William Crapo "Billy" Durant (December 8, 1861–March 18, 1947) was a leading pioneer of the United States automobile industry, the founder of General Motors and Chevrolet who created the system of multi-brand holding companies with different lines of cars.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he was the grandson of Michigan governor Henry H. Crapo. William was a high school dropout, yet had become a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles by 1890, based in Flint, Michigan. When approached to become General Manager of Buick in 1904, he made a similar success and was soon president of this horseless-vehicle company. In 1908 he arranged the incorporation by proxies of General Motors and quickly thereafter sold stock, and with the proceeds acquired Oldsmobile. The acquisitions of Oakland (now Pontiac), Cadillac, and parts companies followed in short order.
In 1910, Durant became financially overextended and banking interests assumed control, forcing him from management of GM. He immediately set out to create another "GM," starting with the Little car, named after its founder, William H. Little. His initial intention was to compete with the Ford Model T, then beginning to show its impending popularity. Unsatisfied with this approach, however, he abandoned it and went into partnership with Louis Chevrolet in 1911, starting the Chevrolet company. Before long, a disagreement between the two entrepreneurs resulted in Durant buying out his partner's share of the company. Nevertheless, the venture was so successful for Durant that he was able to buy enough shares in GM to regain control, becoming its president in 1916, only to lose it for good in 1920 to the DuPont interests. The Chevrolet product line became part of GM in 1917.
While in charge of Chevrolet, Durant did acquire other companies, including Republic Motors, mainly to produce Chevrolets. He also assembled a collection of parts and components manufacturers into a new entity called United Motors, making Alfred P. Sloan the president. United Motors was eventually folded into General Motors, and Sloan rose to president of GM in the 1920s, going on to build the company into the world's largest automaker..
In 1921 he established a new Durant Motors company, initially with one brand but later, as he had with General Motors, acquiring a range of companies whose cars were aimed at different markets. The cheapest brand was the Star, aimed at the person who would otherwise buy the obsolescent Model T Ford, while the Durant cars were mid-market, the Princeton line (designed, prototyped, and marketed but never produced) competed with Packard and Cadillac, and the ultra-luxurious Locomobile was the top of the line. However, he was unable to duplicate his former success, and the financial woes of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression proved fatal as the company failed in 1933.
In the 1920s, Durant became a major "player" on Wall Street and on Black Tuesday joined with members of the Rockefeller family and other financial giants to buy large quantities of stocks in order to demonstrate to the public their confidence in the stock market. His effort proved costly and failed to stop the market slide.
After the fall of Durant Motors, Durant and his second wife lived on a small pension provided by Alfred P. Sloan on behalf of General Motors. He managed a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan until his death.
Mr. Durant was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1996.
Durant Park in Lansing, MI is named after Mr. Durant.
During the late 1920s Durant started construction on his own personal castle in northern Michigan, along the banks of the Au Sauble river. Just before he moved in, however, the castle burned to the ground. Allegedly by the hands of the fledgling UAW, which Durant had refused to acknowledge as a union.
New GM at Hatz Diesel in U.S.(DIESEL HR)(William C. Durant promoted at Motorenfabrik Hatz Gmbh & Co. )(Brief article)
Jan 01, 2009; Ruhstorf, Germany-based Motorenfabrik Hatz Gmbh & Co. KG has announced that William C. Durant has been promoted to vice president...