By on May 27, 2007

caddy16.jpgThere is no greater symbol of GM’s branding woes than Cadillac. During its formative years, the marque’s products stood at the pinnacle of automotive excellence. As The Grateful Dead would say, what a long strange trip it’s been: from coachbuilder to maharajahs to supplier of Chevrolet clones to America’s mid-market motorists. In a world of $30k Rolex watches and $500 wine, Cadillac no longer deserves to be called a luxury brand. Its failure epitomizes all that went wrong with GM’s branding.

Cadillac was formed from the ashes of the first Ford Motor Company. When Henry’s early backers asked Engineer Henry Leyland to appraise the failed business’ assets, the Vermont native convinced them to resume operations using his 10hp one-cylinder engine. In 1902, Cadillac was born.

Leyland applied his experience as a gun maker to spectacular effect. The company’s fanatical attention to parts quality and interchangeability created an extraordinarily reliable vehicle. When three model K Cadillacs aced a series of English reliability tests (including scrambling key components from three cars and then rebuilding them), Cadillac earned its reputation as the “Standard of the World.”

GM bought the innovative automaker in 1909. From the start of the century into the roaring twenties, Cadillac pushed the engineering envelope. The automaker introduced the first electric starter, safety glass, V8 power, synchronized transmission and more.

When Alfred Sloan reorganized GM according to his principle “a car for every pocketbook,” Cadillac occupied the top berth, above Buick. Sloan then pushed the brand into the auto-stratosphere.

Caddy’s 1930 portfolio included the LaSalle, V8, V12 and the V16 (fully the equal of the Rolls Royce, Duesenberg, Packard and other coach-built cars of the Classic era). Prices ranged from $3295 to $9700– roughly $80k to $300k in today’s money.

The Depression killed the V16, and almost took the brand with it. In 1932, GM contemplated shuttering the division. Cadillac’s president Nicholas Dreystadt presented an alternative: sell the brand’s less stratospherically-priced products to America’s nascent African American upper class.

Opening its doors to this neglected market saved Cadillac from oblivion, but subjected the brand to a new threat. As Sloan’s once-sacred pricing structure eroded, Cadillac’s top-of-the-pile price premium shrank. In 1940, the cheapest Cadillac was 150 percent more expensive than the most expensive Chevy. By 1950, it was 65 percent. By 1960, it was just 30 percent.

The fifties and early sixties were Cadillac’s second golden era. America’s income distribution was the most compressed it had ever been; a brashly styled Caddy was a commonly-shared icon representing the American dream.

While Caddy’s prices continued to fall in this era, their models were still a fantasy for the typical working-class family. Factory workers were known to pool resources to buy a Cadillac on a time-share basis.

During the ‘60’s, America experienced an explosive growth of Median Household Income (MHI). Cadillac chased the booming mid-market, losing touch with its rapidly fading luxury remit. In 1960, a basic Cadillac cost 87 percent of MHI; by 1970, it was down to 64 percent. In 1971, the Calais cost only 25 percent more than a Caprice.

GM singularly failed to do the right thing: take Cadillac back up-market to cater to the rapidly growing ranks of wealthy and near-wealthy, and enhance Buick and Oldsmobile to take Cadillac’s place in the lower-premium market.

Product wasn’t the problem. In a 1965 Car & Driver luxury car comparo, Cadillac finished a close second (just behind the three-times more expensive Mercedes 600) and handily beat Roll-Royce, Lincoln, Imperial and Jaguar.

C&D hit the nail on the head: “Among enthusiasts, the Cadillac is probably the most underrated car in the world, although in some ways, it equals or excels the Mercedes 600. In our estimation, Cadillac’s great sales success is all that hurts its ‘image’ as a prestige luxury car.”

Cadillac’s fit, finish and build quality went downhill from there, as the high-volume, low price strategy meant cheaper materials and rushed assembly. In 1964, nobody would have confused an Impala for a DeVille. By 1971, the Caprice and DeVille were precariously similar in both style and build quality.

GM’s destruction transformation of a globally-respected, technologically-superior luxury brand into a tarted-up Chevrolet for middle class buyers was complete.

America’s upper-income classes abandoned Cadillac for Mercedes, whose sales began a long expansive period around 1970. In 1973, Cadillac sales enjoyed a brief explosion (stealing from Chevrolet?). Sales exceeded 300k in 1973, peaking at 350k in 1978. And then Cadillac began its near-terminal decline.

