General Motors is one of the biggest and most successful car manufacturers in the United States. Commonly abbreviated to GM, this company also designs and manufactures vehicle parts, distributes vehicles, and sells financial service. This company has a long and interesting history that begins in 1908 and continues to this day. Many Americans will have owned a car produced by this company during their lifetime and even if they haven’t, they will be aware of the brand. This multinational corporation now produces vehicles in 37 countries across the globe, making it one of the largest car manufacturers in the world. Despite this company being established for such a long time and being so well-known, there are many things that people do not know about them. Here are 20 interesting facts that you probably didn’t know about General Motors.
1. The Company was Founded in 1908
General Motors was founded by William C. Durant on September 16, 1908. Durant was a carriage maker and had his own company, Durant-Dort Carriage Co., which was based in Michigan. At that time, his company was the largest carriage maker in the world. When he decided to form General Motors, he had just $2,000 in capital. The purpose of setting up this company was to take control of Buick. This was a tiny car company that was about to go bankrupt. When he formed General Motors, the sole purpose was to use it as a holding company for Buick. However, over the next two years, he acquired many other car companies, including Cadillac and Oldsmobile. Although the company was founded in 1908, William C. Durant had actually decided to take over Buick several years previously. He had agreed to take control of that company in 1904.
2. They Have Sold Many Auto Brands Throughout Their History
General Motors are well-known for acquiring other car brands. Over the years, they have bought and sold many car companies, so the list of companies included under the umbrella of General Motors is ever-changing. Currently, some of the car brands that are part of the General Motors family are Buick, Chevrolet, Wuling, GMC, Cadillac, and Holden. Some of the cars brands that were formerly owned by General Motors include Pontiac, Oakland, Hummer, Daewoo, Saab, Saturn, McLaughlin, and Oldsmobile. General Motors are also the former owners of Vauxhall and Opel. However, these two car brands were bought in 2017 by Groupe PSA.
3. They Are Implementing Environmental Initiatives
It is well-known that the automobile industry has a negative impact on the environment, both in terms of the production of the cars and also consumers driving them. However, General Motors is an environmentally aware company and has made efforts to reduce the impact that their car company has on the environment. They have done this by implementing environmental initiatives. They have spent years researching and developing alternative technologies that will allow them to produce cars that have a lesser impact on the environment. In 2004, they produced their first full-sized hybrid electric pickups. The company began developing all-electric cars during the 1990s and debuted the Chevrolet Volt in 2010. General Motors also produces battery packs for electric vehicles and have developed cars that operate on a hydrogen fuel cell and also flexible-fuel cars.
4. GM Were Forced to Stop Using the Mark of Excellence
General Motors prided themselves on producing cars to the highest standards. They decided it was a good idea to show customers that they were buying a quality car by adding a decal to the doors of the car. This was the GM logo with the words ‘mark of excellence’ below the GM initials. Unfortunately, the quality of the cars they were manufacturing began to deteriorate during the 1970s. This was especially the case with the Chevy Impala. They had marketed this model as a prestige car that was attainable to the average American citizen. However, most of the cars had faults, such as leaky windows and dashboards that developed a large crack shortly after purchase. Those who owned one even began to derisively refer to the dashboard crack as the ‘Mark of Excellence’. Realizing that using this symbol was now making a mockery of the company, they began to phase out its use and focus instead on improving the cars to the standards they had promised.
5. They Support Many Charities
While most automobile companies are seen simply as businesses that focus on making money, General Motors also gives it away. They have become known for their philanthropy and have donated millions of dollars to charity. One of the main causes they support is the Nature Conservancy. Between 1994 and today, General Motors have donated more than $23 million in cash and vehicles to this charity. This helps the Nature Conservancy to fund and operate conservation projects. General Motors has also become involved in raising awareness about breast cancer. They have collaborated with the Fashion industry on a project called GM/ CFDA Concept: Cure. General Motors’ involvement in this was to customize five of their vehicles which were then auctioned off to raise funds for research into breast cancer. Another cause supported by GM is the ‘Safe Kids Buckle Up scheme. This aims to raise awareness of the importance of wearing a seatbelt in the car. General Motors has also donated over $1.2 billion to support engineering education in 18 universities across the world. This was made by in-kind donations, such as computers, rather than a cash donation.
