Chevrolet will officially start its 100 day countdown to its 100th anniversary on July 27. The Chevrolet Centennial will be celebrated on November 3 when it will commemorate the many milestones and achievements that Chevrolet has accomplished across the Middle East.
Chevrolet has become part of the fabric of life in the Middle East and has influenced the region’s automotive history ever since the first Chevrolet vehicles were introduced in the early 20th Century.
The automotive brand owes its existence to a Swiss racing driver and a Boston-based entrepreneur who founded Chevrolet 100 years ago.
Back in the early 1900s, Louis Chevrolet was making a name for himself as a daring race car driver and innovative engineer. He began racing for the Buick team, owned by Boston financier and entrepreneur William Durant. But the two men decided to form a partnership off the track and founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company in Detroit, Michigan, on November 3, 1911.
One year later, the first ‘Classic Six’ rolled off the factory floor in Detroit. The four-cylinder ‘Baby Grand’ and the two-seater ‘Royal Mail’ and the ‘L Light Six’ soon followed. These were the forerunners to some of the Middle East’s most popular vehicles; the Chevrolet Caprice, Suburban, Camaro and the Corvette.
Chevrolet’s popularity was not just confined to the United States; during this time a growing number of vehicles were making their way to the Middle East.
Initially imported into the region by diplomats and U.S. embassy staff, Chevrolet soon began to capture the imagination of kings, princes and kings across the region, igniting the Middle East’s love affair with American vehicles.
By the 1920s, Arab entrepreneurs were importing Chevrolets to sell to a new emerging class of people who were keen to express their wealth and social status through the purchase of a car.
General Motors, which by this point had acquired Chevrolet, could not ignore the growing popularity of Chevrolet in the Middle East and established a corporate head office in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1926 to service the growing number of customers in the region.
GM began to appoint the first official dealers for its brands including Egypt’s Oakland Fouad I & Imad Eddin, which was selected as the first Chevrolet dealer covering the entire Middle East.
To help promote its vehicles, GM also organized the region’s first Auto Show in Egypt that showcased all of its vehicles, including a trio of four-cylinder cars from Chevrolet.
GM’s strategy was working. By the later 1920s, awareness of Chevrolet was rising fast and its reputation was soaring. As a result, more Chevrolet dealers were appointed, including Wassef Beshara in Jordan, the Khairallah brothers’ Syria Auto & Electric Co dealership in Syria, Kedorie & Ezra Mir Lawee in Iraq and Al Khalid in Kuwait.
“Chevrolet’s success was built on the cornerstones of value, reliability, performance and expressive design. For millions of Chevrolet customers in the Middle East and around the world, it continues to represent these same qualities today,” says John Stadwick, President and Managing Director of General Motors Middle East Operations.
Chevrolet was now blazing a trail through the Middle East and was revolutionizing transport, shortening travel times, opening up vast areas of previously inaccessible desert, and changing the lives and fortunes of the region’s people for ever.
In particular, Chevrolet was gaining a reputation for its desert worthiness.
Chevrolet vehicles were proving themselves to be more than a match for the grueling Middle Eastern environment and were fast replacing camels as the most convenient desert transport. Not only could they reach places that were originally only accessible by camel, but they could do so in a fraction of the time and in greater comfort.
Chevrolet’s desert reputation was confirmed in 1938 when the British Army in North Africa ordered 500 Chevrolets with desert equipment. They were among the first Chevrolets specially engineered to handle the harsh conditions of the Middle East’s desert interior. The Chevrolets were so successful as transport for water, ammunition and troops that thousands of 4x4 and 6x6 Chevrolet trucks and command cars were ordered by the British Army during WWII.
To improve desert endurance, Chevrolet developed new tires with the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company that could endure the heat and rugged terrain of the desert. Later, Chevrolet also helped to develop the famous ‘camel foot’ tires.
But Chevrolet’s influence on the region’s automobile landscape did not stop. In 1936, Chevrolet revolutionized transport again with the introduction of the Suburban - the world’s first sports utility vehicle (SUV).
The Suburban was capable of comfortably carrying up to eight passengers and it started the Arab obsession with the SUV. It was an ideal vehicle for traditionally large Arab families and became a popular mode of transport for the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
By the 1950s, sales of the Suburban and other Chevrolet vehicles began to soar as prosperity levels in the Middle East were boosted by the discovery and extraction of oil across the region.
To meet this demand, GM appointed more Chevrolet dealers in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. This ensured that customers across the entire Middle East could have access to Chevrolet vehicles and be provided with a world-class service.
Along with the Suburban, Chevrolet introduced new vehicles that captured the imagination of customers in the region, such as the Corvette in 1953, the Caprice in 1965 and the Camaro in 1967. These new vehicles helped to elevate the brand among the region’s drivers who were now affectionately referring to Chevrolet as “Shafar” in many parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
“Chevrolet features in Arabic songs, poetry and film as much as it does in the United States. That’s because Chevrolet has shaped the region’s automotive landscape, revolutionized the way that people travel and affected their lives in many positive ways,” says Stadwick. “Chevrolet has had as much influence in the Middle East as it has had on the States with vehicles such as the Suburban and the Caprice engrained in the hearts and minds of Arab drivers.”
To ensure it could meet the sales and service needs of all Chevrolet customers in the region, GM opened a new regional headquarters in Dubai in 1991 – General Motors Middle East Operations. From here it supports the growing number of Chevrolet showrooms and service workshops across the region. The opening of GM’s Middle East Parts Distribution Centre in 2003 ensures that all Chevrolet customers receive vehicle parts in a timely fashion.
Today, the Middle East is one of Chevrolet’s fastest growing markets as it attracts a new generation of customers. Vehicles such as the Tahoe, Malibu, Cruze, Aveo and the all-new Camaro have become popular models throughout the region. In 2010, more than 83,000 Chevrolet vehicles were sold in the Middle East – an increase of 9.2% compared to 2009.
Worldwide, Chevrolet has now sold more than 200 million vehicles since the Chevrolet Motor Car Company was founded 100 years ago. Last year alone, Chevrolet sold more than 4.2million vehicles in over 130 countries – or about one Chevrolet every seven-and-a-half seconds.
“This year’s centennial is a great chance to reflect on the passion and emotion that has made Chevrolet what it is today,” adds Stadwick. “It’s also an important opportunity to look ahead as we build on the promise of the Chevrolet brand to make it as relevant tomorrow as it has been for 100 years for customers here in the Middle East.”
Chevrolet’s centennial celebrations will also focus on the brand’s future. Once again, Chevrolet is leading the industry in innovation.
The latest vehicle to break new ground is the extended-range electric vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt, which could revolutionize the way people drive as much as the ‘Classic Six’ did in 1911.