Special Report

This Is America's Oldest Car Brand

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Car companies drop brands and models that do not sell well, although such decisions are rare. Ford, one of America’s oldest car brands, has persevered by constantly changing. The company has recently stopped selling most of its sedan car models in the United States and has been increasingly focusing on sport utility vehicles, crossovers, and pickups to address shifting demand. 

There are a number of other car brands that have persevered and been active in the U.S. for well over a century and are still producing automobiles to this day. For instance, Cadillac is considered America’s oldest surviving major car brand, having been incorporated in 1902, narrowly beating out Ford and Buick, which became corporate entities the following year.

There had been several older American car brands, such as Oldsmobile, but these brands have been discontinued by their parent companies.

Among the oldest car brands sold in America are those built by manufacturers based overseas. The first Mercedes was built in 1901 by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft. Mercedes was for decades, and remains, among the best-selling luxury cars in America.

Click here to see America’s oldest car brand

Source: Courtesy of Jeep

10. Jeep
> Year founded: 1945

In World War II, the U.S. Army needed light reconnaissance vehicles and solicited prototypes from carmakers and ended up selecting the design of American Bantam car company. The automobile’s name, General Purpose, was abbreviated to G.P. and eventually nicknamed “jeep.”

Following the war, the Jeep name was trademarked in 1943 and the vehicles were made available to the public in 1945. The brand is now owned by the newly-formed international automaking company Stellantis.


Source: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

9. Chrysler
> Year founded: 1925

Though Chrysler was founded in 1925, its origins are actually even earlier. Maxwell Motor Company had been making cars since 1904, but by 1920, the automaker was facing complete collapse. The business owners convinced Walter P. Chrysler to save the company, and he did just that, helping the brand innovate the six-cylinder engine.

The brand was successful for much of the early 20th century before running into significant financial trouble. Chrysler was bailed out by the federal government in 1980 and again in 2008, after a merger with German automaker Daimler-Benz AG went sour. Fiat and Chrysler combined in 2011 and have since also merged with French company PSA Group to form Stellanits in 2020.

Source: lincoln.com

8. Lincoln
> Year founded: 1917

Lincoln was founded by Henry Leland more than a decade after he founded another automaker on this list — Cadillac. After leaving Cadillac due to differences with GM President William Durant, Leland created Lincoln Motor Company in 1917, naming the new car brand after former President Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln operated independently only very briefly as it was purchased by Ford in 1922. Ford still owns the brand as its luxury imprint.

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images

7. Dodge
> Year founded: 1913

Dodge was founded as Dodge Brothers Motor Company in 1913 by John and Horace Dodge. The company quickly became very successful, selling 45,000 cars in 1915 and cementing its place as the second leading automaker in America.

This success was short lived, as both brothers died of an illness in 1920, and by 1925 the company was floundering. The widows of the Dodge brothers opted to sell their stake in the business to Chrysler, which revitalized the brand.


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6. Chevrolet
> Year founded: 1911

Chevrolet was formed in 1911 as a partnership between General Motors’ founder William Durant and race car driver and engineer Louis Chevrolet. Durant was ousted from GM amid a financial crisis in 1910.

With Durant’s years of experience in the relatively new marketplace, the Chevrolet brand became rapidly successful — so successful, in fact, that Durant was able to secure enough financial backing to buy a controlling stake in his old company, GM. Durant was ousted again shortly after, but Chevy’s success was undeniable, and GM leaders decided they would have Chevy produce more vehicles than any other brand GM’s vehicle lineup.

Source: Courtesy of GMC

5. GMC
> Year founded: 1911

GMC was first formed in 1911, but its origins go all the way back to 1900. Brothers Max and Morris Grabowsky formed Grabowsky Motor Vehicle Co at the turn of the century, aiming to design trucks. After proving they could successfully make a running vehicle, the brothers changed their company name to Rapid Motor Vehicle Company in 1902. The company expanded quickly and by 1906 had the world’s sole commercial truck production plant.

The company caught the attention of GM founder William Durant, and he began purchasing stock in the company in 1908. By 1909, Durant gained a controlling interest in the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company. The GMC brand was formed in 1911, selling Rapid trucks. The Rapid brand name was phased out shortly thereafter, while GMC is still one of the most commonly driven vehicle brands in America.


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4. GM
> Year founded: 1908

Though General Motors does not make cars under the General Motors brand, it owns some of America’s largest and oldest car brands, including Buick, Cadillac, GMC, and more.

GM was initially founded as a holding company for another one of the oldest car brands in America, Buick. GM founder William Durant had turned Buick from a promising startup to one of the leading players in the new automobile market and had his sights set on expansion. GM quickly acquired automakers like Oldsmobile and Cadillac, as well as Chevrolet later on. Per Statista, GM still has the largest share of the U.S. light automobile market as of 2020.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

3. Ford
> Year founded: 1903

Ford is one of the oldest and most popular auto brands in America. The brand was founded by Henry Ford in 1903. Ford was renowned for his innovations, particularly the assembly line, which allowed workers to produce an entire automobile in a fraction of the time it once took — down from 12 hours to less than two.

Ford’s F-series line of pickup trucks have been the best-selling vehicles in the country since 1981. But the vehicle that really got the Ford brand off the ground was the Model T. The Model T was the first car that was cheap enough for many to afford. At one time the Model T was so popular that over half of all Americans owned one.

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2. Buick
> Year founded: 1903

Though the first vehicle called Buick was made in either 1899 or 1900, the company was formally incorporated in 1903, and moved locations in Michigan from Detroit to Flint. David D. Buick founded the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company in 1899, fabricating engines. He worked to make entire automobiles through 1903, when the business was reorganized into The Buick Motor Car Company.

The Buick brand sold only a handful of cars in its first few years, but became successful thanks to William Durant, who was impressed by the quality of the cars and took control of the company in 1904. Durant used his salesmanship, organization skills, and business connections to boost Buick’s business, and by 1908, it was the nation’s top automaker. That year, Durant formed a holding company for his automobile businesses called General Motors, which still owns the Buick brand to this day.


Source: Stratol / Getty Images

1. Cadillac
> Year founded: 1902

Founded in 1902, Cadillac ranks as America’s oldest continually-operating automaker. Cadillac’s creation is credited to Henry Leland, who began making machining equipment in Detroit in 1890. His top-notch work building engines attracted the attention of The Henry Ford Company, but Henry Ford was upset when the young business brought in another engineer that he left the company altogether.

Leland suggested to the rest of the business’s owners that they use his designs for a new vehicle, and they agreed. The company was renamed Cadillac in honor of Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur-de-Cadillac, the French explorer credited with founding the city of Detroit. The business became a success. General Motors acquired Cadillac in 1909 and still owned the brand as of 2021.

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