Born in 1878 in Switzerland to French parents, Louis Chevrolet had little formal schooling. From an early age, he worked as a mechanic for the nascent automotive industry in France. When he was 22, Chevrolet emigrated to Montreal, (French) Canada and the next year, in 1901, he moved to New York City. In 1905, he was hired by Fiat to be a race driver and his racing career took off. Shortly thereafter, he began driving for Buick, then owned by General Motors and Mr. Durant. While at Buick, he began to design his own engine for a new car.
The banks ousted Mr. Durant from GM in 1910, so it was natural that he turned to his colleague and friend, Louis Chevrolet, to form a new car company (no doubt, to compete with Buick and General Motors). Chevrolet’s name was a natural fit for the new company due to his racing fame and the fact that he had a new engine and car design already under development. The Bow Tie logo was, by most accounts, a stylized Swiss cross, a nod to Chevrolet’s heritage.
Mr. Chevrolet’s disagreements with Mr. Durant over design drove him to sell his shares in the company to Durant in 1915. By 1916, Chevrolet had become large and profitable enough to allow Mr. Durant to regain controlling interest in General Motors and in 1917, Chevrolet was merged into GM.
The rest is a long and storied history of the American automotive industry. As long as I can remember, GM’s Chevrolet division has been slugging it out with Ford’s Ford division to be the sales leader in the United States. In Detroit, it’s still a closely watched race at the end of each calendar year.
Chevrolet is deeply interwoven into the fabric of American society. Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet, right? In fact, the history of Chevrolet is the history of the 20th Century. Throughout two World Wars, The Great Depression, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Atomic and Space Ages, the Summer of Love, and the digital revolution, Chevrolet has endured and reflected the collective mood, style and aspirations of an idealistic, young nation.
In the first decade of the 21st Century, Chevrolet and its corporate parent, General Motors, saw their darkest years in generations, culminating with GM’s historic 2009 bankruptcy. Newly invigorated with a clean balance sheet, new management and refreshed products (that people are buying), the new General Motors, with it’s top-selling Chevrolet Division, is now leading the automotive industry out of the Great Recession that still poisons our nation.
Chevrolet has lost no marketing opportunity to mark its centennial. The feel-good, nostalgia ads have been running on all media platforms for several months and every auto magazine has devoted both editorial and pictorial content to the event.
While it may have been running on TV for a couple weeks, I only caught this new commercial, Now & Then, on Monday. It played both in full 60 second long form and in an edited 30 second version. Below is the long form, complete with the emotional and heart-felt Ray Charles rendition of America the Beautiful.