After more than seven decades as the world’s largest automaker, General Motors (GM) officially loses the title on January 21, 2009, when it announces worldwide sales of 8.36 million cars and trucks in 2008, compared with Toyota’s 8.97 million vehicle sales that same year. However, the news wasn’t all rosy for the Japanese auto giant, which later in 2009 posted its first-ever loss as a public company.
General Motors was founded in 1908 in Flint, Michigan, by horse-drawn carriage mogul William Durant. In 1904, Durant invested in the Buick Motor Company, which was started in 1903 by Scottish-born inventor David Dunbar Buick. Durant made Buick Motor the cornerstone of his new holding company, General Motors, then acquired Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Reliance Motor Company, among other auto and truck makers. In 1911, Durant founded Chevrolet Motor Company, which by 1918 was part of GM. By the early 1930s, GM passed the Ford Motor Company to become the world’s biggest auto maker and went on to experience decades of growth. In 1940, GM commemorated its 25-millionth American-made car and in 1967, it celebrated its 100-millionth U.S.-made vehicle. However, by 2008, GM, along with most of the auto industry, had been hit hard by the global economic crisis and slumping vehicle sales. In December of that year, President George W. Bush signed multi-billion-dollar government bailout loans for GM and fellow Big Three U.S. automaker Chrysler. On June 1, 2009, GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and said it would emerge as a leaner, more efficient company. It planned to shutter dealerships and plants and shed its Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn brands.
The roots of GM competitor Toyota Motor Corporation date to the late 1920s when Kiichiro Toyoda, who worked for his father’s Japan-based textile machinery business, Toyoda Loom Works, began plans to develop an automobile. In 1933, an auto division was formed within Toyoda Loom Works and two years later a prototype vehicle, the A1, debuted. In 1937, Toyota Motor Corporation was formed as a spinoff of Toyoda Loom Works. In 1947, Toyota produced its 100,000th domestically made vehicle and in the 1950s began exporting cars to America. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, Toyota’s small, fuel-efficient vehicles experienced a boost in popularity in America and by the end of the 1990s, Toyota had produced over 100 million vehicles in Japan.