He tried his hand at making cars but the real passion for Louis Joseph Chevrolet was racing them.
Better late than never for the town of La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Nestled into the snow-covered Alps, it’s not a place the tourists often go, even if it is the third-largest community in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland. Yet its reach is surprisingly broad. A disproportionate share of the town’s residents tick off their days toiling in the watch industry, with eagerly-sought brands like Rolex, Omega, Movado and Girard-Perregaux headquartered here.
But some of La Chaux-de-Fonds’ more legendary citizens had to leave to find their fame, among them Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as architect Le Corbusier, and Louis Joseph Chevrolet. The latter, the son of a local watchmaker, was born in the Jura Mountains town in 1878 but left by the time he was 20 to pursue a career in racing and automobile manufacturing.
He is, of course, the man who lent his name to the Chevrolet Motor Car Company, which the American emigrant cofounded with Billy Durant – himself the founder of General Motors, who had been forced out of GM and was looking for a way to get back into the auto industry. Their venture was officially registered on November 3, 1911, triggering the extensive centennial celebrations that ran most of last year.
And for good reason. After emerging from bankruptcy two years earlier, GM abandoned a number of brands, including well-known Pontiac, shifting emphasis to the marques still remaining. Chevrolet is playing a particular important role as the singular focus of GM’s global expansion plans. The maker set an all-time sales record of more than 5 million vehicles last month – clicking off an additional sale “every six seconds,” as Susan Docherty, president of Chevrolet of Europe is quick to point out.