William Knudsen could not abide second place. As Ford Motor Co.'s manufacturing boss during the heyday of the Model T, he didn't have to.
But Knudsen found himself in second place by miles when he became president of Chevrolet in 1924. Early that year, he addressed about 2,000 dealers and salesmen at a meeting in Chicago.
The new boss faced the crowd, raised his arms with his index fingers pointing skyward and shouted: "I want one for one!" That meant parity with Ford. In Knudsen's thick Danish accent, his challenge came out: "Ay vant vun for vun!"
Writes Knudsen biographer Norman Beasley: "Chevrolet salesmen were on their feet, laughing and cheering the 'vun for vun' challenge swept through the Chevrolet organization."
Chevrolet took the sales lead in 1927, although Ford was down most of that year for changeover from the Model T to the Model A. But Chevy won again in 1928, and the two giants kicked the lead back and forth for the next seven years. Then Chevy took over, winning the race in 44 of the next 47 years.
For the rest of the story about the history, growth and future of the U.S. dealer franchise system, don't miss the Sept. 25 special issue of Automotive News: The Franchise: A Century of Factory-Dealer Cooperation, Tension and Prosperity - Why the Franchise System Dominates.