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From Carriages to Motor Cars

One of McLaughlin’s three sons planned to be a chemist; he went to the United States and established the Canada Dry Company. The other two became partners of the McLaughlin Carriage Company.

Around 1901, sons Sam and George went for a ride in the company bookkeeper’s automobile. Immediately hooked, they tried to persuade their father that making a horseless carriage would be a profitable venture, but he remained unconvinced, and Sam and George had to research the matter surreptitiously.

In 1905, Sam test-drove several motor cars but quickly decided that the Buick was the car he wanted to make in Oshawa.

He nearly came to a manufacturing agreement with an old friend in the United States —Billy Durant, a partner in the Buick Motor Company—but the deal fell apart over the financial arrangements. Back at home, Sam and George finally got father Robert to agree to a plan to form the McLaughlin Motor Car Company.

Production was about to begin when the engineer fell seriously ill. After some hesitation, Sam sent a telegram to Durant and asked to borrow an engineer. The next day Durant arrived with two Buick executives, the original plans for collaboration were resurrected, and in 1908 the plant turned out 154 cars — called McLaughlins — with Buick engines.

Canadian Cars Earn a Reputation for Quality

Canada was fond of its McLaughlin. After a Buick won the first race at the Indianapolis Speedway in the United States, the McLaughlin’s advertising men wanted to cash in on the elaborate Buick advertising campaign. They persuaded management to change their car’s name from McLaughlin to Buick.

When sales declined, the car was rechristened again – this time as the McLaughlin-Buick.

In 1908, Durant had assembled Buick and Oldsmobile into General Motors, but by 1910 he had overreached himself and was ousted from his company by alarmed bankers.

Undaunted, he started a new venture with a former Buick racing driver from Switzerland, Louis Chevrolet. The Chevrolet’s popularity grew so fast that by 1915 Durant’s Chevrolet shares were worth enough that he could regain control of GM.

Durant planned to build a Chevrolet plant in Toronto, and the McLaughlins were worried about competition with the Buick. One day while visiting New York, at lunch with Durant and a Chevrolet stockholder, Sam casually asked how the Canadian project was going. “Why don’t you give it to the McLaughlin Boys, Billy?” piped in the stockholder. “Well, Sam, do you want it?” asked Durant. In two days Durant and the McLaughlins had reached a deal.

Robert McLaughlin –still not entirely convinced that the era of horse-drawn carriages was almost over—reluctantly agreed to the sale of his carriage business to make way for production of Chevrolets alongside Buicks at the Oshawa plant. As with the McLaughlin-Buicks, the Canadian- built Chevrolets had special appeal. Their bodies were made to Sam McLaughlin’s designs, and the McLaughlin plant applied a superior finish.

On seeing a McLaughlin-Buick left standing outside General Motors’ New York office, a GM executive ordered it sent home: “It’s gathering crowds—and it’s no more like one of our Buicks than a St. Bernard is like a dachshund!”

Family Business Becomes General Motors of Canada (1918 — Today)

The McLaughlins’ Chevrolets were as much of a success in Canada as Chevrolets were in the United States. By 1918, though, neither George nor Sam had sons interested in carrying on the business. In a five-minute meeting, GM management agreed to buy the McLaughlin business, but on one condition -that the McLaughlins stay to run it. Delighted with the vote of confidence, Sam and George became the first president and vice president of General Motors of Canada. Sam remained president until 1945.

When he died in 1972, at the age of 100, he was still chairman of the board. Under his guidance, General Motors of Canada enjoyed tremendous growth and became a major contributor to GM’s total production.

GM of Canada Today

By its 30th anniversary in 1938, GM of Canada had produced a million vehicles. In 1965, Canada and the United States signed the Canada-U.S. Automotive Products Trade Agreement (Autopact).

The agreement allowed GM of Canada to increase its production capacity dramatically. More recently, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S. Canada and Mexico has led to a wide-open automobile trade in North America. Today GM of Canada has the capacity to manufacture more than one million units in a single year –generating significant export earnings by shipping about 90 percent of those vehicles to the United States.

It also satisfies a third of Canada’s 1.2 million unit market, the ninth largest automobile market in the world.

In the 1980s, GM of Canada began an $8 billion reindustrialization program. Now, the GM Autoplex in Oshawa is the centrepiece of GM of Canada’s manufacturing operations. It is the largest, most modern, integrated vehicle-manufacturing complex in North America.

General Motors of Canada presently employs 20,000 employees working in manufacturing, marketing, engineering, customer support and other staff areas. General Motors of Canada has seven assembly and component plants within Ontario as well as several zone, General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) and Motors Insurance Corporation (MIC) branches located across Canada.

