Chevrolet in Europe - The First 100 Years
A brief history from the early beginnings to today
The motorcar was barely two decades old when the Chevrolet Motor Company came into being 100 years ago. Most vehicles were large and luxurious machines, bought by the fortunate few who could afford this new-fangled means of personal transport. And that's how Chevrolet started out. American businessman William Crapo Durant, who had previously prospered with Buick and General Motors, became friendly with renowned Swiss-born racing driver and talented engineer Louis Chevrolet and hired him as a consultant in 1911 to design a luxury six-cylinder car, in collaboration with Louis' friend Etienne Planche.
It all begins with the Classic Six
The result was the prestigious and advanced Classic Six, on which the Chevrolet name was bestowed to capitalize on Louis' considerable sporting fame. On November 3, 1911, the Chevrolet Motor Company was incorporated in Flint, Michigan, USA. Production of the Classic Six began the following year.
Durant, however, realized the best way to expand was to focus on high volume, low-priced cars, as Henry Ford was proving with his Model T. Louis disagreed and departed the company in October 1913 after severe arguments with his partner Durant. That left Durant free to push ahead with the more down-to-earth four-cylinder H-series of cars, the first to wear the Chevrolet bowtie emblem. Their success allowed the company's first steps on the path to expansion elsewhere than the U.S.A., with a Canadian factory founded in 1915. The same year, Chevrolet went head-to-head with the Model T with its small economy 490 model. The name was chosen because, at the time, the Model T was priced at $490.
In 1917, Chevrolet introduced its first V8 engine, a configuration that would become closely associated with the brand from the 1950s onwards. A year later, the company became a division of General Motors, introducing its first light truck at the same time. These moves assisted it in becoming the second largest motor firm in America by 1919. It achieved its millionth vehicle milestone in 1922.
Global Expansion (1920 – 1930)
The company turned its eyes to Europe in the 1920s, a move inspired by its Danish-born president William S. Knudsen. It's no surprise that Denmark was the choice for Chevrolet's first European factory, with its initial vehicle – a truck – built early in 1924. Demand soon outstripped supply though, and the General Motors Continental plant in Belgium put together its first Chevrolet in 1925. The plant was actually in an old abbey, and could only build 25 cars a day! Further plants followed in Switzerland – rather fittingly, given it was Louis Chevrolet's home country – as well as Poland, Germany and the United Kingdom. With other manufacturing outposts in South America and Australia, the company established itself as a worldwide force during the 1920s. Small wonder then that, in 1927, it toppled Ford from the top of the sales charts, building one million cars in just that year alone. Yet the company wasn't even 20 years old.
An important arrival at Chevrolet in 1926 was Harley Earl, heading up General Motors' new Art & Color styling and design studio. His ideas would go on to transform Chevrolet looks through to the end of the 1950s and the man himself became recognized as one of the most important car designers of 20th century.
The world's first SUV (1930 – 1940)
The 1930s were difficult years for the automotive industry – indeed, the world as a whole – thanks to the global depression. Chevrolet weathered the storm though, at a time when many of its rivals struggled badly or even went bankrupt. It was even introduced a number of innovations such as independent front suspension in 1934 and the first station wagon (estate),the Suburban Carryall- the first SUV ever, in 1935. By the end of the decade, all Chevrolets had received a fresh and exciting makeover, with streamlined styling that kept them among the best-looking of any cars from anywhere. Following the hiatus of the war, this trend continued, with 'Fastback' (sloping rear) and 'Bustleback' (large boot) looks helping lead the way in international car design.
A decade of dramatic design and innovations (1950 – 1960)
Automatic transmission was another significant introduction, for 1950. But the best was yet to come, in the form of arguably the greatest Chevrolet of them all, the Corvette. Inspired by European roadsters, Harley Earl's Corvette was the first real sports car to emerge from a major American manufacturer and featured a then-novel glass-reinforced plastic body instead of steel. Despite its many attributes, the Corvette initially struggled to find buyers and was almost dropped. It was only with the introduction of a V8 engine in 1955 and a slick restyle in 1956 that the Corvette truly took off. And it hasn't looked back since; it remains the only continuously-produced US sports car, with the sixth generation model still built and sold around across the planet today. The 'small block' V8 engine spread to other Chevrolets too; becoming one of the most significant and best-loved power units of all time. It's still manufactured today, having been around longer than any other mass-produced engine.
