Technology & Innovation

500 Million Thanks

GM recently reached a significant milestone: 500 million vehicles built globally under our brands Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Opel, Wuling and others.

Within that exclusive 500-million production milestone are dozens of innovations that have improved our customers’ lives and changed the face of the automotive industry.

GM recognizes this milestone as an opportunity to recognize and thank the hundreds of millions of customers who got us here, and celebrate the milestones and special moments our customers have experienced in our vehicles.

  • 1912: First Electric Self-Starter

    Eight years before the Nineteenth Amendment allowed American women to vote, Charles “Boss” Kettering made it possible for them to drive without first turning a heavy crank. The self-starter is still widely considered the most significant automotive innovation of the 20th century.

  • 1915: Cadillac Introduces First Production V8 Engine

    To appease motorists with a lead foot, Cadillac raised the bar for performance with the industry’s first V-type, water-cooled, eight-cylinder engine. The 314-cubic-inch engine produced 70 horsepower at 2,400 rpm and was the industry’s first major step toward high-speed, high-compression engines. The V-8 was standard on all 1915 Cadillac models.

  • 1915: Cadillac Introduces First Tilt-Beam Headlights

    Cadillac’s introduction of tilt-beam headlamps, operated by a handle on the dash, was a major advance in night-time visibility and, like the self-starter, set the standard for others to follow.

  • 1924: First Proving Ground

    Until there were dedicated proving grounds, automakers tested their vehicles on public roads – with the rest of humanity. GM opened the industry’s first proving ground facility in Milford, Michigan, in the U.S.

  • 1928: Cadillac Unveils The Synchromesh Transmission

    Cadillac’s “clashless” syncromesh transmission was the biggest advance to date in eliminating the chafing noise and friction of shifting gears and laid the foundation for the fully automatic transmission.

  • 1933: GM Invents The Two-Stroke Diesel Engine

    Under “Boss” Kettering’s direction, GM Research developed a revolutionary two-stroke diesel engine that was smaller, lighter, far more powerful and more efficient than the traditional diesel. Within a few years, it was being applied to railroad locomotives, heavy commercial trucks, boats, and off-road equipment.

  • 1934: GM Develops First Independent Wheel Suspension

    GM Engineering developed the first independent wheel suspension system, lessening the impact when any of a car’s four wheels hit a bump or hole and making the car safer as well as more comfortable. Popularly known as “knee-action” suspension because of the way each wheel was connected to the axle, it was introduced in all 1934 model year GM cars in the North American market.

  • 1934: First Barrier Impact and Rollover Tests

    In an effort to understand how to reduce crash-related fatalities and injuries to the motoring public, GM conducted the industry’s first barrier impact tests and the industry’s first rollover tests at its Milford, Michigan, proving ground in the U.S. The tests quickly became standard across the industry and were adopted by government safety agencies.

  • 1937: GM First Automaker To Recognize Right To Represent

    Workers at two GM plants in Flint, MI, began a sit-down strike the last week of December. The strike ended on 1937-February-11, with General Motors recognizing the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) as having the right to represent workers who were union members.

  • 1938: GM Introduces First Column-Mounted Gearshift

    Pontiac introduced the industry’s first column-mounted gearshift, with the lever to change gears placed under the steering wheel rather than on the floor. The result made gear-shifting simpler and less distracting for many drivers and made more room for a third passenger in the front seat.

  • 1940: First Fully Automatic Transmission

    GM introduced the industry’s first fully automatic transmission, called the Hydra-Matic, on the 1940 Oldsmobile. It was soon adopted by the entire industry.

  • 1945: Cancer Fighters

    In the 1940s, two famously brilliant General Motors executives, Alfred P. Sloan and Charles F. Kettering, joined forces to establish the Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI), which has since become one of the nation's leading biomedical research institutions. In 1960, a new corporate entity — Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center — was formed to coordinate and guide the overall policy for Memorial Hospital and the Sloan Kettering Institute.  

  • 1952: First Mechanical Open-Heart Surgery Heart Pump

    Heart disease was once a death sentence. GM researchers developed and donated a mechanical heart pump that enabled the world’s first open-heart surgery – right in Detroit. Today it’s in the hands of the GM Heritage Center.

  • 1955: First Small-Block V-8

    Power to the people: Chevrolet introduced its famous small-block V-8 engine on its 1955 model year cars and trucks, bringing performance to the masses. Sixty-one years later, the small-block is still renowned for its performance and durability.

  • 1962: GM Introduces First Production Turbocharged Engine

    While turbochargers had long been applied to internal combustion engines in many different applications to boost their power, General Motors became the first automaker to offer a turbocharged engine on a production car when it launched the Oldsmobile Cutlass Turbo Jetfire.

  • 1963: GM Builds First Vehicle Emissions Control Device

    GM researchers identified engine blow-by gas as a major source of hydrocarbon emissions and developed the Positive Crankcase Ventilation valve, commonly known as the PCV valve, to cap the leak. Made standard on all GM cars sold in the U.S. beginning in 1963, it was the industry’s first vehicle emissions control device.

  • 1964: European GM Design Center is opened in Rüsselsheim

  • 1966: Opening of the Opel Test Center in Dudenhofen, Germany

  • 1967: GM Introduces First Energy-Absorbing Steering Column

    GM introduced the industry’s first energy-absorbing steering column, another safety milestone which helped reduce the force of impact if a driver was in a severe frontal collision.

  • 1969: First Manned Lunar Mission Technology

    In the 1960s, the world was engrossed in the space race. Through its AC Electronics division, GM developed and manufactured the inertial guidance and navigation systems for the entire Apollo moon program (including Apollo 11, the first manned landing, in 1969).

