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The history of the General Motors Corporation

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

History of General Motors Corporation: how it all began

History of General Motors Corporation: how it all began

The history of General Motors Corporation spans a little over 100 years after its owner saw how popular the automobile was becoming at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1908, William ?Billy? Durant, one of the leading manufacturers of horse-drawn vehicles, founded General Motors. It was a time of new ideas and inventions such as the light bulb and the telephone. As a result, the public was ready for a new way to travel and demand grew.

Setting the Standard

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During the teens and the 1920?s, General Motors Corporation opened more than a dozen new plants, setting the standard for automotive design. Up until then, the Ford Model T had been the standard. It was more serviceable than sexy. Headed by Harley Earl who designed the LaSalle, General Motors Corporation?s design studio marked the beginning, according to General Motors Corporation, of true automotive design. Earl retired in 1959.

Changing Attitudes

The 1960?s ushered in a volatile time filled with a variety of concerns. One of these concerns was environmental. Increased foreign competition and higher prices resulted in vehicle downsizing throughout the auto industry. This happened across all of General Motors Corporation?s vehicle lines and began an age of lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. In 1971, General Motors Corporation introduced engines that ran on gasoline that was either unleaded or low-lead, and then in 1974, further reduced emissions by introducing the catalytic converter, the technology of which is still used in the present day. Just one year prior, in 1973, they became the first to offer air bags in cars.

Increase  Competition

More change came in the early ?80?s when Germany and Japan began exporting large numbers of automobiles into the U.S. market. This and skyrocketing fuel prices, sparked a new interest in more fuel-efficient vehicles among American car buyers. With more automobile companies vying for the same customers, the market became diluted and General Motors Corporation?s U.S. dominance began to erode.


This resulted in a series of reorganizations in the company including a major production expansion in 1982 when they opened a new facility in Zaragoza, Spain, with the manufacture of the Opel Corsa as well as the addition of a few more car companies to the General Motors Corporation family. By 1999, the company?s expansion and reorganization resulted in a truly global company.

Efficiency and Innovation

Despite this globalization, various competitors throughout the world continued to lead the automotive industry despite General Motors Corporation?s legacy. They pushed back by continuing to design smaller, more efficient cars in order to compete in foreign markets such as China and Brazil. The result was the creation of GM Daewoo in 2002. This proved to be an important boost to General Motors Corporation?s claim as a global brand. With their introduction of a hydrogen fuel cell cars in 2007, the Chevrolet Volt, as well as flex-fuel vehicles introduced to the market in 2010. Flex-fuel gives cars the ability to run on either gasoline or ethanol, an alcohol-based fuel that reduces the dependence on oil and preserves the environment.

Financial Woes

Sadly, General Motors Corporation claimed bankruptcy in 2009 due to the recession and global credit crisis. It reorganized with the help of a bridge loan from the U.S. Treasury and is now smaller and leaner than the original company. Four brands remain in the U.S.: Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac, and the company continues to grow as a global company with over 70% of its sales from outside the United States.

General Motors Corporation has been at the forefront of automotive technology throughout its long history. From the days of the horse and buggy, General Motors has remained a strong competitor throughout the global automobile market. 


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