The Rise And Fall Of Cadillac

The Rise And Fall Of Cadillac


Irene Kim: Owning a Cadillac in America was once the ultimate status symbol, synonymous with success and achievement. The company dominated the market, outselling all luxury automakers
in the US for decades. Just 40 years ago, nearly one-third of all luxury cars sold
in the US were Cadillacs. Now, less than 7% of luxury cars purchased by Americans are Cadillacs, and the company is struggling to keep up with competitors
it once outsold. So, what happened? Cadillac got its start in 1902. It was actually formed from what was left of the Henry Ford Company after
the departure of Henry Ford following disputes with his investors. Engineer Henry M. Leland was brought on to appraise the company’s
factory in order to sell it but instead saw potential. Leland chose to reorganize the company as Cadillac Automobile Company, naming it after French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac,
the founder of Detroit, which was America’s automotive hub as well as the home of the company. At face value, Cadillac’s
cars seemed almost identical to those the company produced under Ford. But they quickly distinguished themselves and gained a reputation for being better made and more reliable. In 1909, the company was purchased by up-and-coming
conglomerate General Motors and officially named its
most prestigious division. Over the next few decades, Cadillac set huge milestones
in the auto industry, including the first passenger car with a fully enclosed cabin. Perhaps most impressive
was the development of the first electronic self-starter. Up to that point, starting a car required the awkward and strenuous task of cranking up the engine. With some help from
inventor Charles Kettering, Cadillac simplified it to
just the push of a button. Breakthroughs like this
inspired the company to adopt its iconic slogan: “Cadillac: Standard of the World.” Fast-forward to 1927. Cadillac established the
concept of a luxury car with its LaSalle convertible coupe. Before the LaSalle, cars
were strictly created based on their engineering needs. With this new car, it was
the first time a company called in a designer rather
than an engineer for the job. Designed by car stylist Harley Earl to be lavish and eye-catching, the LaSalle became a
trendsetting automobile that once again highlighted Cadillac’s high standards for car-making. Cadillac’s success and technical progress continued through the 1930s. But then World War II hit, and the entire car
industry slowed production in order to produce tanks
and aircraft engines. But that didn’t stop the car brand. Cadillac introduced designs that came to both define the car industry and embody the prosperity of
the “fabulous ’50s” and 1960s. While the company received recognition for its continued
engineering developments, it was Cadillac’s iconic tail fins that became a staple feature
of all luxury automobiles. Not to mention its cars’
enormous dimensions and Dagmar bumpers, nicknamed
after the voluptuous TV star. At the height of its popularity, Cadillac was selling over five times that of rival Lincoln, and in 1968 managed to sell over 200,000 vehicles for the year. But Cadillac was more than
just America’s most stylish and top-selling premium car brand. Through General Motors’
aggressive marketing, driving a Cadillac became
a status symbol in America to everyone from celebrities
and professional athletes to presidents. Matthew DeBord: It was the
pinnacle of achievement in American society at that point. They also have had these zany names, like Fleetwood, Eldorado. They came up with these
crazy, crazy names, you know, drawn from the
most pretentious notions around European heraldic
badges and stuff like that, and the whole idea was to sell people on the notion that they had really made it and they were gonna ascend to some kind of premium status in American society. Kim: At the start of the 1970s, Cadillac remained the dominating force in the luxury car market, as the idea that “bigger is better” still rang true with buyers. However, as the economy declined and a widespread oil crisis spread, owning giant, gas-guzzling sedans became far less convenient and far more expensive. But more than anything,
the rise of imported cars gave Cadillac some serious competition, and the brand started to lose ground as the standard of excellence in America. DeBord: When the Europeans showed up, the Germans in particular, with their snazzy little sport
sedans, it was a revelation, and a lot of people who,
you know, liked to drive gravitated toward those. And they were gonna go
for Porsches and BMWs and Mercedes and that sort of thing. And they also started to think about European automobiles as just being better, them being superior. And then the Japanese arrived with their little fuel-sipping machines that’re, you know, really quite reliable relative to American cars. And so people started
looking at these and saying, “Well, it’s a better car,
it gets better fuel economy. Why am I driving around
in this giant Cadillac?” Kim: Although the 1980s started