Today’s Cadillacs have established a precarious foothold where Buick once lived: at the top end of the ‘near luxury’ automotive market. Talk of a new V16 to reposition Cadillac higher up in the food chain has faded, leaving the brand with the prospect of more mediocrity. Badge-engineered SUV’s, price-conscious sedans and an uncompetitive roadster portend a bleak future for Cadillac, and GM.

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44 Comments on “General Motors’ Branding Fiasco Part Six – Cadillac Falls Down...”

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Caddy has always had an up and down road. Our family of funeral directors had a large share of them over the years. The good, bad and ugly. My uncles 1950 got at that time a great 20mpg but without power steering was a bear to park (far worse than our chrysler and packards)The 1954 was a watershed design and for it's time drove well. The 56 had a new jetaway automatic my father replaced three times (only a 90 day warrany then). The 59's were on the ground low. You sat on the floor, the 60 was styled more conservative but you still sat on the floor. The 65 was arguably the best one ever. Nicely styled and trouble free. The 69 that replaced it was not nearly as good and troublesome. The 72's had classic styling (fleetwoods) but we cracked a windshield over a bump, plus the frameless side door glass was not solid. The 1974 seemed better but not distinguished. The 77 was a watershed downsized car which was very good mechanically, but tight for inside seating (remember we needed to haul people to funerals) and was the first caddy to bear little visual difference from the buick and olds. This new BOC buick olds caddy division with it's shared parts was the beginning of the end for caddy as being distinctive. By 1980 the caddy was puffed out again in size but the power was decreased to accomodate the gas crisis.(they even had an underperforming V6) On a trip a 1980 (V8) also got 20mpg for us. Then came 1985 the front wheel disaster. A tiny caddy appeared looking even closer to the buick and olds which was not luxurious. They tried to build hearses and limos on this platform but they were not successful because of the small size. This marked the first time lincoln became a serious competitor to caddy in the commercial vehicles. (lincoln would last all of 10 years in their glory and then disapear) By 1994 I bought a pair of devilles (my last as I sold the company that year) they were undistinguished with noisy engines and a getting tired style.This was after caddy tried to do a resurgence with the rear wheel drive totally unsuccessful redesign of the early 1990's. These fleetwood broughams had poor interior space for their large outsides and also were undistinguished. When you add in all of caddys mechanical disasters. 1981 8-6-4-engines, V6's and the diesel (from olds) you can see that this was a division that worked hard at losing their vaunted image over many years (50). I don't see it coming back.

  • avatar

    This criticism does not necessarily apply to the present-day Cadillac. The success of CTS and STS is the evidence that the brand is bouncing back. While the market has not been as receptive to STS and XLR, they’re still amazing car that are worthy of a luxury brand maker and go head to head on features and design with the rest of competition in the luxury car segment.

  • avatar

    Here in Australia GM has not even tried to sell to the high-end market. They gave it to BMW. The Japanese are starting to make some headway. But Lexi are still a rare sight.

    Since I’m not from here, I don’t know if Caddy ever had a presence down here. I don’t see any old Caddys driving around, except the rare left-hand drives ones that are obvious imports.

    Anyhow… it just seemed strange to me that GM, one of the largest car companies on earth, doesn’t even try to market to the high-end outside of the US.

  • avatar

    Cadillac’s problems highlight the mistake of leaving too much production when it’s not needed: sales have to be kept up which mean being more things to more people.

    There’s nothing wrong by having Cadillac catering to the fabulously rich, but by bringing the target market down a couple of notches to increase volume, it does make justifying Buick, Hummer and Saab nigh impossible.

    As someone under 30 I have to say absolutely no one I know that is my age aspires to own a Cadillac. Cadillacs are cars for pompous baby boomers…as are Corvettes. Nouveaux riches and spoiled brats get a BMW, Merc or a Lexus. Or an Aston Martin.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I would have to say that styling and interior materials are now a bigger issue than performance.

    Cadillac has actually won several competitions with the SRX and CTS. The problem is that the styling of both mainstream vehicles is just plain ugly.

    GM has this thing about making vehicles with distortionistic proportions. Front fascias that look completely separate from the rest of the vehicle, doors that are flat while everything else has an elliptical shape, dashboards that are seemingly made of tupperware and make little ergonomic sense. Over the last fifteen years the overwhelming majority of GM models have suffered from at least one of these three afflictions.

