How American luxury cars went downmarket over the years

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by F50Fanatic, Nov 24, 2017.

  1. #1 F50Fanatic, Nov 24, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
    Idea for this thread came to me after seeing a documentary on the 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, then seeing a 80's review of the Cimarron, then seeing a road test of the 2017 CT6.

    We all know that American upscale and premium car brands, Cadillac, Buick, Lincoln, Mercury, and Chrysler occupied a much higher tier in the car market back in the 50's and 60's compared with nowdays.

    To a lot of folks, the 58 Eldorado Brougham and 59 Eldorado Biarritz Convertible were the definitive Cadillacs. I personally regard the 30's V16s as the greatest cars from the Cadillac brand. But those 50's and 60's big Caddys are a lot more recognizable to most people, and are greater cultural icons in my opinion. From a similar perspective, the 1956 Lincoln Mark II coupe and the 1964 Lincoln Continental sedan are the definitive Lincolns.

    A lot of people are going to say that the oil crisis of the early 70's caused the American luxury car brands going down market. This is a important reason, but far from the only reason. The mid 70's Imperials, and the late 70's Caddys and Lincolns are priced right up there with best from Mercedes if not higher, and they sold in decent numbers with the exception of the Imperials.

    The 71-78 Eldorado, the 76-79 first gen Seville, the 77-79 Mark V, they were quite expensive for its day, and sold well. The only American luxury cars that sold poorly back then were the Imperials from Chrysler. So it seems the energy crisis didn't drive buyers away from these big land yachts. The 70's domestic land yachts are actually bigger than the 60's ones, sometimes much bigger. The first gen Seville was the first successful product of the so called "down-sizing", but it was an oddity of its time. If the 75 Imperial or the 77 Eldorado or the 79 Mark V get any bigger they would need their own ZIP codes. Even the "compact" Seville was larger than the Mercedes S-Class from the same era.

    If I remembered correctly, the 58 Eldorado Brougham was the most expensive car of the 50's. And the 59 Eldorado, especially the Biarritz convertible, while not as prestigious as the former, was still almost as expensive as Rolls Royce of the same era. In the 60's Lincoln Continentals and the Imperials by Chrysler were quite expensive too, you would need to be a doctor or a lawyer to be able to afford one. By then Mercedes already had plenty of prestige with the 600, but Audis and BMWs were no were near the level of prestige they have today in the luxury car segment.

    It seems by the 70's, poor quality control, making vehicles people don't want, and other more complicated factors have lowered brand perceptions. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the disaster with the Cimarron in the 80's has its lingering effects even today. In some ways it permanently lowered the brand perception of Cadillac and American luxury car brands in general.

    Recent years there has been attempts to move up market by Lincoln and Cadillac. The Continental and CT6 are very good cars for the price range, but still couldn't compete with S-Class or 7-Series. And with the shrinking sedan market, we are not sure if they will make more expensive flagship sedans.

    So the people here with far more knowledge than me, maybe you guys will enlighten me with some expert information and opinions.
    Vanilla Ice likes this.
  2. Cadillacs used to make their own cars. Now, they're all rehashed GMs and the reason is cost cutting.

    Rolls royce do their own suspension and the tactile bits, even though much of the running gear is BMW. That may add to the cost but their customers are willing to pay it.

    I say all this without having ridden in a cadillac or a rolls, so I may be wrong.
  3. American cars have never been premium. Always been cheap hunks of doodoo
  4. Except Cadillacs and Duesenbergs during the
    20s, 30s, 40s
  5. if cadillac built a car like rolls would anyone be willing to pay rolls prices for it?
  6. Umm what

    Pre-war Packards, Duesenbergs and Cadillacs were right up there with the most expensive Panhards, Bentleys, Maybachs and Mercs of the day. La Salle and Studebaker made some rather expensive hunks of doo-doo as well.

    Back then GM was no joke. They gave us synchromesh, power steering and Hydra-Matic (remember, this was in the 30's). Post-war European automobiles were positively Soviet in comparison to the futuristic, V8-powered Atomic Age barges from the US. And they were quite popular among Europeans who could afford them back in the day.

