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  • Jason Chandler

William Durant, General Motors and Louis Chevrolet

In 1886, William C Durant partnered with Josiah Dallas Dort and founded Flint Road Cart Company eventually transforming $2,000 in start-up capital into a $2-million company with sales worldwide. By 1890, the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, based in Flint, had become a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles and by the start of the 20th century, was the largest in the US.


Durant was highly skeptical of automobiles, feeling that the bad smell of burnt fuel, along with the engines' loud sounds, made them inherently dangerous to the point where Durant would not let his daughter ride in one. By 1900, public outcry over weak government regulation of gasoline-powered horseless carriages was significant. Durant noticed the general publics' anger at this situation, and rather than relying on government regulations to improve their safety, he saw it as an opportunity to create a company which could improve the safety of this new class of transportation.


To begin this massive endeavor, Durant first set out to purchase Buick, then, a local car company with few sales and large debts.


Durant conceived the modern system of automobile dealer franchises.

Early Chevrolet Dealership

Utilizing Buick as the base, along with a 15-year contract for motors to be provided to R. S. McLaughlin, Durant envisioned the creation of a large automobile company, which would manufacture several independent makes and control subsidiary component-making companies, much as Durant-Dort had done for carriage- building with R S McLaughlin.


On September 16, 1907, Durant and McLaughlin opened an escrow account, with which they founded General Motors Holding Company. They also exchanged a large amount of Buick stock for an equivalent amount of McLaughlin's eponymous company stock, making McLaughlin one of General Motors' biggest shareholders.


Durant consolidated 13 car companies and 10 parts-and-accessories manufacturers under the new holding company's control in 1908. In 1909, Durant's GM bought Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Oakland Motor Car (eventually replaced by Pontiac), along with many parts-manufacturing companies, paint and varnish companies, and other accessory manufacturers owned by General Motors. By 1910, the rapid-fire acquisitions Durant had made caught up with the business, which caused Durant and the corporation to have become grossly overextended with so many imprudent acquisitions. The corporation faced a cash shortage, and in the aftermath, Durant was forced out of the company.


But Durant would not to be bowed and he backed Louis Chevrolet's eponymous company in 1911, with J. Dallas Dort serving as the vice-president and director of the company. In 1913, Dort stepped down as vice-president of Chevrolet, and in 1914 Durant disposed of his share of the Durant-Dort Carriage Company. By 1915 R S McLaughlin was building Chevrolet to allow that 1916, Durant had leveraged Chevrolet's sales to regain control of General Motors, and he went on to lead GM until 1920.

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