    Cadillacs no longer have any presence to them. The underlying mechanicals are quite good, but the entire design and execution of the rest of their vehicles are complete garbage.

    I am 34, and other than buying a late 90’s
    full-sized Cadillac for a road trip and flipping it when I got back, I’ve never remotely considered the marque. If it weren’t for the fact that my folks wanted a Cadillac for a while (they drove it and decided to stick with their Camry and ES300) I wouldn’t have bothered buying one in the first place.

  • avatar

    Hello!! I have to ask…is there REALLY a “Cadillac”(or Chevy, Buick, Olds, Saturn, Pontiac) anymore?
    Arent they all just generic General Motors?
    Do the various divisions have their own engineering, production, marketing and sales centers and personel?
    I remember when any manufacturer selling his product–no matter what it was–called it..”The Cadillac of ***” Then it was “It’s the Mercedes of ***” Now, “It’s the Lexus of ***”
    I guess if youre a dyed-in-the-wool GM supporter wanting to show your status, you have nowhere else to go but Cadillac.

  • avatar

    “The success of CTS and STS is the evidence that the brand is bouncing back.”

    The moderate success of these lines is into what should have been Buick’s market niche. I highly doubt that many customers are considering a Mercedes E or S class alongside the CTS or STS.

    The CTS and STS are at best near luxury vehicles.

    Remember, the Cimarron was a sales “success” as well!

  • avatar

    Great review of Cadillac.

    The 1957 Eldorado Brougham with the stainless steel top had features which are still offered today on luxury cars.

    Cadillac’s racing effort at LeMans a few years back was indicative of their outlook, when the time came to make a serious commitment, they elected to pull the plug. In the meantime Audi goes there does transaxle changes in record time,wins, and wins again with a diesel.

    For whatever reason the “brain thrust” at GM never had the “intestinal fortitude” to keep Cadillac in its rightful position. Once they realised that it was shameful, they embarked on a mission to revive Cadillac with the edgy styling, dropping all the familiar names and adopting the letters or numbers as identifiers.

    A CTS has a fighting chance as an entry level luxury car in a very crowded market, a DTS appeals to the older folks who prefer a full size car, an STS is way too much money for what it is, years ago the Allante submarined and sure enough they go out and do the same thing again with another 2 seat roadster. The SUV’s have their own niche market for what they are.

    GM has spent tons of money in the past few years in an attempt to put Cadillac back to where it was, to regain a market position and market share that they neglected and gave away.

    Cadillac is a business case for other manufacturers too. Once you start dammaging a brand, it takes incredible amounts of money to attempt to fix the brand. There are other luxury manufacturers that are experiencing “Cadillac moments” in their own way.

    From the early 70’s when David E.Davis started talking about the virtues of a 450SE, the folks at Cadillac should have taken notice and paid attention, and perhaps gone out and buy one to see what it was all about.

    In the ensuing years was a 450SE / 450SEL that good, or was a Cadillac that bad? By the early 80’s it was a “done deal” Cadillac was “road kill”.

    Looking back, its a monumental accomplishment to get bounced out of the “premium luxury segment” without putting up a fight. To ensure that the competition had an advantage the product coming from Cadillac was “amateurish” compared to the competition.

    The paradox is that recent model used Cadillacs are an incredible value for the money.

  • avatar

    If you compare GM’s focused, if somewhat glacial, efforts on the Corvette to their Cadillac “approach”, it is apparent what is lacking from the Cadillac division. The Corvette, GM’s other “premium” car, has made steady and often spectacular improvements throughout its life (save the sad 75 – 83 era) to where it today represents an extraordinay car when judged against its peers. Niggling interior issues aside, the alloy-block pushrod V8 makes more power per pound than any of the six-cylinder Porsches, and the overall performance is at the top of the market. The base $45k Corvette is not only a great performer, but offers amazing value when compared to the stripper $50k Porsche Cayman, its closest competitor (and yes, Nissan fans, the 350Z is a decent example, but the performance is not nearly so amazing). It may not be the most dramatic looking car in the market, but has evolved into a striking and very handsome ride. By contrast, Cadillac lapsed into ever-increasing mediocrity over the same time frame. The CTS and STS are what they should have been producing in the early 90’s; while third- or fourth-generations of these cars might well be barking at the heels of BMW and Lexus, they just have not put the energy into their development to make them competitors now, when GM is on the ropes.

