General Motors

General Motors has over a century of history that has seen the company grow into one of the automotive industry's most iconic brands.

This timeline highlights key events in GM's formation, global expansion, challenges and innovations from its founding in 1908 up through recent years.

EARLY HISTORY (1908-1929)

One of General Motors first Cadiliacs in he 1910s
© History Oasis

1908 — Founding

William C. Durant founded General Motors in 1908 as a holding company in Flint, Michigan.

He had previously created the Durant-Dort Carriage Company.

GM quickly acquired Buick, Oldsmobile, Oakland, Cadillac and other smaller car companies in its early years.

1910 — Durant Forced Out

In 1910, bankers' trust forced Durant out of GM due to high debt levels from the company's rapid acquisitions.

He subsequently co-founded Chevrolet Motor Company in 1911 with race car driver Louis Chevrolet.

1915 — Chevrolet

By 1915, Durant and his backers had bought enough GM stock for him to regain control.

In 1918, GM fully acquired the Chevrolet Motor Company.

1919 — Fisher Body

In 1919, GM purchased a majority stake in Fisher Body, which was an important supplier of auto bodies for its vehicles.

1923 — Alfred P. Sloan

Key leader Alfred P. Sloan became GM's president in 1923.

He reorganized the company, instituted annual model design changes for the first time in the auto industry, and established a pricing and brand hierarchy with entry level Chevrolet on the bottom up to luxury Cadillac.

1925 — International Expansion

By 1925, GM began expanding globally, acquiring UK automaker Vauxhall Motors and an 80% stake in German brand Opel.

1926 — Pontiac

In 1926, GM introduced the Pontiac brand as a lower-priced companion to complement Oakland.

It quickly outsold Oakland and became a stand alone division by 1932.

GROWTH & EXPANSION (1930-1970)

A GM Oldsmobile of the 1960s
© History Oasis

1930s — Flint Strike

Holden gave GM a major presence in the Australian and New Zealand markets.

The United Auto Workers staged the pivotal Flint sit-down strike in 1936-37, leading GM to finally recognize the UAW and collective bargaining rights.

This legitimized the labor movement in the auto industry.

1940s — WW2

During World War II in the 1940s, GM was mobilized to produce vast quantities of trucks, aircraft engines, and other equipment for Allied forces.

This helped cement GM's scale and technical capabilities.

1950s — Largest Corporation

GM saw a period of rapid post-war expansion in the 1950s under the leadership of President Charles Wilson.

By 1955, GM had become the largest corporation in America as ranked by revenue.

1960s — Competition

Facing increasing competition from imported compact cars in the 1960s, GM responded with new compact and intermediate vehicle classes of its own.

It began sharing common platforms and components across brands to improve manufacturing efficiency.

1966 — Automatic Transmission

A major milestone came in 1966 when GM introduced the Turbo-Hydramatic—the first affordable, mass production automatic transmission.

It also launched the innovative, front-wheel drive Oldsmobile Toronado.


A modern GM Hummer
© History Oasis

1970s — Energy Crisis

The 1970s energy crisis and economic downturn led GM to focus on more fuel efficient and smaller vehicles.

This included subcompacts like the Chevette and the ill-fated Vega, which suffered engine issues.

1980s — Pivots & Reorganization

In the 1980s, GM initiated a major internal reorganization and automation push under the leadership of Roger Smith.

It sought efficiencies to better compete with foreign brands.

GM also launched Saturn as a standalone brand focused on small cars.

1990s — Trucks & SUVs

Truck and SUV sales drove profits in the 1990s even as GM's US car market share declined.

It entered into major joint ventures in the booming Chinese auto market. GM launched the EV1 electric car in 1990, but discontinued production in 1999.

2000s — Chapter 11

Declining US market share and financial struggles in the 2000s forced GM into a Chapter 11 reorganization in 2009.

The company received substantial government bailout loans and emerged from bankruptcy a month later.

2010s — EVs

In the 2010s, a resurgent GM made big moves into electric vehicles, autonomous driving technology and ride-sharing via its Cruise subsidiary.

It exited or sold less profitable brands like Opel, Vauxhall and Holden to refocus.

2020s — Partnerships & Goals

In the 2020s so far, GM has sought to lead in EVs, launching the 1,000 horsepower GMC Hummer EV pickup.

It is partnering with Honda and Microsoft on next-gen autonomous vehicles.

GM plans to exclusively sell zero emissions vehicles by 2035.