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    Thread: A history of the decline and irrelevance of Cadillac.

    1. Member 88c900t's Avatar
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      10-26-2019 06:51 AM #1
      This is a historical thread about the fall of Cadillac, part 1/?.


      Everyone knows how this story starts. In the mid-late 50s, Cadillac was the pinnacle of the automotive industry and what people aspired to own. A leader in both luxury and technology. The envy of the world. But to understand the context of the fall, it's important to realize how different the US auto industry was in the late 50s and how radically it would change from then until the early 70s.

      Before 1960, domestics only built one "size" or platform of car, and with the release of the new 1957 big Chryslers and 1958 GMs, the standard size autos got unreasonably big, the tri-5 Chevies for comparison were a mere 196 inches long. More people wanted more modestly sized cars, due to the increasingly large amount of 2-car households as well as the vast increase in the number of female drivers. This, plus the growing threat of imports is what prompted Detroit to release the Falcon/Valiant/Corvair compacts. Throughout the 60s the automotive offerings became extremely diverse compared to before, with the compacts, sporty intermediates and pony cars, and the increasing number of imports. By the 70s the marketshare of fullsizers was down to under 30%, compared to over 80% in 1957.

      This is important, because Cadillac was fundamentally a large car company and remained so well into the 80s. In the 60s, particularly on the coasts wealthier people were beginning to ignore Cadillac/Lincoln/Imperial and favored European luxury cars, especially Mercedes Benz. It was very trendy at the time to favor imports, whether expensive or affordable.

      Cadillac still enjoyed great sales through this period thanks to their sterling reputation, great reliability and loyal repeat buyers (which contributed to excellent resale and low depreciation). They were also simply great cars, a C&D comparison test of six puts a 1966 Fleetwood in 2nd, narrowly behind a Mercedes 600 Grosser, and 2 spots ahead of a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. http://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/...e-cc-pictures/

      However, interior quality was slipping by 1970, and the new for 1971 GM B body fullsizers were panned for being oversized, overweight and handling poorly than before. The 71 Cadillacs also shared an increasingly large amount of parts with lower end models. And the double whammy of 2 fuel crisises was just around the corner...
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    3. Member 88c900t's Avatar
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      10-26-2019 07:21 AM #2
      Part 2/?

      The 1973 gas crisis hit Detroit particularly hard, with the increasing popularity of imported brands and the deep flaws of their few economical models (Vega, Pinto). At the top of the market, Mercedes was as popular as ever and more people viewed domestic full sizers, particularly luxury brands as out of touch and old fashioned. Fullsizers also were waning in popularity after 1970, as intermediates (like the popular Oldsmobile Cutlass) were encroaching on "full size" size.

      Cadillac actually reacted pretty wisely-heavily modifying and stretching the Nova platform into the "internationally sized" Cadillac Seville late in the 1975 model year. Aimed at the S class Mercedes, the Seville was the most expensive in Cadillacs lineup (aside from the series 62 limousine) which gave owners bragging rights. It used Bendix fuel injection on a version of the Olds 350 V8, giving it tech cred (even though it gained a troublesome reputation). And it wasn't unfashionably massive or unreasonable to park.

      So, a very good effort by Cadillac, but IMO it was too little, too late to stop people from switching over to Mercedes and other Imports en-masse. Fortunately, the downsizing of the B body fullsizers in 1977 was incredibly successful and benefited Cadillac. Retaining the reliable 425ci big block, the big Caddy had a great power to weight ratio for the time and drove much less wallowy than the Imperial or Lincoln. Ironically, the Fleetwood was slightly lighter than the small Seville.

      The pretty much irrelevant Eldorado was radically redesigned in 1979, losing 1100 lbs and over a foot in length but retaining the "universial power pack"-giving it a longitudinally front wheel drive confuguration. Using the Seville's smaller V8, the 2nd generation Eldorado was a runaway hit and sold very well. It's new size, drive configuration and 4 wheel discs/4 wheel independent suspension made it drive and handle far better than most would expect a large personal luxury coupe to.

      However, a number of things happened in 1978-79. First, another oil crisis. Second, tightening CAFE regulations. Neither of these were things that Detroit were well equipped to deal with on a technological level. Third, a new corporate policy with a very strong focus on front wheel drive emerged at GM, at the behest of the new CEO Roger Smith. The next part(s) will describe how Cadillac completely dropped the ball and did a terrible job at resounding to these challenges.


      Last edited by 88c900t; 10-26-2019 at 07:25 AM.
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      10-26-2019 08:03 AM #3
      Thanks for your posts OP!