    Instead of producing highly profitable luxury cars, GM went for the easy bucks and high volume offered by trucks and SUV’s. This short-sighted approach resulted in almost no significant improvements to any of their car lines when compared to their competitors, all save the Corvette.

    Instead of focusing on CARS, even when it was apparent to all that they were losing the race, GM management simply could not resist going back to snort another line of cheap-thrill truck/SUV profits. And like any other coke-head, it all comes crashing down when reality sets in and the heady short-term feelings subside.

    As sad as it is, Michael Moore hit it dead on in “Roger and Me” – these guys were long out of touch with reality. For twenty years, every time I drove a modern GM car, I would leave the experience shaking my head and wondering if anyone in management ever looked at, or drove what their competition was offering. Today’s come-down has been a long time coming, and Cadillac is just part of the hangover.

  • avatar

    My sister and her husband have made huge amounts of money over the past 20 years, making the right investments and mostly being lucking in their choices. They have a mountain retreat that is in a neightborhood that has it’s own airstip and they are about 2 miles from it to their summer house. They keep a car in the hanger for when they fly in and it allows them to get around the local towns and to their house. It’s a 2000 Cadillac, not sure what type, with ~60,000 miles on it.

    We had gone into town one day last year and he stepped on the gas and it had good get up and go, I least I thought it did (I drive a Honda). He said compared to the BMW, Lexus and Mercedes his family drives at home, the car was a dog. It’s also been leaking oil, but he was quoted by the local dealership over $2000 to fix it and he didn’t think the car was worth fixing. He checks the oil everytime he comes out for a visit and fills it based on how much the drip pan shows it has leaked since the last time he was out. He said when it dies, he’ll get another Cady.

    At that point, I came to the realization that nowadays you know you’ve got it made when your beater car is a Cadillac.

  • avatar

    Yes, GM worked to tarnish Cadillac’s reputation. Here’s a tale of two guys, both now in their 70’s, wealthy enough to buy any car they like and for decades faithful Cadillac buyers.

    One switched to Mercedes after several Cads in the 80’s-90’s proved unreliable. His last Cad was so bad the guy felt defrauded. I’m sure he’s told many people to avoid GM makes.

    The other guy’s longtime practice was to drive Caddies for about 150,000 miles before trading. I was surprised to find he now has a big Lexus. He said he’s so impressed by the car he thinks it may be the last he’ll ever need to buy.

    Cadillac wasn’t an overnight sensation; it found success because Henry Leland was fanatically devoted to excellence. But in the 70’s GM’s “mark of excellence” became an empty slogan. When GM goes under I hope the archives are opened so historians can learn who did what and why at each step on the path down.

  • avatar

    50merc Like the road to hell it was paved with good intentions.

  • avatar

    I own a Rolex watch that I paid in five figures for. I truly love that watch, but I sometimes look at it and try to figure out what makes it worth the price of 50 Seikos that keep time just as accurately. Sure, the materials and construction are absolutely first rate, but to be honest, I think you can find equal quality in many lesser-priced watches. The intangible that makes the Rolex is the brand itself. If my watch had another name on its dial, it simply wouldn’t be worth anything near what it is with “Rolex” emblazoned on its face. The Rolex brand’s mystique has incalculable value that is readily convertible into cash.

    Why? Because Rolex is a spectacularly skillful steward of its brand. The company has never aimed to put a Rolex on the wrist of every middle manager. It prices its product in a way that makes it unattainable for all but a few, and its pricing strategy works as kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy that adds tremendous value to the product. However, this strategy only works if (1) your product is perceived to be of flawless quality and (2) you haven’t devalued the brand in the past by permitting it to be associated with lower-priced goods that diminish its exclusivity.

    As a 40-something, I’m old enough (barely) to remember when the Cadillac brand had some cachet. Mercedes was only starting to infiltrate the Southern California market and BMW sold funny-looking 2002s that had limited appeal. The idea of a Japanese luxury brand was unfathomable when “Japanese” meant sturdy but oddly-styled Toyota Coronas, and Honda Civics were little more than Morris Mini clones – not a serious automobile by American standards. Rolls Royce and Bentley were cars that European royalty rode in, driven by someone else. Cadillac and Lincoln had the American luxury market almost to themselves.

