Chevrolet: An American Icon

Published by The Bee News

May 19, 2023

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Here is a fun bit of trivia to ponder as you shop for a durable, stylish new Chevrolet Colorado or Silverado truck at Findlay Bullhead in Bullhead City, Arizona. Chevrolet is an American automotive icon. However, by stretching a point an argument could be made that it began as an import.

Now, if that seems like a sacrilegious statement let me explain. Louis Joseph Chevrolet, the company’s namesake, was born on Christmas day 1873 in Switzerland. After a successful career as a bicycle racer and bicycle manufacturer in France, Chevrolet joined the DeDion-Bouton automobile company, first as a mechanic and then as a sales manager.

He arrived in New York City in 1900 to establish a DeDion-Bouton sales branch. His brothers Arthur and Gaston joined hm a few years later. Then in 1905 the Chevrolet brothers went to work for Fiat as mechanics and drivers for the factory race team. Their success on the racing circuit, and skills in the garage, caught the attention of William Durant.

Durant was a swashbuckling entrepreneur that was building a multifaceted automobile manufacturing company under the General Motors banner. Recognizing the promotional value of racing, he hired Arthur and Louis Chevrolet to build a factory race team for Buick, GM’s cornerstone. It proved to be a winning combination. Buick sales soared. And the Chevrolet brothers became motor sport celebrities.

In 1911 it was the Chevrolet name recognition that was most valuable to Durant. In competing with United States Motor Company for the acquisition of manufacturing companies that produced automobiles as well as ancillary components Durant overextended the resources of GM and pushed the company to the brink of bankruptcy. As a result, the board of directors voted for his removal from the company.

Undaunted, Durant immediately set out to regain control of the company through a complicated series of maneuvers. Key to his scheme was securing a limited partnership with Louis Chevrolet, and the investors willing to back establishment of an entirely new automobile manufacturing company. In May 1911, Durant arranged for a Detroit newspaper to publish a carefully prepared leak that announcing that a new “French type” automobile that would be sold at a comparable price to the Ford Model T would be introduced under the nameplate Chevrolet.

Chevrolet had entered the partnership with an understanding that he would be engineering a high performance luxury car. But Durant intended to build a multifaceted conglomerate patterned after GM, and as he saw it the Chevrolet 490 would compete head to head with the Ford Model T as a bare bones model that could be sold at a budget car price. Incensed by Durant’s charted course, Louis Chevrolet left the company and lost the rights to use his name on an automobile or automobile product.

In 1916, Durant leveraged the company to regain control of General Motors. But his tenure was short and once again he was forced from the company but not before Chevrolet became part of General Motors as a separate division in 1918. That was also the year that the first Chevrolet truck rolled from the factory. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1924, Chevrolet opened its first plant outside the U.S. in Copenhagen, Denmark for the manufacture of cars and trucks. Within a decade Chevrolet’s global expansion would include plants and sales facilities throughout Europe as well as in Asia, Australia, Latin America and Africa. Today, Chevrolet is one of the world’s largest automotive brands, selling vehicles in more than 140 countries.

With introduction of the legendary “Stove-bolt Six”, dubbed the cast iron wonder, in 1929, Chevrolet became an industry leader in the production and development of trucks. Indicative of the innovation that became a hallmark of Chevrolet is the Suburban Carryall introduced in 1935. This was the first factory produced all steel station wagon. It is also the longest-running nameplate in the industry.

In late 1947, for the 1948 model year, General Motors introduced the Advance Design series of Chevrolet and GMC trucks. Highly prized by collectors, these trucks were the first in the industry that were designed by the styling department.

This legacy of innovation, of durability, and of styling lives on as evidenced by recent J.D. Power reviews. The GMC Sierra 1500 Limited and Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Limited were rated as the “Best Large Light Duty Pickup of 2022.”

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America





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