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Thread: Miss Oldsmobile?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Miss Oldsmobile?

    Does anyone miss Oldsmobile? Not what Oldsmobile was in its heyday back in the '50s, '60s and '70s - the era of the Rocket 88 - but what it had become by the mid-late 1990s, just before GM pulled the plug?

    Probably not.

    Same goes for Plymouth. And Pontiac, for that matter. Saturn, too. None had a memorable car in its lineup in the years (in some cases, decades) before The End finally (mercifully) came.

    RIP - but RIP.

    Like Olds, there was a great history. Once upon a time, Plymouth and Pontiac and Saturn, even, had been great brands defined by an exciting lineup of distinctive cars that offered something different than competitors offered. The famous Oldsmobile Rocket V-8, for example. It was one of the very first high-compression, high-performance overhead valve V-8s ever mass-produced. Or Saturn's innovative dent-resistant (and rust-proof) composite plastic exterior body panels.

    Pontiac's stylish muscle cars.

    Or Plymouth's outrageous styling.


    But Plymouth and Pontiac and Saturn all eventually faded into badge-engineered irrelevance, re-selling the same basic cars sold under the Chrysler and Dodge (and Buick and Chevy) nameplates. There was nothing unique or even especially interesting about any of them.

    Just like the final run of Oldsmobiles.

    The same 's equally true of Ford's soon-to-fade-away Mercury division - which likewise once had some purpose as Ford's "not quite Lincoln but nicer than Ford" division. That was relevant 30 years ago, before there were any Japanese entry-luxury brands. But times changed.

    Sadly, Mercury didn't.

    Ditto several of GM's still-lingering remaining extraneous divisions, GMC especially . GMC is a brand whose continued existence is hard to fathom given GM's share of the U.S. car market has dwindled from a high approaching nearly 60 percent of all vehicles sold in North America circa 1979 to around 22 percent today. What sense does it make for GM to re-sell slightly nicer (and pricier) versions of the same trucks and SUVs it sells already as Chevys? And also - on the higher end - as Cadillacs?

    Wasn't that the same fatal flaw that led to the death of Pontiac and Saturn?

    Arguably, GM kept Pontiac around for 20 years longer than it should have. The last real Pontiacs (those equipped with Pontiac-built V-8 engines) were made in the late 1970s. The last interesting/unique Pontiacs (like the Fiero) were made in the '90s. By the time Pontiac tried to fix things with models like the G8 and Solstice, it was already way too late.
    Saturn had little left by the end to set it apart beyond the trademark "no haggle" pricing system - which meant, pay full MSRP sticker. Wonder how come not many folks signed up for that... .

    So why didn't GM do something sooner? In part, the answer is inertia. Huge companies do not turn on a dime. The other reason was obstreperous unions - the leadership of which seemed and still seems determined to kick the rank and file in the nether regions rather than do what's in the long-term interests of anyone who hopes to work for GM in the future.

    Before the Great Collapse in 2008, the union bosses dug in their heels as adamantly as our former Chimp-in-Charge did when it came to admitting that there might be trouble with the "mission" in Iraq. The union muckety-mucks refused to give GM any breathing room at all - which helped create the conditions that ultimately left GM on the floor not breathing at all.

    GM's dealers didn't help matters, either.

    Many people don't realize that individual car dealerships are independent franchises not directly under the automaker's control. So GM wasn't able to just close up unproductive dealerships (or limit the number of dealers in a given geographic area, as Toyota does). GM (and Chrysler, too) was also legally bound to provide "product" (vehicles) even if those vehicles don't sell well. If that sounds odd, bear in mind that many dealers (perhaps most) don't make the big bucks selling cars. They make them servicing cars. So there's not much incentive for a dealer to close up shop - even if he is selling a brand that has become an also-ran - so long as he's still got a steady stream of people coming in for tuneups and timing belt changes.

    This left GM in the position of having to dig deep and make generous buy-out offers (as it did with Olds). The money involved was enormous. GM couldn't really afford to do it - but it also could not continue to keep on pouring money into unproductive, duplicative brands, either.

    This impossible situation led to predictable results.

    One of the toughest challenges GM had, pre-Collapse, was the task of eking profit out of a structure that's too diffuse for the market it had - even when times were good.

