AM General traces its roots to the Standard Wheel Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, which expanded in 1903 to include the Overland Automotive Division. In 1908, John North Willys purchased the Overland company, then based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and renamed it Willys-Overland Motors, Inc. In the 1940s, Willys-Overland developed a vehicle to U.S. Army's requirements and later mass-produced "America's first four-wheel drive one-fourth-ton tactical utility truck"—the Jeep of World War II fame. In 1953, Kaiser Motors purchased Willys-Overland, and changed the name to Kaiser-Willys Motor Company. In 1963 the company's name changed again to Kaiser-Jeep Corporation. In 1964, Kaiser-Jeep purchased the Studebaker facilities in South Bend, Indiana, and formed the Defense and Government Products Division in 1967, which after American Motors purchased Kaiser-Jeep became what is now AM General.
AM General's roots (and its location in South Bend) also lie with the "General Products Division" of Studebaker, which, along with its substantial defense contracts, was acquired by Kaiser Industries in early 1964 after Studebaker closed its U.S. auto manufacturing operations. At the time, Kaiser had been awarded a US$87 million Army truck contract, and under government pressure agreed to perform the work at the South Bend plant it had recently acquired from Studebaker. Subsequently, American Motors Corporation (AMC) purchased the Jeep Corporation from Kaiser in 1970 when Kaiser itself decided to leave the auto business. In 1971, AMC made the General Products Division of Jeep (producing military trucks, as well as contract and non-commercial vehicles) a wholly owned subsidiary and renamed it AM General Corporation.
AM General produced buses, large trucks, and Jeeps for industrial, military, and government use. In the late-1970s, it developed the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, nicknamed "Humvee") for military use as a heavy-duty replacement for the jeep. The vehicle later became available in a civilian version sold under the Hummer brand name. Another familiar product from the AM General line was the Jeep DJ-5 series—a purpose built "Dispatch Jeep" 2-wheel drive (RWD) version of the Jeep CJ-5—used in huge numbers as a right-hand drive mail delivery vehicle by the United States Postal Service. Production of buses lasted only from 1974 until 1979.
American Motors ended its history as an independent automaker in 1982 when controlling interest in the company was purchased by France's Renault. U.S. government regulations at that time forbade ownership of defense contractors by foreign governments, and Renault was partially owned by the French government. Therefore, in 1983, AM General was sold by AMC to the LTV Corporation and it became a wholly owned subsidiary of the LTV Aerospace and Defense Company. (As a result, AM General remained an independent company after AMC was purchased by Chrysler Corporation.)
Renco Group bought the company in 1992.
AM General, which remains an independent company and government and military contractor, sold the rights to the Hummer brand to General Motors in 1999. It continued production of the original civilian Hummer (dubbed by GM as the H1) until June 2006 when it ceased production.
AM General built a separate factory to build a new Hummer H2, designed by and marketed by General Motors. The vehicle went on the market in 2002, and was produced under contract to GM until January 2009. AM General did not build the Hummer H3, and the firm is not part of General Motors Corporation.
GM was sued early in 2003 by DaimlerChrysler, owners of the Jeep brand, for the Hummer's seven slot grille which resembled the design DaimlerChrysler argued consumers associated with Jeep vehicles. The lawsuit was dismissed due to the past corporate history involving AMC and Jeep.
On August 20, 2004, it was announced that Ronald Perelman's MacAndrews & Forbes company would form a joint venture with AM General's current owner, Renco Group, to give Perelman 70% ownership of AM General. The deal reportedly cost close to US$1 billion
In 2008, AM General and the Vehicle Production Group (VPG), of Troy, Michigan, announced that contracts had been signed for AM General to begin producing purpose-built taxi-cabs, beginning in 2009. Actual production began in October 2011. The first vehicle off the line was presented to Marc Buoniconti, a former linebacker for The Citadel who was injured playing football in 1985.
In May 2010, Azure Dynamics Corp. announced it had chosen AM General to assemble its electric drivetrain into Ford Transit Connect vehicles for the North American market. This product is being produced at AM General's facility in Livonia, Michigan.
September 2013, AM General reached an agreement to purchase the United States Department of Energy's (DOE) secured loan to the Vehicle Production Group (VPG). Prior to this, AM General acted as sole vehicle assembler for VPG. As a result of this transaction, AM General created a wholly owned company, Mobility Ventures LLC, to operate the Mobility Vehicle-1 (MV-1) business and receive all VPG assets.
In 2015, production of Mercedes-Benz R class began at the Mishawaka assembly plant. Without this deal, "the German automaker would likely have had to shut down production of the vehicle, currently only sold in China."