TIMELINE

• 1897: Olds Motor Vehicle Co. is organized by Ransom Olds in Lansing, Mich. and the first Oldsmobile is assembled.

• 1899: Olds Motor Vehicle and Olds Gasoline Engine Works of Lansing merge to form Olds Motor Works. The first factory specifically for automobile production in the U.S. is built by Olds in Detroit on Jefferson Avenue East. In Germany, Adam Opel’s first motor car — the Opel-Patent-Motorwagen System Lutzmann — is built.

• 1901: The Curved Dash Oldsmobile becomes the first American car to be manufactured in quantity. It sells for $650.

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• 1902: Cadillac Automobile Co. named after the founder of the city of Detroit, is formed in Detroit by Henry M. Leland, a manufacturer of automotive components.

• 1903: Plumbing fixture maker David Dunbar Buick forms Buick Motor Co.

• 1904: William C. Durant, the grandson of a Michigan governor who served during the Civil War and who became a millionaire in the horse carriage business, takes control of Buick.

• Sept. 16, 1908: Durant forms General Motors Corp. as a holding company by incorporating Buick.

• Nov. 1908: Olds becomes the second car company to join the GM family.

• Jan. 1909: GM acquires a 50 percent stake in Oakland Motor Car Co. now known as Pontiac. Several months later, when Oakland founder Edward Murphy dies, GM takes full control.

• July 1909: Cadillac is acquired by GM for $5.5 million.

• 1909: The Rapid Motor Vehicle Co. of Pontiac, Mich. known today as GMC, and Reliance Motor Truck Co. of Owosso, Mich. are purchased by GM. A Rapid becomes the first truck to scale Pikes Peak in Colorado in 1909. AC Spark Plug is acquired by GM.

• 1910: Cadillac becomes the first automaker to offer closed bodies as standard equipment, revolutionizing motoring by offering all-weather driving. In exchange for loans required to avoid financial collapse, bankers step in and William Durant is removed from management at GM.

• 1911: Louis Chevrolet, William Little and Edwin Cambell, Durant’s son-in-law, form Chevrolet in Detroit to compete with the Ford Model T. General Motors Export Company is formed to handle the sale of all GM products outside the U.S. and Canada.

• 1912: The electric self-starter is made standard by Cadillac and wins the coveted Dewar Trophy awarded by the Royal Automobile Club in London.

• 1915: The DuPont Co. of Delaware, reaping profits from the sale of explosives, begins to invest in GM and Pierre S. du Pont is elected chairman of the automaker. He serves until 1929.

• 1916: Durant regains control of GM but is forced out for the last time in 1920.

• 1918: Chevrolet joins the GM family.

• 1919: Construction of the GM building in Detroit begins. At 15 stories high and spanning more than 1.3 million square feet, it underscores Durant’s optimism in the automaker’s future, even though GM controls just 10 percent of U.S. sales and produces one-third of rival Ford Motor Co.’s output at the time. GM forms GM Acceptance Corp. to finance sale of new vehicles.

Because rival Henry Ford was opposed to credit, GMAC would eventually help propel GM past Ford in car sales in the late 1920s as more Americans grew comfortable with car payments.

• 1920: The General Motors Research Corp. predecessor to the GM Research Laboratories, is established.

• 1921: Production begins at the Clark Street Cadillac factory in Detroit. It is the most modern assembly plant in the industry at the time and remains open until 1987.

• 1923: GM’s first European factory opens in Copenhagen, Denmark and Buick introduces 4-wheel brakes.

• 1924: Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s legendary chief executive and longtime chairman, first describes the automaker’s marketing mantra across all brands — A car for every purse and purpose. GM establishes the industry’s first large-scale proving grounds on a 2,168-acre site in Milford, Mich.

• 1925: Vauxhall Motors Ltd. of the United Kingdom is purchased by GM.

• 1926: The first Pontiac — the 6-cylinder ‘Chief of the Sixes — is introduced by Oakland at the New York Auto Show.

• 1927: The Cadillac LaSalle, which refined luxury motoring, is introduced. It is the first production car designed by a stylist: Harley Earl.

• 1928: Shatter-proof safety glass debuts on all windows of 1929 Cadillac and LaSalle models.

• 1929: GM acquires control of Adam Opel AG of Germany.

• 1930: The Electro-Motive Co. of Cleveland becomes part of GM.

• 1932: The Pontiac Motor Division is formed, replacing Oakland.