      Just wanted to add how Cadillac/GM is capable of making great products (CTS-V/ATS-V, Corvette, Silverado) but refuses to execute a focused effort on marketing & selling vehicles. Product planning & decision making most times appears...lost.

      It's so frustrating as an enthusiast! Like Dodge/RAM & Lincoln, they should not try to be someone else, but be their own - unashamedly American. I think being genuine rings true with more buyers than trying to emulate the competition.
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    5. Member 88c900t's Avatar
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      10-26-2019 08:36 AM #4
      part 3/4.

      By 1979, in the wake of the 2nd oil crisis, gas prices staying high and increasing CAFE standards, most industry insiders were convinced that by 1985 fullsize, body on frame, predominantly V8 cars would cease to exist. The new CEO of GM, Roger Smith was a very strong advocate of transitioning as much of the lineup as possible to transverse FWD as possible (under the assumption that high gas prices would last forever), and believed the move was the most logical, as GM was in much better financial shape than either Ford or Chrysler.

      For now, though Cadillac had to work with what they had. The big block was de-bored to 368ci, and all B bodies received an aerodynamic facelift for 1980. The period from 1980-1985 would mark a series of blunders by GM that seriously and irreversibly damaged Cadillac's reputation, starting with the 2nd generation of the Cadillac Seville.

      Utilizing the platform and L-FWD driveline of the Eldorado, the 1980 Seville was notorious for it's very controversial styling. At the time when it was paramount that Cadillac attracted younger buyers, the Seville had the opposite affect-the bustleback styling a throwback to the 1930s, was polarizing and well out of date. The average age of a Seville buyer was now over 60 years old. And despite being offered with either the olds 350 or the 368, Cadillac foolishly introduced the car with the notoriously fragile and temperamental Diesel 350 as the standard engine. The new Seville, unsurprisingly sold worse than the first gen undoubtedly due to the styling. Although reliability eventually improved and fuel economy was actually pretty impressive, the 350 diesel almost single-handedly turned US buyers away from diesel permanently.

      In 1981, Cadillac equipped every 368 with an advanced cylinder deactivation system called the V8-6-4, which deactivated certain valves so the engine could run on 6 or 4 cylinders, depending on load. Unfortunately, the technology wasn't advanced enough and the system was too slow to react, creating serious driveability issues. Owners hated it, and dealers could do little to solve the problems aside from deactivating the system entirely. Just imagine the angst and frustration of a 1981 Fleetwood owner who traded his 1979 (425) in for an 8-6-4! The only alternative was the Buick 252 V6, giving a sad 0-60 time of over 20 seconds.

      And then things got worse. For 1982 the 8-6-4 was gone (aside from the limousine). Due to CAFE regulations, Cadillac developed an all new small V8 with an aluminum block and throttle body injection. They couldn't simply adapt an existing GM V8, as the entire lineup was going to transition into transverse-FWD so they had to develop something that would fit. Unfortunately the new engine-the HT4100 was underdeveloped and prone to severe reliability issues, such as block threads being stripped from the (iron) head bolts, oil pump failure, intake manifold gasket failure, too-thin oil passages to name some. It also made a pithy 135 hp. The HT4100 was also standardized across the Cadillac lineup, so the Seville/Eldo used it as well.

      All these problems were great news for Lincoln, former Cadillac owners flooded there in droves. The Town Car was no masterpiece, but the (fairly breathless) 302 didn't have the mechanical maladies of the HT4100/diesel/8-6-4, and the Cadillac didn't offer an overdrive transmission, yet. And by 1984 Lincoln released the MKVII which was much more advanced, modern and sporty than the Eldorado, which also lost any semblance of reliability. The MKVII also had the distinction of being able to stand toe to toe with luxury imports, like the XJS or BMW 6 series, To be fair the Lincoln MkVI was pretty pathetic. And if you were a GM loyalist, you could keep the big car experience with a reliable Chevrolet Caprice or Oldsmobile 98 Regency.

      Cadillac lingered on with the famously unreliable 4100 as it's volume engine for the next few years. I don't even need to mention the Cimarron, which was a bad joke. The notion that consumers would think a gussied up Cavalier could take on a 190e or 320i is breathtakingly stupid. I'll do the last part (1985+) tomorrow or sunday.




      Last edited by 88c900t; 10-26-2019 at 09:01 AM.
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    6. Member 88c900t's Avatar
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      10-26-2019 08:54 AM #5
      Quote Originally Posted by lowlight View Post
      Thanks for your posts OP!

      Just wanted to add how Cadillac/GM is capable of making great products (CTS-V/ATS-V, Corvette, Silverado) but refuses to execute a focused effort on marketing & selling vehicles. Product planning & decision making most times appears...lost.

