aviation. In 1948, GM divested NAA as a public company, never to have a major interest in the aircraft manufacturing industry again.

General Motors bought the internal combustion engined railcar builder Electro-Motive Corporation and its engine supplier Winton Engine in 1930, renaming both as the General Motors Electro-Motive Division. Over the next twenty years, diesel-powered locomotives — the majority built by GM — largely replaced other forms of traction on American railroads. (During World War II, these engines were also important in American submarines and destroyer escorts.) Electro-Motive was sold in early 2005.

In 1932, GM formed a new subsidiary — United Cities Motor Transport (UCMT) — to finance the conversion of streetcar systems to buses in small cities. From 1936 the company was involved in an unpublicized project, with others, in what became known as the General Motors streetcar conspiracy to buy out streetcar and intercity train transport operators using subsidiary companies, and convert their operations to use buses.

In 1935, the United Auto Workers labor union was formed, and in 1936 the UAW organized the Flint Sit-Down Strike, which initially idled two key plants in Flint, but later spread to half-a-dozen other plants including Janesville, Wisconsin and Fort Wayne, Indiana. In Flint, police attempted to enter the plant to arrest strikers, leading to violence; in other cities the plants were shuttered peacefully. The strike was resolved February 11, 1937, when GM recognized the UAW as the exclusive bargaining representative for its workers.

World War II

General Motors produced vast quantities of armaments, vehicles, and aircraft for the Allied war effort during World War II. Its multinational interests were split up by the combating powers during the war such that the American, Canadian and British parts of the corporation served the Allied war effort and Adam Opel AG served the Axis war effort. By the spring of 1939, the German Government had assumed day-to-day control of American owned factories in Germany, but decided against nationalizing them completely (seizing the assets and capital). Soon after the war broke out, the nationalization came.

General Motors ranked first among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts. GM’s William S. Knudsen served as head of U.S. wartime production for President Franklin Roosevelt. The General Motors UK division, Vauxhall Motors, manufactured the Churchill tank series for the Allies. The Vauxhall Churchill tanks were instrumental in the UK campaigns in North Africa. Bedford Vehicles and GM of Canada, CMP manufactured logistics vehicles for the UK military, all important in the UK’s land campaigns. In addition, GM was the top manufacturer of U.S. Army 1½ ton 4×4 vehicles.

By mainstream accounts, General Motors’ German subsidiary (Adam Opel AG) was outside the control of the American parent corporation during World War II. Some conspiracy theorists posit that this was a hoax, with the American GM as a secret war profiteer on both sides, but Alfred Sloan’s memoir, for example, presents a description of lost control that is much more Occam-compliant than the fringe alternatives. However, even without any such conspiracy, GM found criticism for its tax avoidance around the Opel topic. During the war, GM declared it had abandoned its German subsidiary, and took a complete tax write-off worth “approximately $22.7 million”, yet after the war, GM collected some $33 million in “war reparations” because the Allies had bombed its German facilities.

General_Motors_Corporations_Specimen_Stock_Certificate

General Motors Corporations Specimen Stock Certificate

Post-war growth
At one point GM had become the largest corporation registered in the United States, in terms of its revenues as a percent of GDP. In 1953, Charles Erwin Wilson, then GM president, was named by Eisenhower as Secretary of Defense. When he was asked during the hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee if as secretary of defense he could make a decision adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively but added that he could not conceive of such a situation “because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa”. Later this statement was often misquoted, suggesting that Wilson had said simply, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

At the time, GM was one of the largest employers in the world – only Soviet state industries employed more people. In 1955, General Motors became the first American corporation to pay taxes of over $1 billion.

1958–1980

By 1958, the divisional distinctions within GM began to blur with the availability of high-performance engines in Chevrolets and Pontiacs. The introduction of higher trim models such as the Chevrolet Impala and Pontiac Bonneville priced in line with some Oldsmobile and Buick offerings was also confusing to consumers. By the time Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick introduced similarly styled and priced compact models in 1961, the old “step-up” structure between the divisions was nearly over.

1969_GTO_Judge

A classic General Motors muscle car, the 1969 Pontiac GTO

The decade of the 1960s saw the creation of compact and intermediate classes. The Chevrolet Corvair was a flat 6-cylinder (air cooled) answer to the Volkswagen Beetle, the Chevy II was created to match Ford’s conventional Falcon, after sales of the Corvair failed to match its Ford rival, and the Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird was GM’s countermeasure to the Ford Mustang. Among intermediates, the Oldsmobile Cutlass nameplate became so popular during the 1970s that Oldsmobile applied the Cutlass name to most of its products in the 1980s. By the mid-1960s, most of GM’s vehicles were built on a few common platforms and in the 1970s GM began to further unify body panel stampings.

