I remember hearing a story many years ago that went something like this:

When Henry Ford invented the mass-production of automobiles, it threw the transportation world into chaos. There was a well-established transportation vehicle industry which made carriages, horse accessories, whips, and the like, that just couldn't compete. Instead, many of them tried to hold back progress by various means, including inducing Congress to pass laws that would put horseless carriages at a disadvantage. But none of it worked, and today these Luddites all languish in obscurity. You wouldn't even recognize any of their names... except for one.

One man had the foresight to see which way the wind was blowing and actually adapt to the changing technology. He understood that he was in the transportation business rather than the carriage business, so he revamped his company and began building automobiles. His name was Louis Chevrolet.

This is a very interesting morality tale, with obvious implications for modern times. There's only one problem: it isn't true. Louis Chevrolet wasn't a carriage builder before he started building cars; he was a race car driver. But I can't help but wonder if there is any truth to it and the person who told the story just got the name wrong.

Were there any carriage manufacturers who switched to building cars and had any success with the pivot?

  • Notably, many smaller motor manufacturers are often called "Coachbuilders" colloquially in the UK, particularly when it comes to Lorries (articulated tractor-trailer combos for non UK readers) and buses. – Miller86 Jun 28 '18 at 12:00
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    Not a carriage maker, but, the Holden saddlery manufacturer, established in 1856 in South Australia, moved into the automotive field in 1908 & then became a subsidiary of General Motors in 1931. – Fred Jun 28 '18 at 14:18

Depending on the measure of success you are willing to allow, some manufacturers made the transition. Admittedly with varying success:

The first car was actually build by Chaisen-Bauer, Pferdekutschen, Wilhelm Wimpff & Söhne, upgraded with not an after market but pre-market modification by Gottlieb Daimler of Mercedes Benz heritage.

H.H. Babcock Company was founded in 1882. While Henry Henry Holmes Babcock started to build Watertown Wind Mills from 1845 the company started to build carriages in the 1870s. In 1882 the H.H. Babcock Buggy Company was formed and began to specialise in automobile manufacturing.

The most popular models introduced by them were the Highwheeler:

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The Babcock Automobile & The H. H. Babcock Co.

Or the "Model 30":

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Touring Car, Dated 1910, WP: H.H. Babcock Company

Unfortunately, this company was not overly successful and was dissolved in 1926.
Similar stories are told about the Buckeye Wagon & Motor Car Company, Burns Brothers. This list is of course incomplete.

Much more successful and long lived was the Hercules Corporation, operational from 1894 until 1954.

The most famous example has to be of course the Studebaker Company, being operational from 1852 to 1958/61/66 (depending on criteria). They build coaches and automobiles, and they were successful for a time at both.

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Most carriage and coach builders tried to get into the game. It was an evolutionary development. Far from as disruptive and revolutionary as commonly portrayed.
In conclusion I would classify this morality tale a just that: a blatant lie told to management classes and the general public. As usual in these circles or even "schools of thought", the connection to reality, documented historical reality, is quite slim, at best.

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    One of my distant cousins, Mary Ewing, married Peter Studebaker, one of the founding brothers! Alas, fortune is fleeting, and my side never benefited. OTOH, when my father was working at the Willow Run bomber plant in 1943, he met Henry Ford, Sr., and they talked for a quarter of an hour. – Peter Diehr Jun 28 '18 at 1:30
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    A real comment: the Studebaker's also built pianos for a time, and were one of the major producers in the 1890s. – Peter Diehr Jun 28 '18 at 1:31

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