Chevrolet's most flamboyant year was 1959, when the "fins and chrome" era of design reached its zenith, as typified by the Impala, an imposing machine that had taken Chevrolet up-market when launched in 1958. Its design, with folded-over rear wings, was little short of extraordinary. The following decade saw this fashion toned down, with Chevrolet again at the forefront of the move away from extravagance.
Corvette and Camaro: Two legends gain their credentials (1960 – 1970)
Its answer for those seeking economy in a compact package was the Corvair for 1960; a distinctly European-flavored model much smaller than previous Chevrolets and featuring a rear-mounted engine. It was a radical break from the norm for the company and showed how it was reflecting ideas from around the world. But for those who still like a dose of the extreme, the restyled Corvette Sting Ray of 1963 was enough to satisfy, with its razor-sharp angular styling a complete departure from the previous incarnation. The brand's next major model of the decade was the Camaro of 1967; a compact and affordable performance model that would become one of the more iconic 'pony cars', so much so that Chevrolet has successfully reintroduced it, after the model name was dropped in 2002.
Small is beautiful (1970 – 1990)
The 1970s was a tough decade for car makers, with increasing government regulations, fuel crises and financial recessions making it a challenging time. Big was increasingly out, small was in, and Chevrolet was ready with its small Vega model. At the other end of the spectrum though, the Caprice provided Chevrolet a premium offer for those who wanted it. Under the bowtie, there really was a car to suit everybody. A year to celebrate was 1979, when the company achieved the epic landmark of its 100th millionth vehicle.
As the auto industry rallied in the 1980s, Chevrolet used 1983 to update its Corvette for a new generation, pointing the way into the future with increasing use of electronics. The model celebrated production passing one million in 1992, the same year the Camaro celebrated its 25th birthday. However, those hoping for a sexy new revamp of the Corvette had to wait until 1997, when the C5 version gave the sporty Chevrolet almost supercar looks.
The re-launch of Chevrolet in Europe
An ongoing triumph for Chevrolet in the 21st century is its re-emergence in Europe. While the cars had always been available outside of their core American market, in Europe, sales volumes were rather low. General Motors' acquisition of Daewoo Motors in 2001 allowed it access to an already-established European retailer network and a strong manufacturing base. At the start of 2005, the Chevrolet brand was re-launched in Europe, offering a range of small cars based of the former brand's products. Since then, an entire new range of cars has been introduced, to a growing customer base. Manufacturing has also returned, with the opening of a brand-new assembly plant in St Petersburg, Russia and several joint-ventures in Eastern Europe and Poland.
The future begins now
Chevrolet celebrates its first 100 years with the same values it has always had; dependable technology, expressive design and great value. And, as a birthday present to both itself and the world, it will tackle the environmental concerns of today and tomorrow with the innovative Volt, the first electric car with extended range capabilities. It's a bold and far-reaching technology proving that Chevrolet aims to change and lead the world of motoring just as much in its second century as it has done during its first.
Chevrolet is General Motors' largest global brand with annual sales of about 4 million vehicles in more than 130 countries. It is the fourth biggest global car brand in terms of sales and also one of the fastest growing brands in the world. Chevrolet cars combine passion, bold design and practicality. They provide outstanding value for money. After re-launching the brand in Europe in 2005, Chevrolet more than doubled its sales to over 500,000 in 2008. In 2010, Chevrolet grew its market share in Europe to 2.5 percent, selling 477,194 cars. Chevrolet has a network of more than 2,700 dealers and service points in Europe. The Chevrolet line-up includes the Spark city car, the small Aveo, the compact four-door Cruze, the Captiva SUV and the legendary Corvette sports car. In 2011, Chevrolet is launching seven new cars: the all-new Orlando family van, the new Captiva SUV, the Corvette Grand Sport Coupé, the all-new five-door and four-door Aveo, the five-door Cruze, the Camaro coupé and convertible and the award-winning extended-range Volt electric car. Chevrolet's biggest markets in Europe are Russia, Italy, Germany, Spain, France and Turkey. Established in the U.S. by Swiss émigré Louis Chevrolet in 1911, the brand is celebrating its centenary in 2011. More information on Chevrolet can be found at http://www.chevroleteurope.com or http://media.chevroleteurope.com.
Marc Kempe Cornelia Harodt
Chevrolet Europe Chevrolet Europe
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Chevrolet Europe GmbH
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