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Can Toyota avoid the Oldsmobile trap?

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Can Toyota avoid the Oldsmobile trap?

Jesse Snyder

Automotive News -- January 21, 2010 - 4:20 pm ET

Toyota is always so steady. When you think about the brand -- if you actually think about it -- the same images come to mind.

Quietly competent. Reliable. Hardly flashy, but not ugly. Dependable. Comfortable. Good value.

Looking back, Toyota has always reminded me of another solid brand that was really popular in the 1970s and '80s. You know -- Oldsmobile.


In its heyday, Olds was the middle rung in General Motors price ladder of brands, a cut above Chevy or Pontiac, less ostentatious than Buick or Cadillac. Quietly competent. Reliable. Comfortable. An Olds buyer never had to explain why to neighbors.

U.S. sales peaked north of a million in 1985. Oldsmobile was No. 3 behind Chevy and Ford.

So how did Oldsmobile crash from that to extinction in 2004? Blame the shrinking domestic-brand market share or rising imports, if you wish.

But I think of a mid-1980s GM reorganization aimed at stemming losses to imports. Alfred Sloan's vertical price ladder got a fancy new horizontal “expressiveness” dimension as GM belatedly realized its divisions competed mainly with each other.

Every GM brand image had to stretch, a GM brand manager once explained over lunch, sketching radiating arrows on a napkin. Chevy would move downscale and be “more traditional,” Pontiac and Buick “more expressive” and Cadillac more upscale.

What was Oldsmobile's new role, I asked. “Stand still and make money.”

So the other brands all galloped off on their exciting missions, and Olds was left behind. Other divisions got more new technology, Olds less. Cost cutting boosted margins, but undercut Olds' value. Badge engineering lessened distinctiveness. Like a movie warrior told to stay back and guard the horses, the light went out in the eyes of Olds engineers.

As its loyal buyers aged, Olds got old. Fathers who bought Oldsmobile after Oldsmobile had sons who are serial Camry owners.

In a sense, Toyota out-Oldsmobiled Olds. Toyota owns dependability and reliability as surely as it does not win on styling.

But other automakers are improving, reducing Toyota's perceived lead on its only real distinction. Combine that with Toyota's spate of recent recalls. So does an increasingly tarnished quality reputation put Toyota in danger of following Oldsmobile?


Toyota doesn't have too many brands, like GM did. The Toyota brand is the corporate mainstay rather than a supporting brand like Olds, so it won't be neglected.

Toyota is addressing its quality problem years quicker than GM recognized Olds' image woes. CEO Akio Toyoda himself is the champion on fixing quality, so the effort won't lose drive.

And he also wants to make styling more important, which should give those rational Toyota customers some emotional appeal as well.

So Toyota is taking a hit with its base customers, and the damage may not have peaked yet. But Toyota won't be stumbling down Oldsmobile's path.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100121/RETAIL/100129971/1126##ixzz0dS3xmhBa

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This article talks about Oldsmobile. This guy on website said it so well:

In Oldsmobile circles, many different things have been attributed to the death of Olds. Yes, the 1988 ad campaign "This is not your father's Oldsmobile" did alienate a ton of Olds owners was part of it. Other things that contributed:

1) Elimination of popular nameplates for new ones. People had grown up on Cutlass, Toronado, Eighty Eight, and Ninety Eight for 25, 30, 40, and even 50 years. Continuity is very important. Some people just bought Cutlasses or Delta 88's because it was a trusted name and that they knew what they were getting, instead of an Intrigue, which although was a good car, didnt carry the same weight as a Cutlass. This is part of the reason why Pontiac was also lost...losing storied names like Grand Prix, Bonneville, Grand Am, and Firebird for what - G???

2) Not putting the Oldsmobile name on the 1st generation Aurora...When the Aurora came out in 94 as a 1995 model, the only place that the name "Oldsmobile" was mentioned anywhere was on a small logo on the radio...nowhere else. It was as if GM didnt want the world to know that it was an Olds. When you have a model as dynamic as the Aurora was in 1995, they needed to use it as a brand renaissance.

3) Lack of focus on performance and innovation. Olds was historically known as the brand with much of the new innovations in the market. By the time the 1990's came around, Olds was basically a bunch of bland sedans, except for the Cutlass Supreme coupe and convertible. I know that they were trying to address that, especially under the leadership of John Rock, but it was too little, too late. Yes, they were doing some things with the IRL (indy Racing League, or whatever it was called then) with the Aurora engines, and they were working on a partnership with Shelby for a "halo" car, but otherwise there wasnt much there. I contend that if they would have come up with a 2 door Aurora with a high performance version of the Aurora engine and called it "442", they would have brought back some of what they had going in the 60's, 70's, and early 80's.

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