    Toyota managed to grow into the world's largest automaker with fewer than half the brands GM had before The Great Collapse. Not one of the major Japanese nameplates has more than three divisions. Most have just two, usually a "standard" brand (e.g., Honda, Nissan, etc.) and a "prestige" line (e.g., Acura, Infiniti).

    That's all - and it's plenty.




    The fast food industry may be the best example of how this works - and why. Everyone knows the menu at McDonald's, Taco Bell and Chipotle. These joints focus on their core product and try to avoid being all things to all people. Yes, there are now salads and so on at McDonald's, but this is a sop to political correctness and the Food Police. People go to McDonald's for burgers and fries and shakes. Providing these staples of the American diet with amazing efficiency and consistency is what McDonald's and the fast food industry in general have honed into an art form.

    The most successful imports hew to the same philosophy and it's that coherence - along with good value and pleasing the customer - that has made them into the juggernauts they've become.

    No one seems to miss Plymouth - and Chrysler doesn't appear to have lost anything for having bid the brand adieu. There's a "standard" line (Dodge) and a "prestige" line (Chrysler) and that seems to be just about right.

    Not many of us miss Olds, either. Or Plymouth. Or Pontiac. Or Saturn. At least, not what they had become in their final years. Ten years from now, another generation will be saying the same thing about Mercury and probably GMC, too.

    But we'll remember the great stuff from the good old days forever.


    Throw it in the Woods?

  2. #2
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    Oldsmobile died a very long time ago. It died when it was stripped of its uniqueness. While platforms and bodies happened even longer ago, Olds held on to it's unique engines into the 1980s. Oldsmobile's V8s from the 307 to the 455 were what made Oldsmobile. When stripped of those for a corporatized small block chevy it made a gasp with the Quad 4 to live on. When the Quad 4 became corporatized, a victim of success perhaps, there was nothing left. Oldsmobile was dead.

    I found that Oldsmobile fans were proud of the Olds engines. Turning Oldsmobile into rebadged Chevies certainly should have alienated them. A make, even a model needs its core audience. Once it loses it but fails to create a new one, it's done.

  3. #3
    That GTO makes me sad panda. When I had the Trans Am I was offered a straight up trade for a convertible GTO (64?) I looked it over and turned it down because it needed floors and trunk and I had no time or money (and I was young and STUPID).

    I think Pontiac was trying to do some exciting things at the end. I like the Solstice, but in the used market the 350Z costs almost as much. Regardless, I will not be buying any GM products until their debts to the taxpayer are paid in full. For real not accounting tricks...and even then I probably won't.

    Olds, not so much. I'm surprised they kept Buick but scrapped Saturn.

    As far as new brands I'm excited about, I really think Hyundai/Kia is going to be a player. I did a case study on the during my MBA program and they are the real deal. It's funny how they've out "Japanesed" the Japanese. They've followed the Toyota model so well that they've hired a lot of people familiar with Toyota from te inside. They have also invested heavily in building good facilities.
    Last edited by Steve; 05-21-2011 at 10:54 PM.

  4. #4
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    My last Oldsmobile was a 1990 Cutlass Supreme red with a cassette player. That was a comfortable ride. I gave it to my my son for college and he convinced me a Volkswagon Jetta 5 speed manual transmission is a better deal. Hind sight being 20 /20 maybe I should of kept that ride instead of getting the Volkswagen? Nothing I can do about it now.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve View Post
    I'm surprised they kept Buick but scrapped Saturn.
    It is not a surprise at all looking at GM world wide. Buick is very important to GM in China. Buick might not matter much in the USA, but because of it's business in China Buick is one of the most valuable things GM has.

    If GM had gone bankrupt there would have been two things worth buying besides intellectual property and trademarks, Buick and Corvette in that order.

  6. #6
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve View Post
    That GTO makes me sad panda. When I had the Trans Am I was offered a straight up trade for a convertible GTO (64?) I looked it over and turned it down because it needed floors and trunk and I had no time or money (and I was young and STUPID).

