Good R&T article by Jack Baruth on why the General lost its way in the 1980s

Started by STS05lg, September 18, 2018, 07:25:18 PM

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STS05lg


Jack Baruth does an excellent job in a non-technical way explaining why GM was so dominate in the post war and discusses how in the early 1980's they lost there way. I think it is a good read he uses a 1984 Oldsmoble 98 C-Body but it could have been a deVille. If you read Jacks work he does not pull any punches so...

https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/classic-cars/a23105810/why-gms-front-drive-luxury-cars-were-great-and-why-they-failed-anyway/


pmhowe


Maynard Krebs

Lynn,  Your introduction didn't mention that Jack Baruth was focusing on FWD cars.

You wrote that Jack "didn't pull punches".   Well, neither do I:  "RWD forever:  give FWD to the fat lady."   

Take that, Robert Stemple!

STS05lg

Maynard, glad you like the article... i prefer RWD also... But the point I thought was so informative was the theses that engineering and marketing working together thought the 50's-60's-70's had made GM the unseen portion of the iceberg. In the authors view when engineering got ahead of the marketing or marketing got disconnected from the product the engineers were creating that is when things began to slide for the General.

Big Apple Caddy

I have to disagree with some point in the article.  I wouldn't say people "stayed away" from the new 1985 Cadillac DeVille as It actually sold fairly well (as did the 98 and Electra).  It sold much better than the still existing RWD Fleetwood Brougham (Cadillac didn't completely abandon RWD) and better than the Lincoln Town Car.  Also, the Town Car wasn't "six years old" in 1984 and I wouldn't say it was "the hottest luxury sedan."  I would also note that Cadillac started losing sales to Lincoln before the 1980s e.g., between calendar 1971 and 1978 (Cadillac's record year), Lincoln sales rose 176% compared to Cadillac's 31%.

D.Smith

I am not a fan of his work.   Pure personal opinions based on erroneous facts and armchair critics.

The all-new Sedan deVille was technically a 1985 model even though it debuted early.  So to say it was outsold by the 1984 Town Car is way off base. 

If you add up the new 85 front drive Sedans (not including coupes) sold it was actually 150,218 units.
Compared to 119,878 of the rear drive Lincoln Town Car.

As much as the pundits love to make fun of the front drive GM Cadillac/Ninety-Eight/Electras they sold well.   They were not the cause of the decline of GM.  Sales of the big rear drive cars by each of the big three did see a resurgence in sales due to a drop in fuel prices.   Each company kept pumping out the bigger cars (and bigger profits from paid off tooling) like the Chrysler Fifth Avenues,  Crown Victorias, Caprice Classics, Roadmonsters, Grand Marquis, Town Cars and Cadillac Broughams for as long as sales would hold.  But the public overall wanted reasonable sized luxury cars that got decent gas mileage.  Did the Town Car see a spike in sales in the mid to late eighties?  Yes but not because of the new front drive GM luxury cars.    I blame the underpowered HT4100s that drove the first wave of Cadillac buyers to Lincoln.  The second wave were the ones who had HT4100 failures.   The annual repeat buyers just kept trading in every year and were excited about the all-new models.  I know a few people who ran right out and bought one.  They just "had" to have the newest one every year.   And because they always had a new car they never experienced the troubles others did that kept them a few years or bought them used.    But if you look at the SDV from 85-93 it sold very well every year.

The decline of GM (and Ford and Chrysler) was caused by... get ready..... us.  With the market flooded with cheap imports that went 100-200K miles with little servicing and better warranties people just abandoned most of the US offerings.   We did it to ourselves.    While we brag about our love of old Detroit cars most of us are guilty of what is parked in their driveways right now.  So go to your window and look in your driveway.   Do you see a Subaru, Toyota, Hyundai or Honda?   Then you are part of the cause of the decline of the Big Three.

I look out at a big black beautiful Chrysler 300C.  And if I could afford a new one I'd have a new Cadillac CT6 in the driveway.  But my Powerball tickets haven't been paying off too well lately.   