      It's so frustrating as an enthusiast! Like Dodge/RAM & Lincoln, they should not try to be someone else, but be their own - unashamedly American. I think being genuine rings true with more buyers than trying to emulate the competition.
      On your first point, it does seem that product planning/decision making lags behind a few years too late, that's especially noticeable today and within the last few years. Back in 2008-2012 I was excited that GM was finally doing a great job at product development (the GMT900, Malibu, G8, CTS) but they seemed to drop the ball later on..

      To your second, GM's massive mistake ever since the 70s was refusing to utilize platforms developed by Opel/Vauxhall/Holden despite often being far superior than the cars GM thought that the US market "deserved" which is why we got stuck with crap like the N-body Grand Am/Malibu and Cavalier. In the 2000s (with the pressure of Bob Lutz) GM finally utilized global platforms for US market cars like the Epsilon platform, first introduced on the EU market Vectra. If Lutz came by 10 years earlier, GM's products might have been competitive enough to just avoid bankruptcy in 2008.

      ChrCo's "bold and brash" strategy has served them well and I'm shocked with how well Lincoln (virtually irrelevant 10 years ago) has recovered.
      I gave up dailing old and rare cars and became a normie.
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      10-26-2019 01:12 PM #6
      Just happening to be watching

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      10-26-2019 02:02 PM #7
      Cadillac really did manage to screw up for like 40 years straight. How many terribly under engineered, poorly built things did they release in that time period? Almost all of it was, and the things that slipped through the net (like the Escalade) were based on existing lower end models. When Cadillac was on top, they were producing cars with cutting edge (sometimes literally ) ultra-modern styling, but they regressed into that funeral home, Gothic, old-timey styling in the 70s and stayed there for decades. By the time the damage was obvious, they tried to become relevant by copying bland, plain Euro styling in the 90s, but that didn't really work either. I do think the new Cadillac sedans are pretty sharp looking, though.


    9. 10-26-2019 10:37 PM #8
      And they are still screwing up today.

      On my ELR, the window trim peels. It;s aluminum crimped over a rubber flange. The rubber seperates and its not like screen where you can push it back in, it's a flap. it's all one piece and each mounting point has to be drilled out. I had to have 3-4 of them shipped in to not get one bent, and the dealer put a crease in my roof from one idiot tech trying to crowbar off the old one with a screwdriver.



      both of the plastic/felt wheel liners are torn up to hell too.

      My initil service with Cadillac was amazing and my service writer was fantastic. Now they have some jackass kid working and its all gone to hell and the same or worse than chevy, and you cannot possibly get any worse then that anywhere.

    10. Member Yuppie Scum's Avatar
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      10-27-2019 12:02 AM #9
      T h i n g s

      c h a n g e

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      10-27-2019 08:24 AM #10
      i've always felt like whatever Cadillac does, someone else does it better. Especially today, nobody really dreams of a Cadillac anymore, no one uses "it's the Cadillac of xxxx" expression anymore.

      yep. They're pretty irrelevant now and have been for quite some time. I feel like Buick still has a chance to build a more fun premium image, but anyone buying luxury would shop Genesis before Cadillac.
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      10-27-2019 08:51 AM #11
      One of the things that amazes me about Caddy is that their largest market is now .... China (2017).
      http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/20180...f16da50f2.html

      GM China said 175,489 Cadillac cars were sold in China last year, an increase of 51 percent year-on-year, beating the brand's home country the United States.

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      10-27-2019 06:39 PM #12
      African Americans Saved Cadillac

      At the turn of the 20th century, the automobile entered the American scene. During that period there was a proliferation of car manufacturers. In 1903 alone, 57 companies came into existence and 27 went bankrupt. Over the years, numerous models were introduced that are now a distant memory. Studebaker and Hudson come to mind. But the Cadillac, introduced in 1903 is still going strong. However, at one point it was also on the chopping block, but was saved at the last moment.

      The Cadillac was General Motors’ top of the line and most expensive product. But the great depression of the 30s caused the automobile market, as a whole, to shrink drastically and the luxury segment to virtually collapse. In 1928, General Motors manufactured 1,709,763 vehicles of which 41,172 were Cadillacs. By 1933, GM production was down to 779,029 total vehicles. That year only 6,736 Cadillacs were sold, a decline of 84 percent.

      Cadillac was losing so much money that it was obvious that management was going to pull the plug. A meeting of the GM Executive Committee was called to do just that. During the meeting a man named Nicholas Dreystadt, who was not invited, knocked on the door and asked to be heard for just 10 minutes. Dreystadt was a gifted mechanic and had been put in charge of GM Service Departments nationwide.