well enough for Cadillac, with sales continuing to increase, the company responded poorly
to this rise of imports. To compete with all the new
compact foreign automobiles, the company began
downsizing its entire lineup to create a team of smaller,
fuel-efficient cars. But its cars quickly
became indistinguishable, not only from each other, but from General Motors’
other brands as well. Cadillac owner: The
black Cadillac, please. Valet: Right away, sir. Buick owner: Excuse me, I
believe that’s my Buick. [laughs nervously] Cadillac owner: Yes, so it is. Kim: And as the company hastily pushed out these smaller cars to try and match the influx of luxury imports, Cadillac encountered a number of failures, the prime example being the Cimarron, the smallest car Cadillac had
ever produced to that point. It sold so poorly that it
was axed from their lineup by 1988, just six years after its launch. DeBord: It’s a Chevy with a
Cadillac badge slapped on. It looks like a Chevy. It’s just a ghastly little car. I mean, if you wanted a Chevy, it was OK. But if you wanted a
Cadillac, you looked at it like, “What the F is this,” basically. So it was just an embarrassment. But it was an attempt by, you know, General Motors and Cadillac
to keep the brand going in a much more competitive environment where some of the value proposition of Cadillac had gone away. Kim: Consumers recognized the decline in quality of Cadillac’s cars, and it reflected in the company’s sales. Cadillac’s share of the
US luxury car market dropped from 31% in 1980
to just 22% in 1990. As Cadillac fell, its competitor Lincoln reaped the benefits. Lincoln’s share doubled during the course of the decade to 20%. And in 1998, for the
first time in 59 years, Lincoln outsold Cadillac. By the 1990s, Cadillac lost any appeal it had with the younger market. The running joke became
that all Cadillac owners were somewhere between 60 and death. America’s luxury car market was now heavily dominated by Mercedes, with Toyota’s newly introduced
Lexus brand close behind, followed by BMW, whose
sales were quickly rising. But in 1999, the introduction
of what would become one of Cadillac’s most iconic vehicles would prevent a total collapse
and help revamp the brand. The 1999 Escalade was Cadillac’s answer to the full-size SUV boom and its response to the
success of Lincoln’s Navigator. The Escalade not only
performed well sales-wise; it became a pop-culture icon in itself, making its way into
movies and music videos, as well as becoming a popular choice among celebrity car buyers. Things were starting to look up. Cadillac saw a bump in sales, a rise in popularity with the youth market thanks to the Escalade,
and somehow survived General Motors’ 2009 bankruptcy that saw multiple brands dissolve. Unfortunately, the 21st century has not been completely kind to the once glorious name of Cadillac. While Cadillac’s array
of modern sport sedans and performance models
has been well received by reviewers and the media,
the numbers say otherwise. In 2018, the brand saw its
US luxury car market share dip to a lowly 7%, selling only 154,702 cars that year, which put it behind even Acura. And its sales among American buyers only continue to plummet. But why? How does a company that continues to churn out high-quality cars
with top-level technology, like its self-driving Super Cruise system, continue to dip in sales? Well, Cadillac took a long time to join the crossover SUV craze, something that now makes up 60% of luxury car sales in the US. But despite its problems in the US, the company may have found its answers in the global market,
particularly in China. DeBord: The US market is at peak levels right now as far as sales, so there’s not a whole lot of
additional room for growth. And you say, “Wait a minute,
where are we gonna see all the growth in the future?” And General Motors looks, you know, across the ocean and sees China, whose market is already much
larger than the US market, you know, in excess of $20
million in annual sales and could probably go to $30 million or $40 million eventually. People don’t have a lot of cars in China. And General Motors is
looking at this situation and saying, “People in China are going to get richer in the future, and they’re going to want
to identify their status as a wealthy person with an automobile. Why shouldn’t that be a Cadillac?” So they’re just thinking, “Well, why don’t we put Cadillac in there?” Well, they put Cadillac
in there 10 years ago, and it’s been extremely impressive. Kim: Between 2016 and 2017,
Cadillac sales in China exploded by over 50%,
leading Cadillac to record its second-highest global sales mark in the company’s 115-year history. The company already has plans to expand its network of dealers
to 500 in China by 2025. DeBord: We look at a rise in Cadillac, we look at a fall in Cadillac, and the fall may be
something that can’t be arrested in the market
where the brand was created. I mean, it’s one of the
original General Motors brands. But they could create a brand that means something in
another part of the world.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