AM General manufactured buses for city transit use from 1974 until 1979, producing a total of 5,431 buses (including 219 electric trolley buses). This originated with a 1971 agreement with Flyer Industries, of Winnipeg, Canada, under which AM General would build and market buses to Flyer's designs in the United States. However, before starting production, AMG redesigned the front end of Flyer's then-current model, and thus the resulting product was not simply a Flyer design built under license but rather a jointly designed vehicle. Flyer adopted the design changes for its own production (for its models D800 and E800). Buses were built in lengths of either 35 ft (10.7 m) or 40 ft (12.2 m), and widths of 96 in (2,438 mm) or 102 in (2,591 mm). The model numbers were simple, an example being model "10240", which indicated a 102-inch-wide, 40-foot-long bus. Suffixes "A" or "B" were used for later models, to indicate certain options. In total, 3,571 40-foot diesel buses and 1,641 35-foot diesel buses were produced.
In 1977–1979, AM General also worked under a partnership with MAN of Germany to build articulated buses for U.S. transit systems. MAN fabricated the bodyshells in Germany and shipped them to the US, where AM General completed the buses and was the primary contractor with the buyers. Two different lengths were offered, 55 ft (16.8 m) and 60 ft (18.3 m); 93 buses were built to the shorter length, and all others were 60 feet long. By October 1978, the company had decided to discontinue its bus production, and the last MAN articulated bus completed by AM General was finished in March 1979. The total number built was just under 400 (392 or 399), the largest group by far being 150 for Seattle's Metro Transit. (MAN subsequently set up its own factory for U.S. production of its articulated buses, in the small town of Cleveland, North Carolina.)
Production of complete motor buses (and of any two-axle motor buses) had ended in 1978, and aside from the fitting-out of the last articulated MAN shells, the only production in 1979 was that of two batches of trolleybuses (and the only such vehicles ever built by the company). These were all 40-foot (12.2 m) vehicles, model 10240T: 110 for the Philadelphia trolleybus system, operated by SEPTA, and 109 for the Seattle trolleybus system, operated by Metro Transit (now King County Metro). One of the latter has been preserved (following its retirement in 2003) by King County Metro (see King County Metro fleet).
In 1979, AM General began preliminary design work on the M998 Series High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, pronounced Humvee); a 1.25-ton truck intended to replace the M151 and other Light Utility Vehicles. The U.S. Army awarded AM General a prototype contract in 1981 and the development and operational testing was conducted over a five-month period in 1982. In March 1983, AM General won an initial $1.2 billion contract to produce 55,000 Humvees to be delivered in five basic models and 15 different configurations over a five-year period.
In 1983, the LTV Corporation bought AM General from American Motors Corporation and established it as a wholly owned subsidiary of the LTV Aerospace and Defense Company.
In 1984, the AM General headquarters moved from the American Motors AMTEK Building in Detroit, Michigan, to Livonia, Michigan, and two years later to South Bend, Indiana, where the primary manufacturing operations were located.
Production began at the Mishawaka, Indiana, assembly plant in the fall of 1984 and the first deliveries were made in early 1985. The total production by mid-1991 was more than 72,000 vehicles including international sales.
In 1992, LTV sold AM General to The Renco Group, Inc., who in 2002 converted it to a limited liability company.
By March 1995 about 100,000 HMMWVs had been built. Since 1991, an additional 20,000 HMMWVs were ordered by governments.
Late in 2000, AM General was awarded another production contract for 2,962 trucks in the M998A2 series. The contract contained six single-year options running to fiscal year 2007. This contract was extended. To date, nearly 250,000 units have been produced.
Humvees feature full-time four-wheel drive, independent suspension, steep approach and departure angles, 60-percent gradeability and 16 inches (406 mm) of ground clearance. Most recent production models included the M1151, M1152, M1165, and M1167. As of 2015, Humvees are in use by the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy. The combined fleet is about 140,000 Humvees. More than 50 friendly foreign nations also have Humvees.
The Humvee's replacement, a completely new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) design, will be produced by Oshkosh Corporation with the first deliveries to the U.S. Army expected in 2016. AM General competed in the program but lost in the final selection, leading to fears that the company may be sold off having lost the opportunity to produce its signature product's replacement for an up to $30 billion program through 2040. Although they were still making foreign Humvee sales, that may not last long after the JLTV enters production and it seems second-best on the market; there is speculation that larger defense companies like General Dynamics and BAE Systems may be interested in acquiring AM General. Even so, they are likely to have business for years sustaining and upgrading Humvees since the U.S. Humvee fleet will still be triple the amount of JLTVs, and even announced the award of a contract to supply the Army with Humvee ambulances within an hour of saying they would not protest the JLTV decision.
Prior to the development of newer vehicles, such as the HMMWV, AM General also acquired contracts from the Department of Defense to build medium and heavy trucks for the armed forces. These included the M151 series of trucks M35 series of trucks and heavier 5-ton series of trucks.
In 2005, AM General was contracted to take over militarization, sales, and marketing of LSSV vehicles.