• 1934: The industry’s first rollover tests are conducted by GM by running one side of a car up a ramp at the top of a hill. GM also conducts the first barrier impact studies when cars are directed into a retaining wall at low speeds.

• 1935: The Suburban Carryall — a half-ton truck with seating for eight — is introduced by Chevrolet. The Opel Olympia is introduced, becoming the first mass-produced car with all-steel unitized body.

• 1936: The Buick Roadmaster, designed by Harley Earl and a milestone in automotive styling, debuts. GM workers in Flint begin historic sit-down strike in December. The strike will end on Feb.

11, 1937, when GM recognizes the United Auto Workers union, marking the beginning of collective bargaining at Detroit automakers.

• 1937: The industry’s first column-mounted gearshift is introduced by Pontiac. Detroit Diesel Engine is created to produce small diesel engines.

• 1939: Buick introduces the industry’s first rear turn signals to use flashers.

• 1940: The Nazi German government officially seizes control of Adam Opel AG. GM produces its 25,000,000th car. GM President William S. Knudsen is named chairman of the federal government’s new Office of Production Management to lead the nation’s wartime industrial program.

• 1941: GM ceases operations in Japan.

• 1942: All of GM’s manufacturing operations are converted to support war-time purposes. During World War II, GM produces $12.3 billion in material to lead the Allied war effort, including the 6X6 Army truck and the DUKW, nicknamed the duck because it was designed to carry up to 50 men on either land or water.

• 1947: GM founder William Durant dies.

• 1948: The industry’s first V-8 engines are introduced by Cadillac and Oldsmobile. GM and the UAW agree to several historic bargaining milestones: elimination of annual economic negotiations and longer-term contracts; a new wage formula that provides cost of living changes; and an annual improvement factor based on increased efficiency that stems from technology advances.

• 1949: The Coupe deVille, Cadillac’s first hardtop, debuts.

• 1950: Chevrolet introduces the Powerglide transmission, becoming the first entry-level brand to offer fully automatic shifting.

• 1953: The Chevrolet Corvette, the first production sports car, debuts. It is also the first production car with a plastic body to be produced in quantity.

• 1954: Cadillac becomes the first automaker to offer power steering and automatic windshield wipers as standard equipment.

• 1956: The GM Technical Center in Warren, Mich. is dedicated. Alfred P. Sloan retires as chairman on April 2.

• 1958: The first demonstration of an automatically guided automobile takes place at the GM Tech Center, paving the way for built-in highway guidance systems. Cruise control debuts on 1959 Cadillacs, and the Chevrolet El Camino, combining a big car with a pickup truck, is introduced.

• 1959: The Chevrolet Corvair is unveiled.

• 1960: Three new small cars are introduced in the U.S. the Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85 and the Pontiac Tempest.

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• 1962: Heaters and defrosters become standard on Cadillac models.

• 1963: The Chevrolet Malibu debuts as a 1964 model.

• 1965: Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed, taking a critical look at GM and the Corvair, is published. The Oldsmobile Toronado, the first front-wheel drive car to be built and sold in the U.S. since the 1930s, is unveiled.

• 1966: The front-wheel drive Cadillac Eldorado and Chevrolet Camaro debut. Front seat shoulder safety belts are introduced on 1967 models.

• 1968: The 50-story GM Building opens on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

• 1969: GM manufactures the guidance and navigation systems which guide the Apollo 11 astronauts to man’s first landing on the moon and back to Earth. Chevrolet discontinues the Corvair. The Chevrolet Vega is introduced as a 1970 model.

• 1970: GM introduces no-lead or low-lead gasoline engines on all 1971 models in the U.S. and Canada.

• 1971: GM acquires a 34.2 percent stake in Japan’s Isuzu Ltd. GM designs and manufactures the mobility system for the Lunar Roving Vehicle which enables Apollo 15 astronauts to undertake mankind’s first vehicular drive on the moon.

• 1973: GM produces the first car equipped with an air cushion restraint system as an option. The Arab oil embargo and subsequent rise in gas prices prompts a sudden rise in demand for Japanese-built small cars in the U.S.

• 1974: The catalytic converter, first developed in the 1960s, is introduced on all 1975 GM models to reduce tailpipe emissions and comply with federal clean air laws. GM proceeds with plans for an unprecedented downsizing of its U.S. cars in response to soaring energy prices.

• 1976: The last American convertible, a Cadillac, is built in April 1976. Convertibles are reintroduced in 1984.

• 1977: GM offers the first domestic diesel engine on several 1978 passenger cars — the Oldsmobile Delta Eighty Eight, Ninety Eight and Custom Cruiser.

