Company: History & Heritage

Globalization 1980-1999

Although General Motors was always active internationally, the 1980s and 1990s brought a new urgency for GM to operate as a single global company, to improve the efficiency of its operations and better compete with global competitors. GM also began a series of reorganizations in North America that led to a single business unit there.

In 1982, GM marked its largest single production expansion outside of North America with the opening of the new complex in Zaragoza, Spain. This facility immediately began building the fuel-efficient Opel Corsa. With joint ventures in China and India plus the additions of Saab and HUMMER to the GM family, the company expanded both the reach and variety of vehicles sold worldwide.

1995 was a big year for GM. Annual vehicle sales outside North America exceeded three million units for the first time. Five million vehicles were sold in the United States that year and GM entered into its first joint venture agreement in China. By the end of the 90s, the foundation for global growth in the new millennium had been set.

During this period, GM also formed NUMMI, a joint-venture with Toyota, and Saturn, a wholly new company focused on creating a new small car and a new way of doing business. Lessons from these and other innovations were spread throughout GM, and the company benefitted from a truck boom that saw millions of Americans adopt SUVs as their family transportation. However, legacy costs from earlier years continued to weigh on the company, and Japanese, German, and Korean competitors pushed into the lead in most passenger car segments.