William Crapo "Billy" Durant (1861 –1947) was a leading pioneer of the U.S. automobile industry, the founder of General Motors and Chevrolet who created the system of multi-brand holding companies with different lines of cars.
He was the grandson of Michigan Governor Henry H. Crapo. William dropped out of high school to work in his grandfather's lumberyard, but by 1885, he had partnered with Josiah Dort to create the Coldwater Road Cart Company. He started out as a cigar salesman in Flint, and eventually moved to selling carriages.
He founded the Flint Road Cart Company in 1886, eventually transforming $2,000 in start-up capital into a $2 million business with sales around the world.
William C. Durant (1861-1947), one of Flint’s most important historical figures, was a pioneer in the development of the American auto industry. In 1911 he and Louis Chevrolet founded the Chevrolet Motor Company, which combined with General Motors seven years later. Parting with General Motors in the 1920s, Durant founded Durant Motors Company and its subsidiaries.
Durant’s vehicle ventures began in 1866, when, with a borrowed $1,500, he bought the rights to build a two-wheeled road cart. Nine years later, the Flint Road Cart Company, begun by Durant took over Flint’s tiny Buick Motor Company in 1904. By 1890, the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, based in Flint, had become a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles, which ultimately became number one in the world.
In 1904, Durant’s business interests turned to the car industry. He become General Manager of Buick in 1904, and immediately employed his sales skills and business savvy to enter the Buick (which had built only 37 cars to date) in the 1904 New York Auto Show. His success took Buick to the next level. He returned to Flint with orders for 1,108 cars. He turned the company into the largest American producer of automobiles by 1908, and on Buick’s success, founded General Mottoes in September of that year.
Durant soon began to broaden his hook in the auto industry by creating automobiles targeted to various income levels and diverse personal tastes—a measure that was designed to help his company nudge ahead of their competitors. This brought about his plans to merge various companies to serve this purpose. Durant is also credited as being the master mind behind the automobile dealership franchise.
During his tenure as president of General Motors (1916–1920), Durant brought the Chevrolet product line, as well as Fisher Body and Frigidaire into General Motors.