General motors was the world’s largest motor-vehicle manufacturer in the 20th and early 21st centuries. It operates manufacturing and assembly plants and distribution centres throughout the United States, Canada and other countries. It was founded in 1908 by William “Billy” Durant, who had started out as a manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles. GM initially only owned the Buick Motor Company but later acquired more than 20 other companies including Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Oakland – today known as Pontiac – Germany’s Opel, Chevrolet and Vauxhall.
GM’s design studio was headed by Harley Earl until his retirement in 1959. He created the 1927 Cadillac LaSalle. During the Second World War, GM supplied the allies with more than $12bn of materials including airplanes, Lorries and tanks. By 1942, all of GM’s production was in support of the war effort. In 1940, former GM president William Knudsen was appointed by President Roosevelt as chairman of the new wartime Office of Production Management.
After the war, the company developed independent front-wheel suspension, unibody construction and the one-piece steel roof.
In 1971, GM pioneered the use of engines that could run on low-lead or unleaded petrol. Two years later it was the first to offer a car with an air bag and in 1974, it introduced the catalytic converter to reduce emissions.
The manufacturer helped develop the guidance and navigation system for the first Moon landing aboard Apollo 11, and designed and manufactured the Lunar Roving Vehicle for Apollo 15 – the first vehicle driven on the Moon.
In 1995, annual vehicle sales outside North America exceeded 3m units for the first time, while 5m vehicles were sold in the US and GM embarked on its first joint venture in China. Buick became China’s most popular automotive brand.