100 Comments

  1. 1950's war movies on TV. GI marching through Italy(California), young boy, "Yankee got chocolate bar? You have Cadillac, Joe?" "Oh ya', I've got 10 of 'em!"

  2. I absolutely love Cadillac. It's really sad to see where they were a few years ago. But I believe their quality has come back up, and I believe they will have a future in the US market

  3. The issue of quality on the 1980's pops up out of nowhere in this presentation, with no explanation as to how or why it declined.

  4. I came from wealth and all my family had Cadillacs from the 1940's-1970. I switched to Lincoln Town Cars when the Cad Sedan deVille became just another front-wheel drive piece of junk. No full frame, no fender skirts, no tail fins, no rear-wheel drive, no style and poor quality. Granted Lincolns don't have some of those things but they (until their demise in 2011) were more like a traditional American road car.

  5. They got fat and lazy and their car is turned to shit that you can't get more than a hundred thousand miles out of. Long gone are the caddies of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

  6. Cadillac used to feel like riding on a cloud, now it's less comfortable than a Toyota. And the interior space is about the same size as a K-car !

  7. Chadillac and high-quality are not two words that belong in the same sentence, luxury different thing but luxury and quality are not the same.

  8. Why is everything? A question? Every sentence goes UP like a question? It’s like Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton is reading cue cards?? Question? 🙄

  9. Crapy design language is what happened….if they aren't cheap, they are ugly on the outside…if they aren't cheap and ugly on the outside they are ugly on the inside…everyone there should be fired!

  10. The narration was just fine. People who need excitement, hyperbole, craziness, exaggeration, screaming and bright colors to maintain their interest for over 30 seconds are the kind of shallow consumers who have always been suckered into buying Cadillacs. Which was the point in the first place – a point which those commenters all missed.

  11. So much of her research is wrong, and it didn't explain much.
    Before 1927, Cadillac was sold with a body built by coach builders, which is what other top car companies were doing.
    The LsSalle was not a Cadillac by a lower priced brand designed to sell between Cadillac and Buick. Is this supposed to be a high school project on making videos?

  12. caddys,like buick and harley ,will die with the boomers. cadillac and harley just arent seen as cool anymore. but…..i still want one. a cts v2. oh yeah.

  13. My uncle bought a new Eldorado in 1959. That was at the time, the ultimate luxury vehicle. Today, Cadillac, as part of a General Motors Company that has slid way down hill quality wise, makes overpriced garbage that will fall apart long before you’ve paid it off!

  14. If GM didn't strive to make such shit cars this wouldn't be happening. Their marketing is also some of the lamest anywhere they couldn't sell ice in the desert.

  15. As the USA becomes more PROGRESSIVE the lower the quality of life for legal Americans & Made in communist China becomes the norm.

  16. Lexus' arrival in 1990 decimated Cadillac and Lincoln sedans. Cadillac's late 2000's push to rear-wheel drive sporty handling cars came way too late. They should have taken that approach in the late 1980's to properly compete with BMW but instead they insisted on GM parts bin front wheel drive garbage.

  17. Here's a point you guys missed. Cadillac remodels cars every 2 yrs now. Like hell I'll pay 70K for something that changes design too much. There ya go. You are welcome.

  18. Shareholders and greed. Dont forget shortsightedness and lack of innovation. There!! Its the same story for most of America. And it's still happening. No wonder people are turning Commie

  19. The problem for Cadillac happened in 1980 when It started downsizing their cars.they were poorly made plastic timing parts fake wood trim just all and all unreliable cars.you rarely see a car from the 80s on the road anymore because it just piece of junk. Not to mention unreliable engines like the HT 4100 the throttle body engines and the North Star can you say blown head gaskets anyone.

