The first Chevrolet in 1912
This month, Chevrolet joins the list of car companies that started business 100 years ago – and still remain in business. It was on November 3, 1911 that Louis Chevrolet and General Motors founder William C. “Billy” Durant founded the company, Chevrolet having been a member of Durant’s famed Buick racing team in 1909.
A seasoned automobile racer and highly-respected self-taught engineer, Chevrolet was born in Switzerland in 1878 and moved to France with his family as a child. He immigrated to North America in 1900 and as early as 1905, he was already noticed as a fearless driver of the brutally primitive racing cars of the period. Working with a designer in rented premises in Detroit during 1910, Chevrolet began to lay out the plans for the prototype car that would bear his name.
Durant, 17 years older than Chevrolet, was a highly successful manufacturer of horse-drawn carts that were distributed globally around the end of the 18th century. He moved into auto manufacturing when business associates convinced him to manage the fledgling Buick Motor Company late in 1904. Spectacular success at Buick inspired him to found General Motors in 1908; very quickly, he added Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Oakland and other brands to the GM family, a move of consolidation which would repeat itself in the auto industry almost 100 years later. However, a financial crisis saw him forced out of the company after some years.
Looking to build a new automobile after leaving GM, Durant made a deal with Chevrolet to produce the well-known racer’s dream car. By 1912, Chevrolet’s US$2,150 Series C “Classic Six”, a luxurious high-performance 6-cylinder hit the streets of Detroit. In late 1913, however, Chevrolet parted company with Billy Durant, leaving behind the rights to produce cars bearing his name.

The Chevy bowtie logo, designed under Durant’s auspices, appeared for the first time in an advertisement during 1913. Durant had his eye on the value-priced market from the very start of his involvement with Chevrolet and, in late 1915, introduced the Chevrolet 490 into the low-priced field. Its US$490 list price made it a direct competitor to the Model T Ford of the time. During 1916, Durant leveraged the success of his Chevrolet car to regain control of General Motors. Chevrolet formally became part of General Motors Corporation in 1918, and Durant took the helm for a second time.
 

A billboard advertising Chevrolet in India in 1929
In 1921, Chevrolet’s prospects were reviewed and research showed that Chevrolet could become a globally successful value-priced brand. By the 1920s, GM was assembling cars at a new plant in Denmark—the first of a number of plants GM would establish to build cars in the regions and countries where they were sold – including Malaysia (though only for just a year in the 1960s).
By the late 1920s, Chevrolet was a leading global brand, with assembly operations in numerous countries. A century later after the founding of Chevrolet, the global automotive brand has produced a total of over 200 million cars and trucks combined. On average, a Chevrolet is sold every 7.5 seconds today.
 
Camaro (top) and Corvette are two of the better-known Chevrolet models today

Chevrolet in Malaysia
The Chevrolet brand probably appeared in Malaysia (then Malaya) sometime during the period when GM began to market it globally. Though most Malaysians may not be aware, a Chevrolet was used by our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, when he travelled around the country in the late 1950s. His car was one of a fleet purchased by the new government for use as VIP transport during the 1957 Merdeka event.
Chevrolets then were the typical American ‘battleships’, huge metal machines on wheels with equally big engines, so they didn’t grow in popularity here. When ASSB, one of the first local assembly plants began operations, GM sent over a batch of righthand drive Impalas from its Canadian plant and it is believed that only 44 units were assembled. Assembling the huge car was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle because there were few drawings available then. 
This Chevrolet was used by our
first Prime Minister in the late 1950s
Chevrolet Impala was assembled in Malaysia in late 1960s; only 44 units were made at the ASSB plant in Shah Alam, Selangor
The Impala was the only American-based Chevroletever to be assembled here but in later years, GM would have some models assembled locally though not from the Chevrolet stable. They were the Holden Kingswood and Opel models like the Kadett and Gemini.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Chevrolet re-appeared when DRB-HICOM took on distributorship through its subsidiary, Hicomobil. By then, GM had acquired Daewoo and had some products from Korea which were suitable for this market. Chevrolet had been chosen to be GM’s global brand and so it returned to Malaysia. While models like the Optra and Aveo were Korean in origin (but the Optra came from a Thai plant), Hicomobil also imported some models like the Lumina from Australia and the Nabira from Thailand (the model was earlier sold as an Opel Zafira).
Attractively-priced, the Chevrolets sold well and there was much optimism about the success of the brand in years to come. GM was keen to grow the business and decided to participate more actively and partnered DRB-HICOM in a joint-venture known as Hicom-Chevrolet in 2007. GM had a 51% share so it had management control of the operation which handles sales marketing and distribution.
 
The brand returned in Malaysia in 2002 (left) when DRB-HICOM took on the franchise and sold it through subsidiary Hicomobil. In 2007, GM decided to participate and started a joint-venture with DRB-HICOM (right)
which lasted 2 years before disagreements on strategy and direction saw the partnership being terminated
Captiva SUV was a strong seller for many years
Under the new set-up, there was very aggressive marketing and the timing was right too since the all-new Captiva SUV had arrived. The first new product of GM-Daewoo (GM-DAT) after the American company had acquired it, the Captiva had a lot to offer with its fresh new design and technology.
Unfortunately, disagreements on strategies and direction between the shareholders saw the joint-venture coming to an end on the last day of 2009. Once again, Chevrolet owners felt a sense of being abandoned as there was no clear indication who would look after their cars. But very quickly, GM signed a deal with the Naza Group which established Naza Quest as the official distributor to represent Chevrolet from 2010.
 
Cruze is the current best-selling Chevrolet in Malaysia and soon, Naza Quest
will enter a new market segment with the all-new Colorado pick-up (below)
With three decades of experience in the auto business, the Naza Group was able to get its operations up and running quickly, reassuring existing customers of after-sales support. Just as with the start of Hicom-Chevrolet, the new Chevrolet distributor also had a brand new model to shout about – the Cruze.
Since taking on the distributorship, Naza Quest has been very active in strengthening the brand image and growing the network nationwide. Plans to assemble some models locally are still being discussed and if that can happen, the group can start up very quickly since it also has its own plant in Kedah.

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