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The General Motors Story - Part 1

Broadcast date : 4th June 2006


The 1950ís was a decade that was pivotal to the motorcar, as it saw the fulfillment of dreams for the public at large. General Motors had built its first one-off show car, the Buick Y-job, back in 1938 and after the major disruption of World War Two, GMís stylists picked up the pace.

Harley Earl, GMís Vice President of Styling and the famous father of the tail fin look, said that dream cars, as the one-off concepts were known, changed the way the big manufacturersí styling studios formulated new models.

Where previously stylists had to hold back on design ideas because the public wasnít ready for them, the dream cars shown throughout America convinced Earl and his team that in many cases, the publicís ideas were ahead of the game.

Today concept cars are part and parcel of any major show and Americaís pivotal auto exhibition is the Detroit Motor Show held in January each year.

The shows also make media stars out of industry heads, and one of the most charismatic figures is GMís Vice President of Global Product Development, Bob Lutz, who recently visited GMís South African plant in Port Elizabeth.

General Motorsí first assembly plant in Port Elizabeth was established way back in 1926 and marked the dawn of motor vehicle production in this country.

The challenge in the South African motor industry has always been to produce vehicles in enough volume to justify the enormous costs of production machinery, or tooling, as itís known.

This is a worldwide goal of manufacturers Ė to utilize basic chassis designs, or platforms, across a wide range of models and brands. The challenge is then to give each individual model its own unique feel that goes beyond appearance differences.

Lutz says the global trend is moving away from traditional platform commonality to a more creative approach.

The idea is to use "bolt-up commonality" which currently works well in the Struandale plant in PE, where both the Opel Corsa pick-up and passenger car derivatives are built for South African consumption. On a global basis, GM uses this approach across diverse brands for different markets.

It was way back in 1908 that William Durant had the vision to amalgamate a number of small car-producing companies into one massive corporation called General Motors.

Today GM is represented all over the world, with product ranging from home-grown American, to budget-conscious Asian runabouts, to sophisticated European offerings.

The name Cadillac has been on automotive price lists for over a century, and soon became an up-market icon on the American market. In America, bigger was better, and Cadillacís became the biggest cars of all, as anyone who has seen a mid-seventies Fleetwood stretch will know.

But recently the Cadillac brand has come to mean something other than an exercise in excess.

That investment has resulted in a diverse range of Caddies, and the new European-built BLS was shown to the South African media during Bob Lutzís visit. It was obvious the diminutive Caddy was on display to gauge expert reaction, and that it is destined for South Africa.

The General Motors Story - part 2

The General Motors Story - part 3

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