      Dreystadt stated that he had a plan to make Cadillac profitable in 18 months. While traveling around the country visiting service departments, he had observed a significant number of African Americans in the service department at Cadillac dealerships. They were members of the tiny African American elite: boxers, entertainers, lawyers, doctors, and ministers. At that time, it was GM’s policy not to allow its dealerships to sell Cadillacs to Blacks. GM felt that it would not be good for the image of their luxury brand.

      Dreystadt found out that Blacks were paying white men $300 to purchase the cars for them. Dreystadt urged the Executive Committee to go after this market. Why should a bunch of white men get several hundred dollars each when that profit could go to General Motors? The Board bought his reasoning and in 1934 Cadillac sales increased by 70 percent. On June 10, 1934, Dreystadt was made Head of the Cadillac Division.

      Obviously, the purchasing power of African Americans has saved many corporations. Hopefully, one day we will use that purchasing power to save major corporations owned by us.
      https://lasentinel.net/african-ameri...-cadillac.html

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      10-27-2019 08:22 PM #13
      Quote Originally Posted by BlakeV View Post
      One of the things that amazes me about Caddy is that their largest market is now .... China (2017).
      http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/20180...f16da50f2.html
      That's nice to hear. China could be a tough market as Jaguar and Land Rover have learned.

      Most worrying, however, are reports by Automotive News Europe (ANE) from Chinese journalists about the reliability of JLR products. Reports claim there have been regular demonstrations by unhappy owners outside JLR’s Shanghai HQ.

      It seems JLR cars remain below average for quality and reliability, according to independent surveys. Indeed, the ANE dispatch claimed that JLR had to recall 70% of all the cars it sold in China in 2017 for repairs.

      You can see why JLR would hack back its hopes for the huge Chinese market, when it has such a big job to do on quality, on the dealership network and winning back the trust of premium car buyers.


      https://www.autocar.co.uk/opinion/in...es-tough-times

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      10-27-2019 09:13 PM #14
      My Cadillac experience thus far has been great. My wife and I bought a base model 2014 RWD 6AT 2.0T ATS in early 2015 (the discount was unreal - MSRP of 42K, paid 27K). It's coming up on 5 years old and 100,000 KM (60K miles). It's still under the factory powertrain warranty for another year, although we'll likely hit the mileage limit first.

      I replaced the stock run flats tires this past spring and I just replaced the rear rotors/pads a few weeks ago + brake fluid flush (~$200 for OEM parts). The front pads still have lots of life left. The first 8 oil changes were done free of charge. I've spend almost nothing on this car.

      We had the rear view mirror delaminate plus a few recalls as our only real maintenance issues. There are a few known issues with the ATS, but we haven't personally experienced anything.

      We now take the car to the local Chevy dealer for oil changes, only $67.

      I certainly wouldn't hesitate to buy another one, and for the most part, once discounts are taken into account, they are very well priced. The ATS is tight inside, so we'd likely look at something like a CT5 or XT4 next time.

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      10-28-2019 01:40 PM #15

    17. Member Unilateral Phase Detractor's Avatar
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      10-28-2019 03:22 PM #16
      The decline of Cadillac was really emblematic of the decline of GM. Poor quality, ho hum styling because you're just re-badging a Chevy or Oldsmobile, plus ignoring that some drivers were interested in both luxury *and* performance. With their reputation trashed, few people will give them a second look today even though the cars are (again) class leading in some ways. Nobody has matched SuperCruise, for example.

    18. 10-28-2019 03:29 PM #17
      Quote Originally Posted by Unilateral Phase Detractor View Post
      The decline of Cadillac was really emblematic of the decline of GM. Poor quality, ho hum styling because you're just re-badging a Chevy or Oldsmobile, plus ignoring that some drivers were interested in both luxury *and* performance. With their reputation trashed, few people will give them a second look today even though the cars are (again) class leading in some ways. Nobody has matched SuperCruise, for example.
      Yeah they have pioneered some cool features-

      Autotronic eye in 1952 (auto high beams)

      ACRS in 1974 (technically also olds and buick- first airbags in production)

      night vision in 2000 (on new deville)

      supercruise in 2018 (on CT6)


      The thing is, it almost always goes unnoticed.