    The two marques might have maintained their dominance had they kept their prices out of reach and their product lines distinct. However, the 70’s brought the twin plagues of badge-engineering and dismal perceived product quality. Cadillac decided it wanted to sell to anyone and everyone, and rolled out a line of cars that was nothing more than tarted-up Chevys that fooled nobody. (Okay, the white-belt-and-bucks set were probably fooled.) The scheme reached its nadir with the introduction of that offspring of Satan and the Chevy Cavalier, the execrable Cadillac Cimarron. For me, Cimarron was the final nail in the coffin of Cadillac as a brand that I would ever aspire to – GM obviously intended to market only to idiots and chumps, and I wasn’t going to be one of them. However, this was not merely a GM phenomenon – can anyone say Lincoln Versailles?

    Apparently, neither GM nor Ford learned any lessons from those days. Witness the brand-destroying Saabarus (GM) and Jaguar X-Type (Ford).

    Anyone with capital can set up a factory and start cranking out cars. It is the brand that determines whether the car is going to be something more than a generic assemblage of parts. GM either didn’t understand the Cadillac brand or was willing to sacrifice it to increase in sales volume (which again goes back to not understanding the brand). While Cadillac may still have an important place is a drastically-restructured GM, I don’t see it ever rivaling the premium luxury brands of today.

  • avatar

    I guess the only hope for Cadillac’s long-term survival would be if the division were to be split off from the rest of GM as part of a larger business re-structuring (i.e. bankruptcy.) With new, non-GM management (a must!), a renaissance could be accomplished in as little as 10 years or so (about how long it took Lexus to become a very aspirational luxury brand.) Cadillac has lost so much ground in high-end street cred that it’s only hope may be in “near-luxury” land. A “Buick” for the new millenium…

  • avatar

    @ Cicero – I’m not sure it’s fair to highlight the Saabaru as GM’s worst offense to the Saab brand. Granted, it’s not good, but the Impreza still stands as one of the better cars to be using for a badge engineered Saab (besides, GM did enough damage when Saab ended up with no hatchbacks).

    As for Cadillac, there are glimmers of potential to one day be a legitimate luxury brand, but they’re years off, and only if GM works their collective asses off. The CTS is probably the high point of the current lineup (especially the next generation), so if the rest of the brand can be brought to similar levels of “pretty damn good,” they can finally start aspiring for excellence again.

  • avatar

    I think Chevy and Caddy have the best long term prospects – this is because both have a clear mission (chevy entry + truck, caddy = top end). Compare this to Buick,RIP-Oldsmobile, and even Pontiac – the whole idea of “middle market” brands was crazy and only worked when GM was dominant.

    Another plus for Caddy is the Escalade. Personally I hate ’em but it is big hit among young and old alike. If you told me 10 years ago that rap stars and many young people would want to drive a Caddy I would not have believed it.

    Finally, Caddy seems to have learned something from decades of mistakes. I know several Caddy owners who are very satisfied.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    My father, of blessed memory, owned a 72 Eldorado. The thing was so big that you had to take two shots to get it up the parking ramp at his office. Yet, for reasons I cannot begin to understand, the back seat was too small for adults to sit in comfortably. When the 1973 oil crisis arrived, he let the lease on the Caddy expire and bought an MB 280. He lived 20 more years, but he never bought another American car.

    However, the idea of buying German cars for reliability reasons strikes me as quaint. Consumer Reports listed MB as the least reliable brand this year. We had dinner a few nights ago with 2 couples who owned German cars. They told lots of stories about their cars. I said I own Hondas, I have cars not stories.

  • avatar

    It’s Rolls-Royce, not Rolls Royce.
    Good article otherwise.

  • avatar

    Cicero, you made a good point regarding Rolex. True, “the Rolex brand’s mystique has incalculable value that is readily convertible into cash.” They can also have considerable intrinsic value. I need nothing more than a Timex, but my brother has a Rolex. It’s surprisingly heavy, which he says is mainly due to all the gold on it. He got it while working in the middle east, where prudent people invest in wearable wealth in case they have to get outta Dodge ASAP.

  • avatar

    I’d say the Bill Mitchell-designed 1963 Eldorado was probably the best-looking post-war Cadillac design.

  • avatar

    German manufacturers are embarked on the same path as Cadillac, using the same “playbook” in trying to have a model for every purse.