    I'm not an expert on automobiles and I certainly don't know how Cadillac went from the level of prestige and innovation they had to providing us with vinyl-upholstered FWD adult diapers powered by arthritis.
  7. haha he got you
  8. ?
  9. Have you ever driven a CTS-V? I thought it was very nice.
  10. Most (modern) American cars feel cheaper than they look/read on paper.
  11. #11 F50Fanatic, Nov 26, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
    Assuming it is something like the Ciel concept, with style and performance to surpass similar European cars, it would probably be like Maybach 57 and 62, selling in much fewer numbers compared with RR and Bentley, since the brand perception is not up there with the British marques.
  12. #12 F50Fanatic, Nov 26, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
    I wonder what would have happened if they put the Sixteen concept car into production with the 1000hp V16 engine, as a halo car for GM. My guess is it would sell around a thousand cars, and GM would lose money on each one it sells due to the high build cost. It might prompt Bugatti to build a mega luxury car similar to the 16C Galibier. The two cars would then fill a niche market that doesn't exist right now - ultra luxury / high performance land yachts with 4 digit power output.
  13. Its an american car so thats the reason why
  14. If Cadillac (or any other American brand) ever wants to compete with the big guns, they will have to seriously go out of their way in terms of technology (i.e not use the same engine that's been in some truck since 2006) and build quality (i.e not use a Chevrolet Cruze ashtray or have the dash making noises after a couple of years).
    Then again, the Maserati Levante is lacking in all of those areas, has an American vibe to it and still feels pretty special.
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  15. #15 F50Fanatic, Nov 27, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
  16. I think it's all a matter of perception of a brand, and perception is built from a lot of mythology.

    Bentleys use Audi engines, Rolls-Royces use BMW engines. A Huracan is just an R8 with a different shell, and Aston Martins of not very long ago were using Volvo switches and screens. And yet the people who buy these cars don't appear to care about these facts, while they apparently care when it comes to American brands.

    These European brands honed their image to be desirable over the years with a lot of myth. These guys are quick to make any link with the glorious past, with cars that raced in Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, Formula 1, Group C rallying. James Bond drives an Aston Martin and you can be sure as hell Aston Martin won't let you forget this.

    This weekend I went to check some classic Jaguars at a dealership, including one of the 25 XKSS that got built recently. Parked alongside the XKSS, C-Type, XK150 and several other classics, was a 2017 F-Type SVR. The car has zero to do with all the other classic machines in the showroom. It has a Jaguar logo and name, it has a design that evokes some cues from the past, but the car is completely different from what probably is its best selling point: the "myth" of the Jaguar brand. The Jaguar brand is owned by a indian company; the people who built the cars in the 1960s are no long involved in the company; the philosophy of the brand today has nothing to do with the past. And yet they keep the myth alive.

    Yeah, Cadillac fucked up in the 1980s, but so did Alfa Romeo, and probably a bunch of other brands. Alfa was making shitty FWD boxes in the 1990s and 2000s, a far cry from their years of making racing inspired road cars. And now they have the very desirable 4C and Giulia.

    Why isn't Cadillac propagating more of its own mythology? One trend for the brand in the past decades has actually been the distancing from the Cadillac myth. They stoped giving their cars names like it was traditionally done, and started using codes, like BMW and Mercedes do -- 740i, S500, and now the CT6. Their sport line is called "V", and what the **** does V stand for in their history? Alfa Romeo calls their sport range "Quadrifoglio Verde", which is a designation from their racing cars from the 1920s. Talk about bullshiting the myth around. Cadillac raced in Le Mans in the 1950s, and again in the 2000s, but GM doesn't seem interested in connecting their road cars to this.
  17. You have a point. There's a ton of marketing (or marketing errors) surrounding this. But also keep in mind that BMW, Audi, Volvo, Jaguar - are all luxury brands on their own. Mercedes had recently failed quite badly with Maybach, and in my opinion it has a lot to do with how similar the car was to the S Class (mostly in terms of styling, I believe). I think where you get your used parts from matters.
    Also Alfa did a great job leveraging their poor build quality and mechanics, giving the cars "character".
  18. Alfa Romeo has fucked up several times since the 70's. I don't think that they screwed up the brand name as much as GM did with some of their brands, though. Although the Italian FWD boxes may have been equally shitty, or even shittier compared to their American cousins, there's an important difference: The customers. Or our mental image of the owner of one of these vehicles.

    Thinking of the bigger Alfa and Lancia sedans (most of which were crap, honestly) of the 90's and early 00's, I'd expect a college professor, a very well dressed and slightly eccentric female, or an architect to emerge from the driver's seat. That's not the case with one of these:


    In our parking lot we have one of these with a #@%§ing white roof, and the person who drives it looks like one of those people who advertise Cold Steel products in 'murican television, and wears a bloody stetson and cowboy boots in Finland.
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  19. Having said all that, not building shitty cars is a major factor when it comes to desirability. Japanese premium brands came out of nowhere, and I'd have a Lexus LC500 over anything Cadillac or Alfa has to offer. Audi is a bastard child of chopped up Auto-Union and NSU. Their desirability stems from all the Reichsmarks and engineering prowess available at the VW Group.

    Maybe the R&Rs, Maybachs and Hispano-Suizas were desirable back in the day because luxury automobiles were just a side business for these companies. All of them were major players in defense industry back in the day. Rolls-Royce engines provide thrust for a ton of planes from Hawker Hurricane to the Concorde and Boeing 787. Maybach powered the Blitzkrieg, and still manufactures a lot of diesels for industrial, locomotive and marine applications under the name MTU (tank engines too, of course). Hispano-Suiza built aero and military engines, autocannons, etc. They are still around under the Safran conglomerate.

    If General Electric and Lockheed Martin announced a merger tomorrow and started manufacturing cars under the brand name "bellend", I'd find more prestige in that than whatever James Bond drives or some Mille Miglia Quadrifoglio Vaffanculo contraption with wooden wheels and a chain drive has.
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  20. #20 Sick Boy, Nov 29, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
    Are current Caddies that bad in terms of reliability? I'd assume they are strongly built. Everything nowadays has pretty good build quality, it appears.

    Of course extreme rebranding matters a lot because the consumer is not that stupid -- even though with the old Bentley CGT basically being an overdone Audi and the Huracan being an R8 with different looks, I'd have my doubts if rebranding even matters for some people.

    I think most consumers care more about looks than engineering. Have you seen the interior of the CT6 versus its main rival, the S Class?



    That's the CT6 Platinum, the most expensive version of the Cadillac, versus the S300, the cheapest version of the S Class. This looks like a comparison between a Chevrolet Cruze and a... well, S Class.

    That's why I think Bentley can get away with selling a super Audi: because they added a lot of wood and a lot of quilted leather to cover all the Audi beneath it. Lamborghini took a R8, added crazy looks and an interior with all buttons reading italian (benzeno for gas, olio for oil) and got away with pretending that it is a genuine Lamborghini.

    Cadillac doesn't even care about that. It's just selling a supersized Cruze to the public without giving what the public wants, which is luxury looks and feel.

    The lack of mythology compounded with a lacklustre product like the CT6 explains why Cadillac is failing.
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  21. Well, the GE-Lockheed car would be also have a mythology, one connected to the military and weaponry. European brands connect their brands with thoroughbred racing and cool lifestyle choices (i.e. buy an Aston and be as suave as James Bond).

    As you said, a lot of car companies started with weaponry, and I believe they downplay this nowadays because it's too risqué to connect your car with weapons of mass destruction. Subaru, Mitsubishi and Hyundai are just small branches of conglomerates that make heavy industrial machinery and military stuff. Mitsubishi is building a stealth fighter for the japanese air force right now. I think they prefer not to have any association with this when it comes to their cars.

    The main thing is that Cadillac couldn't care less about having an identity, either a military one, a racing one or a lifestyle one. It's almost like GM wants the modern Cadillac brand to be a blank slate. Which probably sucks, because a good motivation for the luxury car buyer is to have an aura of specialness that they can brag about.
  22. You MUST get us pics. That sounds like a delightful sight.
  23. #23 F50Fanatic, Nov 29, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
    I think the shift in consumers as a lot to do with it. Back in the old days, when people in North America shopped for luxury cars, they wanted big cars with a lot of horsepower and lots of style. Handing wasn't a priority back then. Those big land yachts were intended for domestic market, and they dominated the domestic market.

    Now it's all about the so-called luxury sport sedan having good handing and lots of "road feel".

    Alfa Romeo and Maserati, despite have made some awful cars, were able to regain their prestige more easily than Cadillac and Lincoln, because their brand perception is more in tune with what today's buyers want from an expensive car. These European brands, with their outstanding racing pedigree, give consumers the perception that their cars are able to give the drivers the driving experiences they wanted.

    Cadillac did have successful racing programs in recent decades, but it still couldn't compare with the long racing histories of the European car makers mentioned above. Overall the name Cadillac still invokes memories of the big land yachts with excessive styling and gigantic engines. During the so-called golden age of Automobiles, mainly the 50's and 60's, these European cars have been focused on racing. While Cadillac back then was focusing on making the biggest, most stylish land yachts. These differences have long lasting effects on how people perceive these brands in my opinion.
  24. #24 F50Fanatic, Nov 29, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
    That car was made from 1994 to 1999. If I remembered correctly 90's was actually a pretty good decade for the Detroit Big Three in terms of sales and market share, they were doing much better than they did in the 80's. The premium American cars didn't trail far behind European competition they way they did in the 2000's.