6. They Have Three Car Brands That Are Only Manufactured for the Chinese Market
China is one of the biggest markets for General Motors vehicles. While sales in the United States have taken a nosedive, the sales figures tell a different story for the Chinese market. In fact, General Motors has become the best-selling foreign automaker in China. In 2007, Chinese consumers bought more Buick cars than any other vehicles manufactured by foreign car makers. Also, there are three brands of cars that General Motors only manufactures for the Chinese market. Baojun was founded in 2010 and joined General Motors in the same year, while Jiefang was founded the following year. The longest-standing Chinese only brand of car by General Motors is the Wuling as this was founded in 2002.
7. There Was Controversy Between General Motors and Ralph Nadar
Like most large companies, General Motors has faced some situations that have caused controversy over the years. One such situation was between Ralph Nadar and General Motors. Ralph Nadar is an author who published a controversial book called ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’ in 1965. In his book, he claims that car manufacturers were slow to introduce safety features and unwilling to spend money on safety improvements. The year after the book was released, several media outlets accused General Motors of attempting to discredit Ralph Nadar by having a private investigator follow him and setting up situations with prostitutes to try and trap him into a compromising situation. Nadar decide to sue General Motors for invasion of privacy. General Motors settled out of court and he was awarded $425,000 in compensation.
8. There Are Eleven People on the Board of Directors
As one of the biggest car manufacturers in the United States, if not the world, it is important that a company such as this has a strong leadership team. Fortunately for this company, they have a very strong team of leaders with eleven people on the Board of Directors. At the head of this company is Mary Barra who is the Chairman and CEO of General Motors Company. She has served in this position since 2014 and has the accolade of being the first female CEO of a major global automaker. Joseph Ashton is on the Board of Directors and he is the former Vice President of the International Union at United Automobile Workers. Others on the Board of Directors include Linda Gooden, Joseph Jimenez, Jane Mendillo, Michael Mullen, James Mulva, Patricia Russo, Thomas Schoewe, Theodore Solso, and Carol Stephenson.
9. They Once Faced Controversy Over a Defective Ignition System
Having Ralph Nadar sue them is not the only controversy that General Motors has had to face. There was also once an investigation into a defective ignition system. General Motors were fined $35 million by the NHTSA in May 2014. This was because they decided that General Motors had failed to recall cars that were identified as having a faulty ignition switch. General Motors had known for a decade that there was a problem with the switches, yet still did not recall the cars. The fine was the maximum that the regulators could impose for such a situation. General Motors were also forced to pay compensation for 124 deaths that were directly linked to the faulty ignition switches on their cars. They then had to face 79 customer lawsuits relating to economic losses that were attributed to the recall and this totalled around $10 billion. The switches had been installed on Cobalts, the Pontiac G5, the Pontiac Solstice, the Saturn Sky, the Saturn Ion, and the Chevrolet HHR.
10. They Have Links to Medical Science Research
While everyone knows that General Motors manufacture and sell cars, few people realize that they have also played an important role in advances in medical technology. It was a team of scientists and engineers at GM that developed the world’s first mechanical heart pump. It was only because of their innovative designs that open heart surgery ever became possible. They developed their design using their own facilities and equipment before donating it free to Wayne State University’s heart surgery team in Detroit.
11. GM Have Been to the Moon
While the majority of GM’s activities have taken place on earth and more specifically in the United States, they have designed some equipment that has been to the moon. The Apollo moon progam covers an important era of astronautical investigations that included landings on the moon. Apollo 11 was one of the earlier manned missions in 1969 and this was when the first manned landing on the moon took place. It also included the Apollo 15 astronauts driving on the moon for the first time in 1971. The involvement of GM in this is that it was they who delivered the navigation systems and the inertial guidance for the entire program. They also created the components and systems of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). It was this vehicle that the Apollo 15 astronauts used when they first drove on the moon. Overall, GM have made a fairly significant contribution over the years to astronautical science.
12. GM Have Made Two Trains
Not everybody knowns that during the 1950s, GM decided to diversify their projects and even designed two concept trains. In move away from their usual cars and light trucks, the Electro-Motive Division of the company developed the GM Autotrain of which only two were ever made with 10 passenger cars. This train made its public debut in 1956 but the trains retired in 1966. GM also made tow miniature versions of this train and were both put to good use. One, called the Zooliner, went to Oregon Zoo in Portland. To this day, the train still transports passengers around the park. The other miniature version of the train went to Disneyland and was called the Viewliner. This train was used throughout the 1950s.