  20. Acura is a better made, but overall Cadillac is a better car. as far as the presenter, it would help if she was more enthusiast. Also, her clothing choice, like any journalist, should not overtly promote any name brands, eg Gucci belt.

  21. They're thinking China when it really should be India.
    Launch your cars in here because us Indians are wayyy too obsessed with status symbols and shit like that, price it right and they'll sell like hotcakes.
    Plus I've always wanted a Caddy 😁

  22. If they still made cadillacs like the one in the thumbnail, and just updated them safety wise, they’d still be the top seller.

  23. I’d buy a Cadillac, or German luxury for that matter if they were more reliable. Cadillac in general is an unreliable heap of shit given that it’s a GM product. People like to say that if you could afford a luxury car, you can afford to pay for constant repairs. But that’s not true as I could pay money for a brand new or used Lexus, and have peace of mind that the Lexus won’t ever leave me stranded. Buying a used Cadillac on the other hand…………

  24. Cadillac give too much trouble and is expensive to maintain.The CTS and ATSs are prime example,a good luxury starters are Mercedez c class,Lexus ie,and the Infinity M3.These brands are known for performance,luxury,and reliability.

  25. Change marketing plans to maintain your reputation and sales, in Saudi Arabia I tried to buy an XT5 recently but since we have only one Cadillac dealer, they told me that no cars are available and I have to wait until end of December for the next fleet to arrive then I would be lucky if I managed to pull my car among the waiting queue of customers!

  26. Save your time…..

    Chevy

    “(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”
    ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:18-19‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    https://www.bible.com/1/php.3.18-19.kjv

  27. I thought the fins and spinners were inspired by rockets and missiles, just look at GMs turbine cars and trucks. It was the new rocket era post WW2 remember.

  28. The Cadillac Northstar engine was what sealed their fate as a sub-par luxury brand. The engine performed well, but became notorious for the headbolts slipping out of their threads and causing coolant to leak into the cylinders. It wasn't until 10 years later that they actually managed to fix the issue. This rather serious design flaw, and lack of action by the manufacturer lead to a serious drop in confidence of Cadillac's reliability and quality. This also unfortunately meant that resale values plummeted, leading to owners of these vehicles being shocked when it came time to trade in their Cadillac.

  29. Cadillac should bring back gigantic tail fins on its cars, then they'll beat BMWs and Mercedes in the luxury car market.

  30. More like CHINALLAC. They don't suit American taste any longer. GM is only focussed on what China thinks of their sedan. Trucks is another story.

  31. I say their greatest decade was the 1950s. Those cars are built solid, beautiful with amazing quality. The resale value is still very strong in the classics market.

  32. Did this guy just say Cadillac was one of General Motors original brands. It was not part of an original brand of General Motors Cadillac was built by Henry Ford. And they didn't even call a Cadillac then. It was Henry Ford's first car company and it wasn't even Ford Motor Company then. On another side note the first Jeep that is made by Chrysler now and owned by Chrysler the first civilian jeep ever was mass produced by Ford Motor Company

  33. I've always disliked Cadillacs for the simple reason that where I live, the only people that drive them are all either Drug Dealers, Pimps and Gangbangers, or Grouchy Old Men

  34. Fantastic brand! But ruined by very poor top management. Horrible badge engineering, head gasket Northstar engines, FWD in large cars, not having seperate dealerships, way too late with SUVs and crossovers, poor ergonomics and infotainment, poor resale, etc etc. GM messed up SAAB in the same way. They also wanted to sell Cadillac in Europe….even though they couldn't even compete in their USA home market. Sad to see such a great name go down the drain. Thanks GM.

  35. I think the main reason of behind the dramatic downfall in selling of Cadillac is the current exterior design. As a car enthusiast myself, the body shape of Cadillac looks way too bulky although engineers try to give aerodynamics outline as much as possible but yeah not impressive at all. However I more prefer the classic Cadillac between 60's to 80's .

