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Blinded by the Light: The Perilous Success of the 1976 Cadillac Seville


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Blinded by the Light: The Perilous Success of the 1976 Cadillac Seville

Written by Aaron Severson

Saturday, 09 January 2010 00:00

The 1976 Cadillac Seville was Detroit's first response to the growing popularity of luxury imports like Mercedes. Although it was an immediate hit, earning a handsome profit and inspiring numerous imitators, the Seville marked the beginning of the end of Cadillac's credibility as "the standard of the world." This week, we look at the history of the Seville, and the reasons for Cadillac's long, ugly decline.


When Robert D. Lund became general manager of Cadillac in January 1973, GM's luxury division was firmly established as America's number-one luxury automaker. Owning a Cadillac had become a potent emblem of material success, and many working-class and middle-class buyers took out home-mortgage-size loans to own one. Although sales had grown steadily since the early sixties, topping 200,000 in 1967 and hitting a record of 267,787 units for the 1972 model year, demand significantly exceeded supply, insuring high transaction prices and excellent resale values.

To Bob Lund, who was coming off a highly successful stint as general sales manager for Chevrolet, Cadillac's sales organization seemed complacent, even lazy. The general assumption among the sales force was that Cadillacs practically sold themselves. There was little effort to spark competition or promote growth. Cadillac salesmen didn't use high-pressure tactics; they hadn't needed to in years. For Lund, who had taken Chevrolet to a record three million sales in 1971, it was clear that the right tactics could improve Cadillac's volume by 30% or more. In a July 1974 Time article, Lund explained that his goal was to make Cadillac much more aggressive, calling for new advertising campaigns, more assertive marketing, and the division's first regional sales contests since the early fifties."When you're green you're growing," he declared, "but when you're ripe you're next to rotten."

Lund's mission to improve Cadillac's growth would have been an easy task in 1970, but it became decidedly more complicated in late 1973. That fall, the member nations of OPEC embargoed oil shipments to the West, in retaliation for America's military support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Fuel prices, already on the rise, gave way to shortages and a brief return of fuel rationing. The very rich had never really cared about fuel prices -- driving a gas guzzler when fuel is expensive just goes to prove your affluence -- but the prospect of long-term shortages was quite another matter. Overnight, buyers fled from big cars, leaving new Cadillacs to gather dust on dealer lots.

Lund, like many senior Detroit executives, presented a game face to the press, but it was a problem. It would require new solutions.



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>>"new GM chairman Roger Smith was mounting an assault on the autonomy of the divisions, pushing for cost-cutting and greater commonality between the brands. That move ate away at anything that had ever made Cadillacs special or desirable."<<

Bears repeating : damn Roger Smith.

That's why I've always felt that Cadillac needs to be a fully-autonomous unit again in order to be truly competitive as a luxury mark.

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