13. GM Almost Bought Ford
Throughout the history of this company, they have taken over many other well-known car manufacturers. Therefore, it may some as no surprise that they wanted to take over Ford and almost succeeded. Durant approached Henry Ford about purchasing the company in 1909. Surprisingly, Ford was happy to go ahead and sell his stock in Ford Motor C. for $8 million. It looked like a done deal when Durant met with GM’s board of directors and they also agreed to the purchase. However, the sale never went ahead as when Durant met with his New York bankers, they refused to give him the loan needed to make the purchase.
14. They Have Always Been Ground-Breaking
GM have always prided themselves on being ground-breaking in the motor industry as they have been the first company to use many innovative components in the vehicles they manufacture. For example, in 1939, they were the first to create and install an automatic transmission system. In the same year, they were also the first in the industry to introduce the standard equipment turn signal. In 1966, they manufactured the first hydrogen fuel cell car when they produced the GM Electrovan. They were also the first to produce an anti-lock braking system which made its debut in 1972. These first have led to GM being recognized as an innovative, forward-thinking, and creative automobile manufacturer.
15. GM Contributed to the War Efforts in World War II
World War II was a strange time for businesses in the United States as many of them found themselves changing the focus away form what they usually manufactured to producing things that were needed for the war effort. This was certainly the case for General Motors as they switched their entire production to making goods needed by the Allies in the war. The good they produced included airplanes, tanks, machine guns, trucks, marine diesel engines, and shells. The value of the goods they produced came to a total of over $12 billion. This meant that they delivered more material to the Allied forces than any other manufacturer from the United States.
16. They Also Built Machines for the Nazis
When Adolf Hitler rose to power, he realized he needed a partner to make weapons and military vehicles for him. Daimler was the biggest German company at that time, but they wouldn’t do it and neither would any other German company. The largest non-German automakers in Germany at that time were General Motors, so he approached GM and they agreed. They joined forces in 1934 and GM began a lucrative partnership with the Third Reich. This partnership continued even after it became clear that Hitler had ordered many atrocities to take place. Opel built a three-ton truck called Blitz that the Germans used throughout the war and they even opened a new factory in Brandenburg to continue to produce vehicles for Hitler in a place that was less likely to experience aerial bombardment. The only reason GM was involved in this venture was for the money.
17. Oldsmobile Was Discontinued in 2004
Oldsmobile was one of the earliest car brands taken over by General Motors as it was one of the companies purchased by William C. Durant in the first two years after founding General Motors. Oldsmobile was initially founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds. This company was called Olds Motor Vehicle Co. and it was based in Lansing, Michigan. The company produced 635 cars in 1901 and this meant the company could be the first to claim they were a high-volume gasoline-powered automobile manufacturer. The company was purchased by General Motors in 1908 and became one of this company’s flagship car brands. From when it was first founded, Oldsmobile produced over 35 million vehicles and approximately 14 million of these were made at the original factory in Lansing, Michigan. During the 2000s, sales figures for Oldsmobile cars began to decline. The last model made was the Alero compact car. Production of Oldsmobile cars ended in April 2004.
18. General Motors Have Dabbled in Many Motorsports Events
Like many large car manufacturers, General Motors have been keen to showcase their vehicles by taking part in some of the world’s biggest motorsports events. Some that they have participated in include the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Supercars Championship, the World Touring Car Championship, SCCA, and NASCAR. During the 1990s, they were very successful in the Indie Racing League. They achieved 47 world records in these events, including the record for speed endurance. They have had many entries into NASCAR over the years, but the only car they currently enter is the Chevrolet SS.
19. General Motors Have a Very Successful Australian Motor Racing Team
While General Motors have entered their cars into events right across the globe, it is in Australia where they have achieved the greatest motorsport success. They enter their Holden Racing Team into the V8 Supercar Championship and they are based on the Holden Commodore. The team runs a 5.0-litre V8-cylinder engine that is capable of producing 635 hp and achieving top speeds of 298 kilometers per hour. The Holden Racing Team are considered the most successful team in the history of Australian touring car events as they have won many of the championships since the team was formed.
20. They No Longer Manufacture Cars in Australia
General Motors have had a global presence for the majority of time the company has been in operation. In 1931, General Motors acquired the Holden brand and it was this brand which has represented General Motors in Australia since 1948. They also imported Opel cars into America under their own brand name as a niche marque. General Motors also had a presence in New Zealand and the cars manufactured locally in this country were Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Vauxhall. In 2013, General Motors made the decision to remove the Opel brand from Australia due to poor sales. They then decided to stop the production of Holden engines and vehicles in this country from the end of 2017 onwards. However, Holden will still have a presence in Australia as they will have their global design studio, a parts distribution center, and a national sales company located in Australia.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker