For decades General Motors held a commanding position in the motor vehicle industry. After emerging from the consolidation of various carmakers, parts producers, and other operations early in the 20th century, GM went on to become the cornerstone of the U.S. economy. It was widely believed, as GM President Charles “Engine Charlie” Wilson famously told Congress, that “what was good for our country was good for General Motors--and vice versa.” GM also had far-flung operations outside the United States, making it the world’s largest automaker.
GM’s dominance began to deteriorate in the 1970s, and the slide continued over the following three decades. The company lost more and more ground to Japanese competitors such as Toyota and Honda, which seemed better able to respond to changes in consumer preferences. The recession that began in 2007 dealt a heavy blow to the weakened company. By late 2008 GM began seeking a financial rescue package from the U.S. government. That rescue was provided, but at a substantial price. The company had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (from which it has already emerged), dispose of various operations, and give the federal government majority control. Today the new GM is a streamlined, privately held company that is trying to regain some of its past glory.