  • 1971: First Use of Unleaded Gasoline

    GM was the first automaker to offer cars that run on unleaded gasoline, a major breakthrough in reducing vehicle exhaust emissions. Lungs all over the world rejoiced.

  • 1971: GM Helps Develop Lunar Rover

    GM was responsible for all mobility systems and components of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) that Apollo 15 astronauts first drove on the moon in 1971.

  • 1972: New Standard for Frontal Crash Testing

    GM’s Hybrid II family of crash-test dummies was such a durable and repeatable assessment tool that the U.S. government made it the standard for all frontal crash testing for compliance with regulations governing restraint systems. The Hybrid III family would follow in 1997. 

  • 1974: First Air Bags

    GM was the first automaker to offer an air cushion restraint system, later known as the airbag, in its vehicles.
    GM conducted the first large field test of air bags with a fleet of 1973 Chevrolet Impalas and offered air bags as a regular production option on several vehicles for 1974.
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates airbags saved nearly 40,000 lives in the U.S. alone from 1987-2012.

  • 1975: GM First To Offer Catalytic Converter

    To reduce vehicle emissions and improve vehicle performance in vehicles using unleaded fuel, GM introduced the catalytic converter, a technology it began developing in the 1960s and the most important step in reducing automotive emissions to date. All 1975 model year GM cars sold in the U.S. and Canada were equipped with the catalytic converter, as are all cars sold by all competitors today. GM made its technology available to the rest of the industry at no cost.

  • 1983: Joining with Toyota to Create NUMMI

    GM and Toyota signed a landmark joint venture agreement creating New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), to produce small cars at an assembly plant in Fremont, Ca., that had been previously been operated by GM alone. NUMMI soon became a learning laboratory for both companies.

  • 1990: Making an Impact

    GM made headlines across the industry with the debut of its Impact electric-powered concept car, predecessor to the EV1 and the beginning of an industry-wide effort to augment traditional automotive propulsion in order to further reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency.

  • 1996: GM OnStar First Vehicle Telematics System

    Customers were introduced to unprecedented connectivity, safety and security when GM developed OnStar, the world’s first in-vehicle, hands-free voice communication system. OnStar uses global positioning and satellite telecommunications to link vehicle users to OnStar advisers, who provide a host of services ranging from driving directions to emergency assistance on a 24/7 basis. OnStar is offered across GM’s North American product lineup and on select products in China. It is expected to be offered in Europe in 2015.

  • 1998: First Buick off the line in new JV partnership

    The first Buick rolling off the production line in the General Motors-SAIC joint venture plant in Shanghai, marking the Buick brand’s proud return to China. 

  • 2001: GM OnStar Provides Personal Calling

    OnStar offered hands-free Personal Calling, allowing vehicle drivers to place and receive telephone calls and access e-mail, news, and other information while keeping their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.

  • 2002: GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Founded

    GM Daewoo Auto & Technology (Currently GM Korea) started its operations on October 17, 2002, with GM and its partners Suzuki and SAIC holding a stake of 66.7% with investments of US$400 million.

  • 2007: Largest Fuel Cell-Electric Vehicle Demo Fleet

    As part of a larger effort to diversify sources of transportation fuel, GM deployed 100 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles in the U.S. – the largest-ever market test of fuel cell-electric vehicles. Considerable fuel cell research also took place in Germany and Japan.

  • 2010: EN-V Personal Mobility Concept

    To address congestion and pollution in large, global cities, GM introduced the EN-V electric, networked vehicle at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. It is the first urban personal mobility concept that combines battery-electric propulsion, a dedicated short-range communications, sensing, and GPS platform, a small design footprint, and high maneuverability. It embodies a vision of city living that supported the Expo theme of “Better City, Better Life.”

  • 2011: First E-REV to Market (Chevrolet Volt)

    Hello E-rev, goodbye gas station. The 2011 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV) went on sale in North America in 2010. Its revolutionary Voltec propulsion system delivers between 25-50 miles (40-80 kilometers) of electric driving (depending on terrain, driving techniques and temperature) with a long-life, 16-kWh lithium-ion battery and 111-kW (149-hp) electric drive unit; and up to 344 miles of extended range with an onboard 1.4-liter engine. E-rev technology also was introduced in Europe and China.

  • 2011 General Motors introduces the industry’s first front center air bag

    This air bag deploys from the right side of the driver’s seat in a serious, far side-impact crash. When only the driver is involved in a passenger-side crash, the air bag provides additional restraint. When there is a front-seat passenger, the air bag can help prevent serious injuries or fatalities by keeping the driver’s and passenger’s heads from knocking together.

  • 2012: Opening of GM China Advanced Technical Center Phase II

    The GM China Advanced Technical Center, China’s most comprehensive and Advanced automotive development center, opened in Shanghai. It includes research and development, advanced design, vehicle engineering and OnStar laboratories.
    Phase I was completed in 2011.

  • 2014: First Automaker with Female CEO

    Mary Barra is named CEO, making GM the first automaker with a female CEO.

  • 2014: First Vehicle WiFi Hot Spot Capability

    To help customers stay in touch in an increasingly connected world, OnStar was first to bring available WiFi hotspot capability into GM vehicles, along with 4G LTE that provides a reliable, high-speed access to information, entertainment, and more. The largest deployment in the automotive industry to date.

  • 2015 Long-Range Electric Vehicle Concept

    Customers said: Build it and we will come. A month after introducing the Bolt EV Concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, GM announced it will build the hatchback at its Orion (Mich.) Assembly Plant. It will have an all-electric range of about 200 miles on a single charge. When it goes on sale in 2017 it will be the industry’s first affordable, long-range EV – at about 30,000, and be sold in all 50 states. Bolt will have a choice of driving modes — so drivers can decide how sparingly they want to use the battery's charge to stretch their electric range — and the car will have a fast-charging system.