The early 1900s were a difficult time for motor companies, many of which were running on credit and had not yet turned a profit. Founder William Durant realized that the future lay with cars. This era provided a golden opportunity for Durant, who began buying car manufacturers and those who created car parts and accessories.
The list of companies controlled by GM grew throughout its first few years, until Durant lost control of General Motors in 1910 because of the ever-growing debt needed for constant acquisitions. After Durant left GM, he co-founded Chevrolet in 1911. He returned to head GM by 1916, bringing Chevrolet under the General Motors name, which now included Opel in Europe and Holden in Australia. GM continued to purchase smaller automobile manufacturers throughout the 1910s and 1920s. GM's brands, especially Chevrolet, were wildly successful during the late teens and 1920s. Auto sales reached the 4.5 million mark as three major competitors, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, fought over the American auto market.
GM finally surpassed the sales of Ford Motor Company, its main competitor, in the late 1920s. While Ford continued to reduce costs through an improved manufacturing process, GM's strategy was to pay special attention to consumer demands. While Ford focused on producing basic, no-frills cars cheaply, GM offered car buyers style, power, prestige, and comfort, not just a black box.
The five major brands of GM, including Pontiac, Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Chevrolet, were brought together by the end of the 1920s. At this point in time, each General Motors division targeted specific market segments, each distinguishing itself from the other GM brands through unique styling and technology. This strategy has been credited to Alfred Sloan, head engineer at GM at that time. General Motors also began changing the look and feel of its car models yearly, rather than when the technology became obsolete, as was the practice of GM's competitors.
Like all major American companies, operations at GM were complicated in the 1940s by World War II. Shortage of parts made car production impossible, and production at GM manufacturing plants instead switched to electrical parts and other products needed for the war effort.
By the 1960s, the lines between GM brands blurred as each make introduced its own compact or intermediate-class car. Many 1950s and 1960s General Motors cars became instant classics. Perhaps its most recognizable model is the Chevrolet Corvette, in production since 1953. Among classic car lovers, the '55 Chevy is a popular model. General Motors has been a staple of the American and worldwide auto industry for over 100 years, and though times are changing, GM brands remain popular worldwide.