    There is talk of potentially bringing the B Class M-B to the USA. In Canada a B Class is a vehicle the smart (smart car) customer trades up to.

    The younger generation sees an opportunity to trade up from a smart, others look at a B and scratch their heads.

    M-B, BMW, Audi are using the Cadillac “playbook” to have a car for every purse. Cadillac is going the other way with only a few models.

    Cadillac might just become more exclusive.

    Canadian Sales YTD April

    Cadillac CTS…………1173………1175
    BMW 3 Series…………3274………3032
    M-B C Class………….1570………1185
    Audi A4……………..1295………1497
    Lexus ES330………….1362………501
    Lexus IS300………….808……….892
    Acura TL…………….1221………1250
    Infiniti G35…………1699………1119
    Volvo S60……………689……….797
    Jaguar X Type…………89……….114

  • avatar

    So far no one has mentioned the Cadillac BLS. Fortunately not sold in the U.S. GM must have been trying to copy Ford’s Jaguar X-Type with that one. They never learned from the Cimarron and for all practical purposes revived it. One step forward and two steps back.

  • avatar

    I was talking to the father of a friend recently, and he told me some stories about the “old days”. One of the stories was about a relative who became wealthy in the construction business back in the 1950’s. “He used to by a new Cadillac every year, when that used to mean something.”

    There you have it, Cadillac’s unofficial motto. Cadillac: It meant something back in the day.

  • avatar

    A good friend has a 1970 Coupe de Ville,and the quality is obvious.Comparing this one to the 1971 equivalent, the ’71 is closer to a Caprice than a Caddy.Trimming weight may explain some of this but my understanding for the main difference is that the ’70 was assembled in a Cadillac division assembly plant and the ’71 comparison car was built by GMAD (general motors assembly division).

  • avatar

    > So far no one has mentioned the Cadillac BLS. Fortunately not sold in the U.S.

    The BLS is what General Motors chose last year to introduce the Cadillac brand in Hungary with. It’s a rebadged Opel Vectra/Saab 9-3 powered by a, that’s right, a 4-cylinder diesel. It sells for $50,000 worth of Hungarian forints. Can’t wait to buy one, can you?

    Of course our web editor couldn’t resist drawing the outline of a Vectra against a photo of a BLS in our road test published last July:

  • avatar

    Someone likes the new Cadillac STS, see story in the NY Times.

  • avatar

    Some manufacturers learn from Cadillac, this is from Automotive News.

    Mercedes buys dinner, mends fences

    Diana T. Kurylko
    Automotive News
    May 28, 2007 – 1:00 am

    Ernst Lieb knows Mercedes-Benz’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years, but he wants to hear about it firsthand from customers — at least 1,000 of them.

    The CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA LLC has been dining with groups of 60 to 100 customers in major cities to listen and learn. The dinners started in December in Washington and have been held in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Denver and San Francisco. More are planned in other cities.

    There’s a 30-minute question-and-answer session. Later, “at every table we have an empty seat, and I go and talk to them on a one-to-one basis.”

    Mercedes-Benz isn’t at the top of J.D. Power and Associates surveys and has no cars on the recommended lists in Consumer Reports. Lieb says the quality of Mercedes’ cars has improved and “today it is the best we have ever built.” But he adds: “If someone had a bad experience three or four years ago, it will stick in their mind.”

    And he knows that’s a problem for Mercedes. “Nearly all of them say they fulfilled the biggest dream they had when they bought that car. And naturally, I fully understand them — when anything goes wrong with it, then it’s not that dream anymore.”

  • avatar

    Someone likes the new Cadillac STS, see story in the NY Times.

    I hope people will actually read that article, because the title suggests it is a story of Detroit’s epitaph, but the article ends on a hopeful note that design will win the day.

  • avatar

    The early to mid 70s were strange times at Cadillac. Some vestiges of their quality remained (the 472-500 engine blocks were as hard as diamonds apparently, and quite hard to machine). But on the other hand GM had failed so miserably at one point they were getting 190hp from that same 500 cid block. Talk about grim.

  • avatar

    I had an Allante – at the time it was supposedly the pinnacle of GM’s creative and mechanical prowess. A real PoS – and a harbinger of things to come. Now I drive a Porsche – and understand the difference! Too bad GM never will.