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      10-28-2019 04:06 PM #18
      I enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing.
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      10-28-2019 04:34 PM #19
      Quote Originally Posted by ice4life View Post
      Yeah they have pioneered some cool features-

      Autotronic eye in 1952 (auto high beams)

      ACRS in 1974 (technically also olds and buick- first airbags in production)

      night vision in 2000 (on new deville)

      supercruise in 2018 (on CT6)


      The thing is, it almost always goes unnoticed.
      Being first rarely gets you noticed. Anybody remember who invented electric lighting? If you thought Thomas Edison, you thought wrong. The electric light bulb was invented by Humphry Davy decades before Edison was even born. It just wasn't that useful or commercially viable initially. There were various attempts at commercial production and numerous patents for electric lighting before Edison. Why do we think he invented the light bulb? Because he was the first one to be commercially successful selling them.

      Nobody remembers Cadillac as having the first airbag because their early systems didn't catch on. Nobody cares about supercruise because it's just one of many semi-autonomous technologies and they aren't selling enough for it to be come much of a standard.

      For better or for worse, they haven't been able to make cars objects of desire any time in the last 50 years or so. They may be "nice", but rarely lustworthy. I don't quite know how they get there, but I do know that what they are doing now won't cut it.

    21. 10-28-2019 05:09 PM #20
      Quote Originally Posted by Nealric View Post
      Being first rarely gets you noticed. Anybody remember who invented electric lighting? If you thought Thomas Edison, you thought wrong. The electric light bulb was invented by Humphry Davy decades before Edison was even born. It just wasn't that useful or commercially viable initially. There were various attempts at commercial production and numerous patents for electric lighting before Edison. Why do we think he invented the light bulb? Because he was the first one to be commercially successful selling them.

      Nobody remembers Cadillac as having the first airbag because their early systems didn't catch on. Nobody cares about supercruise because it's just one of many semi-autonomous technologies and they aren't selling enough for it to be come much of a standard.

      For better or for worse, they haven't been able to make cars objects of desire any time in the last 50 years or so. They may be "nice", but rarely lustworthy. I don't quite know how they get there, but I do know that what they are doing now won't cut it.
      Good point. Benz got credit for SRS (85 s class), Lexus got credit for night vision (03 LX) and Tesla got credit for "autopilot" (14 model s)

    22. 10-28-2019 05:13 PM #21
      I don't like caddy, but the ct5 looks good in green. We need MOAR green cars


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      10-28-2019 05:41 PM #22
      A fun read and a timely topic given how CAdillas irrelevance seems to be spreading through the Youtube universe right now.

      I'm heading home to Victoria, BC as I do every Christmas, and my wife and I chose to rent a Cadillac (unknown model) to ferry around our 1-year-old. Last year we were disappointed by an Audi Q5, and I'm anticipating the Cadillac won't fare much better. I hope I'm wrong and end up adoring it so much that I come home and am given the green light to buy a lightly used, grandpa spec CT6 with supercruise as an antidote to my old M3.

    24. Member NotFast's Avatar
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      10-28-2019 06:30 PM #23
      Quote Originally Posted by Unilateral Phase Detractor View Post
      The decline of Cadillac was really emblematic of the decline of GM. Poor quality, ho hum styling because you're just re-badging a Chevy or Oldsmobile, plus ignoring that some drivers were interested in both luxury *and* performance. With their reputation trashed, few people will give them a second look today even though the cars are (again) class leading in some ways. Nobody has matched SuperCruise, for example.
      I'm sure the MBA types would have a better term or explanation for why it happens, but Blackberry reminds me of the fall of Cadillac/GM. Company keep doing what they know rather than trying new things (even when doing it the same old way leads to failure). "No one wants a touch screen!" - Blackberry, when the iPhones came out.

    25. 10-28-2019 06:54 PM #24
      Quote Originally Posted by NotFast View Post
      I'm sure the MBA types would have a better term or explanation for why it happens, but Blackberry reminds me of the fall of Cadillac/GM. Company keep doing what they know rather than trying new things (even when doing it the same old way leads to failure). "No one wants a touch screen!" - Blackberry, when the iPhones came out.
      Damn, blackberry is a great analogy. By the time they got around to offering what people actually wanted (android/touch), it was way too late and still half-baked. As for Caddy, the XT6 comes immediately to mind.

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      10-28-2019 07:05 PM #25
      Quote Originally Posted by ice4life View Post
      I don't like caddy, but the ct5 looks good in green. We need MOAR green cars

      The color is okay I guess, but the car itself is horrible. Those blacked out pillars make it look like a 15 year old Chevy. Or some other kind of generic fleet car.

      EDIT: Actually, the greenhouse looks like a Dodge Avenger.

      Last edited by Seabird; 10-28-2019 at 07:07 PM.
      Quote Originally Posted by Col. David Crockett
      I told the people of my district, that, if they saw fit to re-elect me, I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but, if not, they might go to Hell, and I would go to Texas.

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