The 60s and 70s were a time of new challenges and great change. Environmental concerns, increased as prices and foreign competition led to an unprecedented downsizing of vehicles across all GM vehicle lines. It was the largest reengineering program ever undertaken in the industry, ushering in an age of lighter, aerodynamic and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
In 1971, GM pioneered the use of engines that could run on low-lead or unleaded gasoline. Two years later, General Motors was the first to offer an air bag in a production car. In 1974, GM introduced the most important step in reducing emissions with the catalytic converter. This technology, shared by General Motors, is still used by the entire auto industry.
There were storm clouds on the horizon, however. Germany and Japan, now recovered from the devastation of World War II, began exporting cars to the U.S. in larger numbers, and fuel price shocks sparked consumer interest in these new, more fuel-efficient vehicles. GM rushed to develop smaller vehicles as well, but the company had been too large and too successful for too long to change direction easily, and GM’s undisputed dominance of the U.S. market began to erode.