  • avatar

    My first car, an eleven-year-old 1982 Cimarron, put me on the fast track to Toyota (and then eventually Honda). Wow, what a POS. And with its carburated 1.8 four banger and slushbox, it remains the slowest car I’ve ever driven. 52,000 miles and broken cruise control, A/C, tape deck, power windows, and holes already rusted through the floor. Absolute joke of an automobile.

  • avatar

    Just got back from a weekend of visiting the ‘Rents. Their last GM car was a Buick Electra wagon from over 20 years ago, and aside from a Dodge minivan they’ve gone import since then with a Volvo followed by serial leased Acuras and Lexuses. They purchased an RX350 last month with minimal shopping around, and their friends (just about all pre-Boomers, all immigrant doctors) have similar flirtation with American, then European and Japanese upscale/luxury vehicles.

    Cadillac? I recall a family friend owning the 1st and 2nd generation Sevilles, but none since. Word gets around, and we’re not just talking personal gossip.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Caddys problems are a microcosim of Gm's. They put billions of new developement to change most of their models. It was also to change the image, but that didn't change as quickly as the sheetmetal. Just like toyotas and honda's good karma seems to follow them year after year, caddys bad image haunts them. You can't build a brand with a new model and you can't destroy it with one bad or mediocre one. Thus, the Japanese have continued to fine tune and hone their cars and their image has followed. GM now wants to drop on the stage a new image for cadillac and it's other brands. In four years, gm has improved caddys models and their image, but so have the competitors particularly honda and toyota. The lexus division in particular is in a race to not be left behind with styles or engineering. And it aint caddy they are shooting for, it's Benz, and BMW, if jaguar and rolls conquest sales come their way they will take it. So caddy with it's warmed over deville (big, overweight, front wheel drive, and now called a DTS) has to go up against LS460, a formidable competior tothe S class and BMW 7 series or V8 jags, and they (lexus is winning. Lexus is 20K under most European V8 luxury cars and even have a super hybrid to go against the V12's of Europe. As for the DTS (formally known as Deville) it is 20K less than LS460, but no one is looking. This is a battle GM cannot win with reskinned obsolescence. It is also a field where all participants have fine tuned end products that they have worked years on before putting them on center stage. When one of the auto journals puts these luxury products against each other the results are spectacular in that none are performance or quality slouches. This full sized venue caddy can't play in and until they do they will never be considered "the standard of the World".

  • avatar

    What a minute – the English had a car reliability test? Really?

  • avatar

    By 1972 Cadillac was resting on its laurels, merely making thier cars bigger and wider every year. Engineering had long since taken a back seat to profit margins. With the exception of the 1967 Eldorado, Cadillac had not had an engineering breakthrough since the 1949 high-compression V-8

    My current “play car” is a 1972 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 4.5, inherited from my wife’s grandmother. It has about 44K on the clock, and they paid nearly $10K for the car new in 1972 (I have the original invoice).

    It is not as luxurious as a contemporary Cadillac, but that car is (over)engineered like nothing I’ve ever seen.

    Everything about that car is designed to last as long as the owner wanted to keep the car. There was no such thing as “planned obsolescence” in M-B’s vocabulary back then. Everything on that cars works, and I have no hesitation in driving it after a long spell in storage.

    Compare this to the 1972 Cadillac Deville, with an enormous 472 V-8 that made little more horsepower than the Benz (220 to the Benz’s 195)out of an engine that was 70%+ larger, and with worse gas mileage (though the Benz gets only about 12 mpg around town).

    In handling, the Benz is in another league.

    Build quality? The Mercedes feels hewn from a block of Krupp Steel. Every accessory (the few that there are) works every time. There’s no rattles or squeaks, and the car pulls strongly to at least 110 mph (as far as my bravery goes).

    Cadillac lost this market 30 years ago. If they want to reclaim it, they’ll need to develop some separation from the GM mothership and devleop some truly innovative technology and design to once again stand above the herd of generic GM sedans.

  • avatar

    We’re in our 20s and we bought a Cadillac SRX (2007). To say that no one under 30 aspires to own a Cadillac is a haphazard generalization.

    Cadillac’s are very much on the upswing. They drive great, look great (finally the interiors are up with the class leaders), and aren’t just fancy Chevrolets (maybe not the Escalade).