Roger Zimmermann

Interesting article, but I think the matter was more complex than that. A Mr. Roger Smith did a lot of mistakes; one of tem was Saturn, when the money used for the temporary brand could have been better used on existing brands.
Quality (or lack of it) was also a reason why cars from Japan had success.
From 1989 to 2002, I was a Service district manager for US GM vehicles in Switzerland. GM sent a myriad of people in Europe at that time; boy, they were so arrogant and ignorant! I remember around the year 2000 I said to "my" dealers: I don't understand why this company is not yet bankrupt...The answer came in 2008.
1956 Sedan de Ville (sold)
1956 Eldorado Biarritz
1957 Eldorado Brougham (sold)
1972 Coupe de Ville
2011 DTS
CLCMRC benefactor #101

D.Smith

Quote from: Roger Zimmermann on September 19, 2018, 05:24:17 AM
Interesting article, but I think the matter was more complex than that. A Mr. Roger Smith did a lot of mistakes; one of tem was Saturn, when the money used for the temporary brand could have been better used on existing brands.
Quality (or lack of it) was also a reason why cars from Japan had success.
From 1989 to 2002, I was a Service district manager for US GM vehicles in Switzerland. GM sent a myriad of people in Europe at that time; boy, they were so arrogant and ignorant! I remember around the year 2000 I said to "my" dealers: I don't understand why this company is not yet bankrupt...The answer came in 2008.

Saturn was an interesting experiment.    And by the time the brand folded they really had an interesting array of models to choose from.   But you are right that it just stole money and focus away from other GM brands that were hurting.  Pontiac and Oldsmobile needed real attention.   

Maynard Krebs

I very much appreciate the thoughtful responses after my previous post... which was a bit 'over-the-top'.   For the record, my wife's FWD '96 Buick Park Avenue was a fine automobile---much better than her current 2011 Lacrosse!   Ever try to back one of those up a narrow driveway??

I agree that the reasons for GM's 'slide' were, to use an automotive term, "manifold".   Looking at it from a historical point-of-view, it's amazing that GM once had over 50% of the US market [1950s?].   Cad fans could debate as to what was the best Post-War Cadillac... in terms of quality and execution thereof.   Personally, I agree with Maurice Hendry:  1964 may well have been the zenith.   He compared a '64 with a '34 Pierce-Arrow.. and declared that in most departments, the '64 Cad was superior!   I'd like to read a comparison of a '64... with a '94 RWD Brougham.   That would be interesting.

I digress.   I believe that one of the contributing factors for GM's slow decline.. were poor financial decisions.  Alfred Sloan and Billy Durant must be 'spinning in their graves'.   Even the early successful leader of Buick, Walter Chrysler, would shake his head, almost in disbelief.   

Finally, there is no doubt whatever that the sheer high quality of the Japanese automobiles, yielding impressively low frequency-of-repair rates, "did a job"... not only on GM, but all American auto manufacturers.   Yes, the domestic firms did respond with better quality than, say, the 1970s.... but it's debatable as to whether it was 'sufficient' and/or 'too late'.   Oh, America is not done yet... and hopefully they remain competitive on the overall market.   Competition does indeed 'improve the breed'.

BTW, have you noticed that there's still a few (German) manufacturers that remain strictly, or close to totally, RWD?

For low-budget Americans like me, big RWD domestics are really inexpensive to maintain & repair.. compared to alternatives.   And I love generous wheelbases.   

Bill Young

I well remember the first time I saw a new 1985 front wheel drive Sedan DeVille. Shock and disgust , in the years since , I am no longer shocked but still disgusted. That also goes for the rest of the abortions they have chosen to release. I have NO problem with safety updates etc. my problem is why do they insist in packaging them in a little ugly car that looks like ass.  Cadillac has stated that they have abandoned their traditional customer. I am one of those abandoned customers. To me Cadillac DeVille ended in 1984 and Fleetwood ended with the last 1996 Brougham. Good for Cadillac if they are pleased with their products and sales but for me it has become another fallen flag like Pontiac and Oldsmobile. One Mans Opinion

Scot Minesinger

I did not take much stock in the article because every idiot knows 1985 was the model year when GM went to downsized FWD on the large and full size cars.  However, the move by Cadillac to a 4.1 powered FWD car did usher in Lincoln, MB, Lexus and the like as preferred brands over Cadillac in the late 1980's and newer.  I drove these 1980's FWD GM cars in the 1980's and they were a POS.  Fairly sad that my 1968 Thunderbird (429 w/360hp, RWD, perimeter frame) would run rings around these, or at least it felt like that. 

In the 1980's decade I got by with a 1978 Olds 88 w/350 R V-8 and then a 1985 Caprice w/305 V-8.  After that went to a 1995 Cadillac Fleetwood RWD.

Fairfax Station, VA  22039 (Washington DC Sub)
1970 Cadillac DeVille Convertible
1970 Cadillac Sedan DeVille
1970 four door Convertible w/Cadillac Warranty

64\/54Cadillacking

From owning an 87 Brougham for the last couple of weeks, I can say that GM did well on their execution. The FWD GM makes, weren’t built with the same kind of quality or durability compared to a RWD Caprice, Brougham/Fleetwood.