    The Deville of the 90's had the Northstar V8 with 300hp, which was considered very powerful back then, better than most of the premium cars from Europe at the time, and the build quality of the car, while not as good as Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus, was decent for the Deville's price range. And it was a big and stylish car with lots of interior room, a favorite among buyers of traditional American luxury. Road tests of the 90's gave the Seville and Deville high praises, citing exceptionally good acceleration, decent build quality, surprisingly good handling given their big sizes, and above all else good value for money.

    In the 90's, the Big Three made some pretty good cars for the price ranges they were in. GM's Cadillac Seville and Deville, Buick Riviera, Oldsmobile Aurora were good cars. Chrysler's LH cars, the Concorde and LHS, also scored very well on magazine reviews. And Ford's Lincoln Continental and Mark III were also praised by people who reviewed them. All of these cars offered comparable performance with European rivals at a cheaper price, while having styling that were uniquely American and became favorites for a lot of buyers.

    The 2000's was a whole different story. While the Cadillac did have the CTS, CTS, XLR, and their V variants, they trailed far behind Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, which by that time were making stylish high performance luxury sedans that rivaled supercars in acceleration and handled exceptionally well for their size. And Lexus, while still as bland as ever, have kept ahead of the competition in terms of build quality and reliability

    By the time the Financial Crisis arrived, the Cadillac STS was mediocre at best. the Lincoln Town Car was a dinosaur but at least it looked good in a traditional American way. Lincoln Zephyr / MKZ, Buick Lucerne, those cars are jokes compared with the sublime import premium cars from the same decade. And they look like pigs compared with the stylish import cars. The only American premium car that was generally considered cool was the Chrysler 300C. The Big Three were truly struggling by this time, more so than they did in the late 70's and early 80's. Just read the magazine reviews on premium American cars from this decade, they were completely different from the ones in the 90's. Rarely did any American premium car gets praises from magazine reviews. As far as I could remember, they were mostly being reported as being mediocre in performance, style, quality, value, and just about every other factor we can think of.

    For comparison, the 1979 Chrysler New Yorker and 1981 Cadillac Seville, while having reliability issues, and were miserably slow, but at least they have decent amount of style. The 2nd gen Seville had controversial styling, but at least it was a style. The 2000's Lucerne looked like an enlarged Altima with portholes and chrome. The Zephyr / MKZ looked like a Fusion with extra chrome. I understand it shares the platform with the Fusion, but how about put some effort to make it look more distinguishable from a car that costs $15K less?
  25. #25 Sick Boy, Nov 29, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
    Yep, I think you are very correct there.

    I have no data to back this up, but I'd bet some money that at one point GM made some consumer research/focus groups studies and discovered that the image of Cadillac was too old fashioned in the mind of potential buyers-- the consumers associated the brand with big barges, antiquated technology, and maybe even thought they were driven by a certain type of driver that they don't want to be associated with (as Hypo pointed out above).

    This would explain why GM makes no connection between the Cadillac of today with the Cadillac of the past -- the most obvious move being the change in nomenclature of the models. They just know that the Cadillac image is tainted, and now are trying to re-invent the brand. Funnily enough, they are not doing anything to make the brand any special, either in terms of "myth" or actual product: they are just big, well equipped Chevrolets, with no identity or history.

    But GM always fucks up their portfolio of brands. Until very recently they had a crazy number of different brands that had no discernible identity among them: Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, Saturn, Chevrolet, Holden, Opel, Vauxhall, Daewoo, Hummer, GMC. I mean, what the hell. The majority of products under the different brands were the same, with just different badges and names. Holden in Australia, Vauxhall in the UK, Opel in Europe, Chevrolet in the rest of the world, are all the same thing. They are all a mix of re-branded Cruzes, Corsas, Astras and whatevers with no discernible image.

    A lot of other big car companies buy small brands and then retire them from the market, because they can't really keep 12 different brands under the same portfolio and make each one unique. GM doesn't do that, for whatever crazy logic.

    Image, character, myth, personality and whatever might not make a difference for someone who is buying an econobox. But for the luxury car buyer that matters a lot. The fact that Cadillacs look like Chevrolets doesn't help sales, but GM would do much better if they manage to bullshit the population into believing that there is some magic to the CT6, just like the VW group convinces people to pay 3 times more for an Audi R8 if it comes with a Lamborghini logo.

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