    All Cadillac needs is better marketing, a high-end sedan, and, you know, to STOP SELLING CADILLACS in the same dealerships as CHEVROLETS!

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    Here in Australia GM has not even tried to sell to the high-end market. They gave it to BMW. The Japanese are starting to make some headway. But Lexi are still a rare sight.

    Since I’m not from here, I don’t know if Caddy ever had a presence down here. I don’t see any old Caddys driving around, except the rare left-hand drives ones that are obvious imports.

    Anyhow… it just seemed strange to me that GM, one of the largest car companies on earth, doesn’t even try to market to the high-end outside of the US.

    Australia is a tiny market on the opposite side of the globe, the population equivalent of maybe Florida, and they drive on the other side of the road.

  • avatar

    Terry: Hello!! I have to ask…is there REALLY a “Cadillac”(or Chevy, Buick, Olds, Saturn, Pontiac) anymore?
    Arent they all just generic General Motors?


  • avatar

    This is one of the best articles I’ve seen in TTAC, going from interchangeable parts (which began with guns in the civil war if I remember correctly) to the cost of ’30s caddies in today’s dollars (I had no idea they were quite so high end then), quoting from
    C/D in 1965 about how underrated they were.

  • avatar

    cadillac of course has a nice image , but i always associate it on par with jag , top saabs or other second echelon cars. caddy must at first have a glnace inside lexus before they even open their mouths. previous gen cts had even worse exterior fit and finish than getz, or todays any skoda. gentlemen, it`s about gap tolerances and precision of metal bent shapes. caddy waters down their own image by rebadging suburbans and showing their weak point-` we blind customers with chrome, so they wouldn`t notice leaf springs or dino mass.` bls of course doesn`t add up to the image. what does a customer think if a world super luxury car division bases its cars on the cheapest brand in europe – the opel ? vectra platform, ditto the omega, saves you bucks, but in long term drain your wallets, because the rebadge waters down the value perception. lexus doesn`t give away by a single exterior detail that it would be based on toyota.( be damned the landcruiser rebadge). caddilac can survive by continuously adding new models, bringing out a halo 12 cyl coupe and pushing ahead in quality. no products, no company.and shut the…. up about market cannibalization from similar products of buick or whatever. THERE IS SPACE FOR EVERY CAR, CONSIDERING IT IS A GOOD ONE. toyota could make 20 minivans still sell all of them. you are trying to find stupid excuse for your impotency of building cars. over.

  • avatar

    I think anyone who’s repeating the somewhat misguided mantra that Cadillac continues to be a joke among the luxury car-driving public ought to read the following article in Auto Aficionado, certainly no slouch of a publication among the uber-rich, luxury car-driving public:

    Goal Keeping

    For those lacking the time or desire to read the article, I’ll paraphrase: “The new STS-V is one serious automobile that easily goes toe-to-toe with any other luxury brand.”

  • avatar

    In this series of articles about GM’s misbranding troubles, the single most important lesson I’ve taken away is that if the hierarchy of divisions is to mean something, there must be little or no overlap in prices.

    It was brilliant to show the price of cars not only in todays dollars, but as a percentage of household income. A $300,000 Caddy would be something most of us could never aspire to but it would make the brand exclusive. Volume would have to come from the other divisions.

    Mercedes appears to be falling into the same trap. A C-class can be had for $30k (just a bit more than an Impalla SS) and consequently, Merc’s status appeal has suffered greatly. (There’s also Merc’s quality problems to consider) I don’t know that it’s any consolation, but America doesn’t seem to have a monopoly on stupid auto executives.

  • avatar

    At Tokyo and Shanghai when they wheel out a new car they surround it with a lot of hot chicks.  Who the hell wants to see Lutz in suit?
    One of the reasons for GMs demise?

  • avatar

    Cadillac’s best sales year was 1978…just like all GM products and then they went on a 30 year slide to bankruptcy.However,Cadillac is getting their mojo back and will earn back their status as a premium brand.I have 2009 CTS with the 3.6l DI and awd. A great car.As for the STS it was a pre Lutz car and he said it was the basis for the Cadillac group on how not to do a car.Cadillac and GM is still bankruptcy recovery mode and is not fully up to speed…just like the Mrs or girl friend after giving birth, takes a while to get going again.But by 2013 model year Cadillac will have a new model larger than the CTS and don’t be surprised if just might be RWD…isn’t the Camaro rear wheel drive.

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