• 1979: Frigidaire is sold to White Consolidated Industries Inc. Four new front-wheel drive compact cars debut: the Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Citation, Oldsmobile Omega and Pontiac Phoenix.

• 1980: With the U.S. in a major recession and industry sales slumping, GM posts its first financial loss since 1920.

• 1981: GM and Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. form a distribution agreement that calls for GM to acquire 5 percent of the Japanese mini-car specialist.

• 1983: Buick unveils plans to consolidate its car assembly, metal fabricating and body assembly operations in Flint, Mich. as part of a $200 million project dubbed Buick City. It was closed in 1999 and demolished in 2002.

• 1983: GM and Toyota form a joint venture to manufacture automobiles in California: New United Motor Manufacturing is designed to allow GM to grasp Toyota’s vaunted lean manufacturing system. GM unveils plans for a new small car brand to be called Saturn.

• 1984: Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS), a major data processing and telecommunications company, is acquired by GM.

• 1985: GM buys Hughes Aircraft Co.

• 1986: GM and Suzuki form a joint venture to produce small cars and sport utility vehicles in Canada. Plans are unveiled to close 11 assembly and stamping plants in the U.S. and Canada.

• 1988: Chevrolet introduces the Geo line of small vehicles: the Metro, Spectrum and Tracker.

• 1989: The Pontiac Transport and Oldsmobile Silhouette — GM’s answer to the minivan — are introduced and feature the largest plastic panels ever used on a vehicle exterior. GM acquires a 50 percent stake in Swedish automaker Saab Automobile AB.

• 1990: The Impact, an electric car, debuts to wide acclaim, prompting GM to market the vehicle as soon as possible. The first Saturn model rolls off an assembly line in Spring Hill, Tenn.

• 1991: Faced with mounting financial losses, GM discloses plans to shutter or idle 21 U.S. and Canadian assembly and manufacturing plants over four years, as well as 74,000 hourly and salaried job cuts.

• 1992: GM’s ongoing market share losses and financial woes prompt the board of directors to elect John F. Smith Jr. chief executive officer and president following the resignation of Robert C. Stempel. John G. Smale, retired chairman of Procter Gamble and a GM director since 1982, is named chairman of the board. GM North American Operations is formed to revive the automaker’s U.S. business.

The GM Mastercard debuts with an unprecedented 5 percent rebate to be used toward the purchase of a new GM vehicle.

• 1994: GM’s Hughes Electronics unit introduces DirecTV, the first high-powered broadcast satellite TV provider.

• 1995: The EV1 is introduced, making GM the first automaker in modern times to market an electric vehicle to the public.

• 1996: GM launches a Web site to provide an overview of its products and services, and announces plans to acquire the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit for a new world headquarters. EDS is split off from GM.

• 1999: GM divests Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. its long-time parts unit, in a spin-off to shareholders. GM and Toyota form an unprecedented five-year pact to explore and develop alternative vehicle propulsion technologies. GM acquires rights to the Hummer brand.

• 2000: Despite a complete product overhaul during the 1990s, GM announces plans to phase out Oldsmobile, the oldest automotive brand in the U.S. market. The last Olds, an Alero, will roll off an assembly line in Lansing, where the brand was founded, in 2004. GM acquires remaining stake in Saab.

• 2001: In response to the Sept. 11 … attacks on New York and Washington, GM launches an unprecedented marketing campaign featuring zero-percent down payments to help the U.S. economy. The Cadillac CTS is introduced, signaling a new styling theme for the luxury division, and will go on sale in 2003.

• 2002: GM acquires the bulk of Korean automaker Daewoo Motor and creates a new company called GM Daewoo Auto Technology. GM launches Russian production with a joint-venture partner, AutoVAZ.


• 2005: Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian begins amassing a major stake in GM, forcing some restructuring moves, but eventually sells it after failing to convince GM management to later pursue an alliance with Renault-Nissan. Major credit rating firms downgrade GM and Ford debt to junk — a first in modern times.

• 2006: GM sells 51 percent of GMAC to a consortium led by Cerberus Capital Management, raising $14 billion over 3 years. Saturn launches an ambitious renaissance with the introduction of four key vehicles: the Sky roadster, Outlook crossover, Aura sedan and Vue compact crossover.

• 2007: After a brief strike, GM and the UAW reach an historic agreement that shifts billions of dollars in hourly retiree health care obligations to the union. The two sides also agree to a new two-tier wage pact that will pay future hires substantially less than current employees.

• 2008: GM edges out Toyota to remain the world’s largest automakers ranked by 2007 sales of 9.37 million units, a title GM has held for more than 77 years. GM marks its 100th anniversary in September.

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