The beginning: America’s automotive industry is born
The American automotive industry began in the 1890s, in a time when traveling from place to place was mostly done using trains, boats, or carriages. Several different sources of power were used in the early stages of development, including steam, electricity, and gasoline. Thousands of entrepreneurs jumped headfirst into this new arena, focused on local markets. Soon after, the steady increase in sales allowed for higher production levels in larger factories, followed by an ever-widening market for distribution.
Because of the immense size of the domestic market and the cost effective use of mass-production, American car brands found themselves, for almost the next 100 years, a part of the largest automotive industry in the world. And while it began with hundreds of manufacturers, by the end of the 1920s, three large companies dominated the space: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.
The Big Three
Each of the big three American car brands has a unique beginning. William Durant, a leading maker of horse-drawn carriages, built up General Motors by concurrently buying several different existing American car brands, including Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac. After some internal shuffling of the leadership, GM went on to become one of the worlds most successful companies. By the 1960s, they sold more than half of the cars bought in the United States.
Henry Ford founded two failed companies before finding success with his third: the Ford Motor Company. Ford introduced the first mass volume car, the Model T, in 1908 and by the early 1920s, was producing over 1.5 million of them per year. They have since become a truly global brand, ranked today as the 5th-largest in the world.
Chrysler, the last of the big three American car brands, was born out of the remnants of another ailing company. Walter Chrysler was hired by the Maxwell-Chalmers company to overhaul their failing operations. The company was re-organized into the Chrysler Corporation after successfully launching the Chrysler automobile. By merging with other innovative American car brands Plymouth and Dodge, they finally became a major player in the industry.
With the turn of the century, all American car brands began seeing problems in sales. The companies shifted their focus to Sport Utility Vehicles due to their high levels of profitability. The SUV craze came to a sudden end due to a rapid increase in gas prices. Most American car brands also struggled to quickly bring new smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles to the market.
On top of these problems, the financial collapse of 2008 hit the automotive industry especially hard. In 2009, both General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. Although GM emerged from the crisis, several of their brands were closed, including Saturn, Pontiac, and Hummer. Chrysler also emerged from bankruptcy and was subsequently sold to the Italian automaker Fiat.
American car brands: Today and tomorrow
While they have changed quite a bit from their humble beginnings, the big three are alive and well. Each of the American car brands has big ideas for the future; whether it’s introducing all-electric cars, new hybrids, limit-pushing racecars, or digging up old names from their heritage. Today, the following American car brands are in production:
Buick: Entry-level luxury vehicles
Cadillac: Luxury vehicles, convertibles, and sports cars
Chevrolet: Passenger, performance cars, minivans, crossovers and SUVs
GMC: Trucks and commercial vehicles
Ford Motor Company
Ford: Passenger, performance cars, minivans, crossovers and SUVs
Lincoln: Luxury sedans, SUVs, and crossovers
FCA US LLC (formerly Chrysler Group LLC)
Chrysler: Luxury sedans, convertibles, and minivans
Dodge: Passenger, performance cars, minivans, crossovers and SUVs
Ram: Trucks and commercial vehicles
Jeep: Off-road vehicles, SUVs and crossovers
If you’re interested in buying or importing vehicles from American car brands, it’s always a good idea to do your research before you buy. Checking the CARFAX Vehicle History Report can help reduce the risk of buying a vehicle with a bad history (e.g. flood damage, odometer manipulation, or even a salvage title).