    I think Pontiac was trying to do some exciting things at the end. I like the Solstice, but in the used market the 350Z costs almost as much. Regardless, I will not be buying any GM products until their debts to the taxpayer are paid in full. For real not accounting tricks...and even then I probably won't.

    Olds, not so much. I'm surprised they kept Buick but scrapped Saturn.

    As far as new brands I'm excited about, I really think Hyundai/Kia is going to be a player. I did a case study on the during my MBA program and they are the real deal. It's funny how they've out "Japanesed" the Japanese. They've followed the Toyota model so well that they've hired a lot of people familiar with Toyota from te inside. They have also invested heavily in building good facilities.
    Here's a wacky fact: Buick is the best-selling American car... in China!

    I'm pretty sure that's why GM has kept this division going.

    Saturn was launched to help rehab GM's image as a competent builder of small cars at a time when their Chevy small cars were derided (rightly) as crap. Originally, Saturns had a lot going for them, including the composite plastic bodies and the high-mileage (because light weight) cars themselves.

    The downward spiral began with the LW, which had no reason to live. The drift of bland, nothing-special (and badge-engineered) product continued... as did the rip-off "no haggle" (i.e., pay full sticker) pricing system.... the Sky was beautiful, but (like the Solstice) severely flawed in several areas. Not only that, it was sold twice - once through Pontiac then again through Saturn.

    On young and STUPID: I had a chance to buy an original (and running) '74 SD-455 TA for what was then chump change (about $6,000 as I recall). This was in the early '90s. I didn't go for it because the car's Buccaneer Red paint was chalky and the rear quarters rusted out and it needed a drivetrain refresh... even though the car was completely intact, with its original SD engine and all the SD-specific parts still there.... duhhhhhhhh!

    As I'm sure you know - but for the benefit of those who aren't into old Pontiacs - today the going rate for a "correct" and bona fide SD-455 TA in "restorable" condition is probably around $20k. A restored example can be well over $50,000.

  7. #7
    I did not even think of Buick as being an export brand. I guess when I think of GM I'm still very North Ameriocentric. Buick still conjures up images of old people and Tiger Woods for me. I guess I'll add Chinese people to that image now.

  8. #8
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zeo View Post
    It is not a surprise at all looking at GM world wide. Buick is very important to GM in China. Buick might not matter much in the USA, but because of it's business in China Buick is one of the most valuable things GM has.

    If GM had gone bankrupt there would have been two things worth buying besides intellectual property and trademarks, Buick and Corvette in that order.

    Also, Buick would or will be the hardest division for GM to close, because Buick IS GM. General Motors came into existence when Buick acquired Oldsmobile, and then Cadillac and Oakland.

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    History-wise, that's true.

    Buick isn't doing badly here, either. Not gangbusters, but not bad.

    And if the Chinese like 'em, too - that should be sufficient.

    It's GMC that makes no sense to me...

    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    Also, Buick would or will be the hardest division for GM to close, because Buick IS GM. General Motors came into existence when Buick acquired Oldsmobile, and then Cadillac and Oakland.

  10. #10
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    They should re-badge GMC as Buick Trucks. GMC exists now only so that Buick dealers can have (Chevy) trucks to sell, now that there are no Pontiac or Oldsmobile dealers to share the GMC line.

  11. #11
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    I'm no MBA but it seems to me it would make more sense to consolidate the product (trucks/SUVs) rather than sell the same vehicles in multiple forms. This - to me - seems to be a good way to fragment your market and reduce your profit by having say the Chevy version of the truck or SUV compete in-house with the GMC version of the truck or SUV for engineering and marketing resources , etc., before competing with the competition.

    GMC is touted as not-quite Cadillac but nicer than Chevy, or rather like Mercury over at Ford.

    Is there a market for such a thing anymore? And besides, you can dress up a Silverado with options and equipment to be as nice or nicer than the equivalent Sierra... so, what's the point?

    I think it makes a lot more sense to have a "bread and butter" or mass-market truck/SUV arm (Chevy) and a high-end arm (Cadillac).

    GMC is a fish outta water...









    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    They should re-badge GMC as Buick Trucks. GMC exists now only so that Buick dealers can have (Chevy) trucks to sell, now that there are no Pontiac or Oldsmobile dealers to share the GMC line.

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