The massive advertising campaign proclaimed, “Not your father’s Oldsmobile”. Except for brand loyal drivers, the public didn’t bite. The oldest car brand in America couldn’t shake its stodgy image.
The car company was acquired by General Motors in 1908. Its corporate status was smack dab in the middle of the brand offerings. Oldsmobiles were priced higher than Pontiac and Chevrolet, and cheaper than Buick and Cadillac. The target buyers were middle-aged, middle-class adults.
Add to the middling image, consumers had been losing interest in the middle, mid-size Oldsmobile type cars to minivans and SUVs. Imports and “transplant” brands, like Toyota and Nissan had captured consumers’ imaginations. The advertising campaign and product lineup were aimed at the mid-range income market.
The campaign was a dud. In December of 2000, General Motors told the public that production of the stagnant line would end in the 2004 model year. The automotive press responded, pretty much, with a collective yawn. As 2004 dawned, the once varied model line-up had been pared down to one, the Alero.
The company began back in 1897. Ransom E. Olds incorporated the “Olds Motor Vehicle Company” in Lansing, Michigan. His company built 425 cars and was the top selling car manufacturer in the United States for a few years. Olds cars were the first to be built on an assembly line. Our history books tell us that Ford was the first to build cars that way. However, the Ford innovation was that their assembly line moved.
Soon, the Olds company ran into financial difficulties. Olds in 1899. His financiers seriously disagreed with the thrust of the company so Olds was forced to sell the company. Afterwards, Ransom Olds started a new company and called it the REO Motor Car Company.
Meantime, the new owners of the original firm renamed it “Olds Motor Works” and relocated to Detroit. Disaster struck in 1901, when the factory caught fire and burned to the ground along with all the prototype vehicles ruined. The only vehicle to survive was a Curved Dash car that was pushed out of the factory by workers escaping the blaze. Within a year, a new factory was inaugurated and manufacturing continued.
The name of the vehicles were officially called “Olds Automobiles”. But popularly, people called them Oldsmobiles. The nickname was memorialized in the 1905 popular song “In My Merry Oldsmobile”. The company heads followed suit and soon renamed their company Oldsmobile.
In 1908, the Oldsmobile Company was sold to William Durant as another General Motors brand, the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors.
Many automotive innovations were introduced to the public via the Oldsmobile platform. In the 1930s, they were the first cars to offer semi-automatic transmissions. For 1940, Oldsmobile offered the first fully automatic transmission. In the mid 40s, Oldsmobile improved the old style V8 engines with overhead valves. They called the new powerplant “Rocket V8”. The engines were so advanced that they were the fastest American car engines sold in the 1950s.
1962 witnessed the introduction of the first turbocharged mass market engine. In 1966 the second mass market front-wheel drive car, the Toronado. (The first was the 1935 Cord, which inspired the Toronado.)
The next decades were relatively successful ones for Oldsmobile, but the brand became increasingly lost in the vast array of car brands and models that appeared from foreign makes, domestic competitors, and from within General Motors.
Soon, Oldsmobiles were thought of as old people’s cars.
The death announcement of Oldsmobile came about during the press meeting for the introduction of the new 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada SUV. The vehicle was a warmed over version of the Cheverolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy trucks. The vehicle was distinguished by grill and trim differences.
The end of the line for Oldsmobile came ten years ago, on the morning of April 29, 2004. A special “Final 500” edition Alero rolled off the Lansing, Michigan Car Assembly plant. The car topped the Oldsmobile legacy of more than 35,200,000 vehicles manufactured. Before its demise, Oldsmobile was the oldest American brand name, outdone only by the German transplant “Daimler”.
The Blue Jay of Happiness shares this bit of Oldsmobile trivia. The “Beverly Hillbillies'” truck was originally an old Oldsmobile Model 46 car that had been converted into a flatbed truck before it was finally acquired by the television production company.