A Brief History
On November 3, 1911, one of the most iconic American companies was founded when Louis Chevrolet teamed up with former General Motors William Durant to form the Chevrolet Motor Car Company. Chevrolet went on to become the bedrock division of General Motors (GM) and has rivaled or even supplanted the Ford Motor Company as the most identifiably American car company.
Louis Chevrolet, the man who’s name the company has borne for over 100 years, was a Swiss race car driver, mechanic, and engineer that emigrated to Montreal, Canada, in 1900 at the age of 22. He moved to the USA in 1901 and continued his race driving career, including for the Buick team, where he met and worked with William Durant, a founder of General Motors. While working for Buick, Chevrolet learned about car design, and engineered his first engine for Buick. In 1911, he went off on his own with the now fired William Durant having been cast out by GM.to found Chevrolet in Detroit, Michigan. The famous Chevrolet emblem now referred to as the “Bowtie” may have been based on a modified version of the Swiss Cross, with an alternate explanation being co-founder Durant saw a similar design on wallpaper and adapted it for his company.
By 1915, differences between Chevrolet and Durant resulted in Chevrolet selling his share of the company to Durant. Chevrolet went on to form McLaughlin’s Company, building Chevys in Canada. Durant then bought the stock in McLaughlin’s to complete his ownership of the Chevrolet brand, which became the largest selling division of GM. Durant, meanwhile, leveraged his ownership of Chevrolet into a merger with General Motors in which Durant ended up back on top of GM, owning a controlling interest in that company. Chevrolet and his brothers then formed Fronentac Motor Corporation to manufacture racing parts for Ford Model T cars. Chevrolet went on to a career in the motor and car business with a variety of companies, never achieving the level of success that he had with his original company.
With Chevrolet cars now firmly entrenched as a GM brand, William Durant was once again ousted as head of GM in 1919, replaced by Albert Sloan who decided the Chevy would be the volume and value leader of the GM brands. By 1929 Chevrolet had become the largest selling car brand in the United States, passing Ford. Ever since that momentous sales year of 1929, Chevrolet has been either the top selling or near the top selling brand of automobile in the United States, and became a brand closely associated with the image of the United States.
Famous for its “Blue Flame 6” 6-cylinder engines while Ford developed and mass produced V-8 motors, Chevy of course also saw the marketing need for the V-8 style engine and has produced many iconic versions of the V-8, notably the “Small Block” Chevy V-8. Chevrolet embraced racing and is prominent in racing sports, and its Corvette and Camaro lines of performance cars remain at the top of American mass produced performance automobiles.
Despite its image as an “All American” brand, Chevys are sold and produced in many countries, a part of the reality of car manufacturing and marketing of the 21st Century. In fact, China has become the second largest market for Chevrolet cars, and Chev cars and/or trucks are being built in such diverse countries as Egypt, Colombia, Canada, Thailand, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Brazil, Japan, India, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, and Russia. Additionally, Chevy has sold cars actually designed and produced by other foreign companies and sold under the Chevy name. In the modern industrial world stage, Chevrolet can no longer be considered only an “American” product (nor can other mass produced cars!).
In spite of fierce competition from the remaining large American car companies (Ford and whatever latest iteration Chrysler is up to) and a flood of imports from Japan, South Korea, and Europe, Chevy branded cars still sell over 2 million units per year in the United States (of the 3 million or so GM branded cars sold in the US), with the Chevy light duty pick-up truck, the Silverado, being the sales leader at over half a million units per year, the second most (behind the Ford F-150) selling vehicle in the US. (Note: No other US brand car model made the top 10 in 2016 sales in the US besides the Chevy and Ford pick-ups!) In 2016, Chevrolet trailed #1 Ford and #2 Toyota(and Scion) as the top selling brands in the US.
For those trivia minded readers, the Chevrolet Impala is the top selling Chevrolet name plate of all time, with over 14 million Impalas sold since 1958 when the name was introduced.
After over a century the Chevrolet brand is still strong, and with tremendous efforts dedicated to development of viable electric and hybrid vehicles it is likely Chevrolet will remain a household name brand for many years to come, outlasting other bygone large car manufacturing names such as Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Plymouth, Mercury, Studebaker, American Motors and others.
Question for students (and subscribers): What model is your favorite Chevrolet? Please share that information and your opinions about Chevy cars and trucks with your fellow readers in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Barras, Pierre. The Louis Chevrolet Adventure. Chevrolet, 2004.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Louis Chevrolet in a Frontenac he designed, circa 1914, has been released this into the public domain worldwide by the copyright holder of this work.