A friend of mine owns an 89 Fleetwood, and it is a really nice car. The interior is well done and it still has some older classic Cadillac traits although the car is pretty modern compared to a RWD Brougham.

The 80’s brought on all sorts of experimental problems which is why many FWD GM models, including Ford and Chrysler just weren’t good reliable vehicles.

80’s Honda’s and Toyota’s on the other hand might have been reliable, but their basic, cheap looking/feeling interiors is what made them pretty lame cars.
1964 Sedan Deville (Own)
1987 Brougham D’Elegance (Sold)
1954 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special
1994 Fleetwood Bro (Sold)
1972 Sedan Deville (Sold)
1968 Coupe Deville (Sold)
1978 Lincoln Continental (Own)
1979 Lincoln Mark V Cartier (Own)

Big Apple Caddy

Quote from: Scot Minesinger on September 19, 2018, 09:22:05 PM
I did not take much stock in the article because every idiot knows 1985 was the model year when GM went to downsized FWD on the large and full size cars.  However, the move by Cadillac to a 4.1 powered FWD car did usher in Lincoln, MB, Lexus and the like as preferred brands over Cadillac in the late 1980's and newer. 

Mercedes-Benz was kind of in a different league than Cadillac in the 1980s, and before.  In 1985, even the cheapest Mercedes (the subcompact 190E) had a base price at the level of Cadillac's highest priced sedan that year (Seville).  Lexus, as well as Infiniti and Acura, really shook up the luxury market in the 1990s, eventually forcing Mercedes-Benz into price cuts and significant discounts.  A big reason MB sales took off in the states starting in the mid to late 1990s was because they lowered their standards (prices).  In 1985, the base price of a MB 300D was nearly 40% higher than a Seville.  Ten years later, the base price of a 1995 MB E300D and Seville SLS were around the same (Cadillac was actually slightly higher).   To some degree, Cadillac was attempting to rise to MB levels while MB was coming down to Cadillac levels.  In my opinion, MB started to lose prestige in the mid 1990s but the lower prices allowed them to start selling a lot more vehicles here.

joeinbcs

Here's a related article from the October, 1985 issue of "Car and Driver" magazine.
A little backstory...I recently bought a 1985 Seville after sitting on the fence on the design for decades...sometimes I thought it looked ridiculous, sometime attractive..a lot depended on the individual car.  I came across a car that had received a very high quality respray in a color I like (Gray Metallic, no vinyl top or spare tires, etc.), with perfect interior and mechanicals.  I paid less for the car than it cost to paint it.  I'm no longer on the fence...I actually like the car better than I ever thought I would. 
Part of the reason I wanted a "slant back" is it represents the last risk Cadillac or any other brand took with a design.  I saw it recently on a list of the "100 Ugliest Cars of All Time", but I find it interesting and cohesive in a way that the critics seem to miss.  And, yes, the interior looks like a bordello (especially in Carmine Red), but that's part of the appeal.  Plus, designed by Wayne Katy, and allegedly one of Bill Mitchell's favorites...for the cost of a paint job?  Why not...
Anyway, I wanted to see what the motoring press had to say at the time and bought this issue of Car and Driver off EBay thinking it was a review of the 1985 Seville...In fact, it covered the newly introduced the 1986 Seville/Eldorado, a car that I've never been at all on the fence about, and will never own...LOL.  The review was about one would expect, but this article about the challenges facing Cadillac at the time was quite on target.  Interesting to consider how long its taken to turn this aircraft carrier around..but, it seems like they've done it...
Joe Northrop
9633 Whispering Ridge
College Station, TX  77845
joenorthrop@yahoo.com
979-324-6432

1976 Eldorado, 35K miles, one owner (before me), Firethorn/Firethorn/White

jock82

I have a 1989 Sedan de Ville that I have had for nearly 30 years, it has been one of the most reliable cars I    have
ever owned.  The interior still looks like new and it is very comfortable on trips.  It has plenty of room.  I, too, did not like the smaller Cadillacs when they first come out.  I had a 1983 Fleetwood Brougham de Elegance at the time.  I drove that car of 12 years, trading it for a 1994 Conoours which I still have.

Guy R Moore #12650
1976 Olds 98 Regency
1982 Ford F-100 Pickup
1989 Sedan de Ville
1994 de Ville Concours
2009 DTS Performance
1989 Sedan de Ville
1994 Concours
2009 DTS'
1976 Olds 98 Regency

Guy Moore CLC# 12650

WTL

I love the slantbacks.  I recently bought a 90 Deville in good shape, that I'm using for the moment as a driver..but pretty soon, I would totally entertain trading it for a similar shape 80-85 seville.  It might even be attractive to someone, 4.1 vs 4.5 and all.