  36. All, sad to say, sooooo true. GM Senior Management in general; and Cadillac Sr. Execs. in particular were fat and content to rest on their laurels of a history of dominance in America's AND the world's luxury car marketplace; allowing delusion VIP's to elect to introduce such abominations as the Cimmaron and Allante to appeal to buyers fleeing to Mercedes/BMW and Lexus.
    No other auto manufacturer failed so miserably to heed consumers' changing requirements, with the possible exception of Ford's wunder-kind and creator of the Mustang, Lee Iacocca, who assumed the helm at Chrysler, only to develop possibly the ugliest/cheapest/most hideous of American automobile excretions; the K-car series ( these were AWFUL cars). Iacocca, being at one with being a "legend in his own Mind" even entertained a run for the Presidency; but settled for making hundreds of $$millions from his autobiography…..poor deluded idiot…
    GM, once again, is headed by a rather rag-tag group of senior execs; whose sole concern for ROI (return on investment) and maximizing share price has led to some spectacularly damaging public relations disasters; including the shuttering of the Lordstown GM plant in Ohio…once again, these glass ceiling types are sooo insulated in their GM Center Penthouse executive suites, that hey have lost all relation to practical reality. as the saying in politics goes, "power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely"; GM Senior Management seems hell-bent on running the brand into the ground, all the while courting thee despicable cabal around Xi Jing Ping in Beijing to open up yet more markets for the brand in the burgeoning Chinese markets. I am tempted to deliver a case of toilet paper to the Exec. Suites in Detroit, so that they can wipe the brown, foul-smelling excretions they've picked up in China from what should be their shamed faces.

  37. Good they fell because I presented designs to former President Barack Obama and CTS V , and it's CTS coupe, CTS wagon, XTS and ATS and the Last Escalade was last. President Barack Obama decided to rip me off instead. Remember when went back to the rear wheel drive. I criticism of a letter I wrote them. I also told them you wonder why everyone is kicking your butt's because you make and sell gas guzzlers all general motors and Ford. And everyone else makes what people like. They never paid me my money. And the Cadillac's they make now are ugly ass hell. I also gave the SLR which they changed the name. These fools don't think I can't Sue them because I kept photo proof of my letters I sent Obama's crooked ass.

  38. Cadillac lost its class. From a dinky car and ugly looks no wonder that it failed. It look like any other car now with all the plastic and cheapness.

  39. Cadillac tried to be more like the German imports, ignoring the loyal traditional buyers who preferred the big luxury car buyers.

  40. What goes around, comes around. Before 1950, Packard outsold Cadillac, Lincoln, or Chrysler Imperial. It had been the top luxury car for decades, and is still held in great esteem as one of the greatest classics. So, what Cadilliac was in 1960, Packard was before 1950. Ditto today. What Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, other foreign makes are today, Cadillac was yesterday. And, the beat goes on. It will flip somehow again at some future date if cars continue to be produced. Cadillacs best seller is now a truck? Trucks, or truck like vehicles may be the only vehicles available someday.

  41. I don't know what's worse, the girl that can barely read a teleprompter or the guy that looks down his nose and sounds like a snooty twerp.

    Oh, and sweetie, it's an electric starter, not electronic. Cimmaron is pronounced with emphasis on the "on."

  42. It doesn't matter how nice Cadillacs are. GM has earned it's reputation as a manufacturer of junk cars that fall apart after 5 years. It only takes one bad car ownership experience for a person and their family to avoid a car company for life. At this point, it's amazing that GM products still sell at all in the US. Quality matters.

  43. Hate to say it but I used to love Cadillac but now they’re shit. I had 2 of them and it seemed like every time I turned around it was in the shop! Basically brand new vehicles and all that money I’ve spent! My DeVille I had, had motor issues and would cost so much to fix. I switched to Mercedes and haven’t looked back! I’ve owned 4 Mercedes and never had the issues I had with those damn Cadillacs I had…

  44. I wish I could give them some of my designs. I wish they bring back the Fleetwood. Big fast luxury with durability. I still have my fleetwood from 1995.

  45. People think if it’s not popular in America it’s a failure like these cars are doing just fine outside the us, it’s like music 😂

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