The 1971 Chevrolet Vega was GM’s launch into the new subcompact class to compete against the import’s increasing market share. Problems associated with its innovative aluminum engine led to the model’s discontinuation after seven model years in 1977. During the late 1970s, GM would initiate a wave of downsizing starting with the Chevrolet Caprice which was reborn into what was the size of the Chevrolet Chevelle, the Malibu would be the size of the Nova, and the Nova was replaced by the troubled front-wheel drive Chevrolet Citation. In 1976, Chevrolet came out with the rear-wheel drive sub compact Chevette.

While GM maintained its world leadership in revenue and market share throughout the 1960s to 1980s, it was product controversy that plagued the company in this period. It seemed that, in every decade, a major mass-production product line was launched with defects of one type or another showing up early in their life cycle. And, in each case, improvements were eventually made to mitigate the problems, but the resulting improved product ended up failing in the marketplace as its negative reputation overshadowed its ultimate excellence.

The first of these fiascos was the Chevrolet Corvair in the 1960s. Introduced in 1959 as a 1960 model, it was initially very popular. But before long its quirky handling earned it a reputation for being unsafe, inspiring consumer advocate Ralph Nader to lambaste it in his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, published in 1965. Ironically, by the same (1965) model year, suspension revisions and other improvements had already transformed the car into a perfectly acceptable vehicle, but its reputation had been sufficiently sullied in the public’s perception that its sales sagged for the next few years, and it was discontinued after the 1969 model year. During this period, it was also somewhat overwhelmed by the success of the Ford Mustang.

The 1970s was the decade of the Vega. Launched as a 1971 model, it also began life as a very popular car in the marketplace. But within a few years, quality problems, exacerbated by labor unrest at its main production source in Lordstown, Ohio, gave the car a bad name. By 1977 its decline resulted in termination of the model name, while its siblings along with a Monza version and a move of production to Ste-Thérèse, Quebec, resulted in a thoroughly desirable vehicle and extended its life to the 1980 model year.

Oldsmobile sales soared in the 1970s and 1980s (for an all-time high of 1,066,122 in 1985) based on popular designs, positive reviews from critics and the perceived quality and reliability of the Rocket V8 engine, with the Cutlass series becoming North America’s top selling car by 1976. By this time, Olds had displaced Pontiac and Plymouth as the #3 best selling brand in the U.S. behind Chevrolet and Ford. In the early 1980s, model-year production topped one million units on several occasions, something only Chevrolet and Ford had achieved. The soaring popularity of Oldsmobile vehicles resulted in a major issue in 1977, as demand exceeded production capacity for the Oldsmobile V8, and as a result Oldsmobile quietly began equipping some full size Delta 88 models and the very popular Cutlass/Cutlass Supreme with the Chevrolet 350 engine instead (each division of GM produced its own 350 V8 engine). Many customers were loyal Oldsmobile buyers who specifically wanted the Rocket V8, and did not discover that their vehicle had the Chevrolet engine until they performed maintenance and discovered that purchased parts did not fit. This led to a class-action lawsuit which became a public relations nightmare for GM. Following this debacle, disclaimers stating that “Oldsmobiles are equipped with engines produced by various GM divisions” were tacked onto advertisements and sales literature; all other GM divisions followed suit. In addition, GM quickly stopped associating engines with particular divisions, and to this day all GM engines are produced by “GM Powertrain” (GMPT) and are called GM “Corporate” engines instead of GM “Division” engines. Although it was the popularity of the Oldsmobile division vehicles that prompted this change, declining sales of V8 engines would have made this change inevitable as all but the Chevrolet (and, later, Cadillac’s Northstar) versions were eventually dropped.

In the 1980 model year, a full line of automobiles on the X-body platform, anchored by the Chevrolet Citation, was launched. Again, these cars were all quite popular in their respective segments for the first couple of years, but brake problems, and other defects, ended up giving them, known to the public as “X-Cars”, such a bad reputation that the 1985 model year was their last. The J-body cars, namely the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunbird, took their place, starting with the 1982 model year. Quality was better, but still not exemplary, although good enough to survive through three generations to the 2005 model year. They were produced in a much-improved Lordstown Assembly plant, as were their replacements, the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac Pursuit/G5.


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