Ben Zimmer wrote in a recent post in “On Language” for the NY Times:
The Cadillac division of General Motors has seen better days, with woeful sales figures even compared with those of other brands in the slumping luxury-car market.
The article goes on to claim that while the phrase “…the Cadillac of …” has continued to indicate the highest quality, most desirable of something, Mr. Zimmer feels that this no longer applies to Cadillac vehicles. Unfortunately, Mr. Zimmer’s view is a decade or two behind.
External Events: 1974 OPEC Oil Embargo, 1979 gas Crisis Change the Automotive Landscape
Yes, in the late 70s and 80s Cadillac struggled, along with much of the rest of the Automobile industry. Oil Embargos and fuel shortages suggested that radically different cars were needed, and automobile manufacturers rushed new products to market, sometimes in ways that did not play to their traditional customers. When the oil embargo hit in 1974, Cadillac was making 500 cubic inch (8.2L) V8 engines. Due to the expected rapid shift in consumer desire for fuel economy, changes had to be made. At the same time, it became less expensive to import cars from Europe, further stressing sales of American luxury cars. In 1979 a second crisis emerged, in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.
Woops, I’ve done it again
GM and Cadillac had a series of faux pas, including issues with badge engineering, problems with diesel engines, electronic control issues with the multi-displacement 6-8-4 V8 (1981) and reliability issues with the HT4100 (1982) engine. The HT4100 evolved into the 4.5L and 4.9L OHV engines, which were very reliable and high quality. However, the damage had been done to a number of buyers who left the marque and never returned.
1992: Cadillac Re-invents Itself
Starting with the re-designed Seville and Eldorado models in 1992, and with the new Northstar 4.6L V8 and powertrain in 1993, Cadillac began to re-emerge as one of the pre-eminent luxury performance car manufacturers in the world. In 1999 the first Cadillac full-size SUV, the Escalade, arrived and has received wide accolade. In 2003 the new CTS led the further re-invention of Cadillac, continuing an arc of excellence.
Cadillac is currently one of the industry leaders by independent survey in initial and four-year quality and reliability. Cadillac has the best warranty policy among luxury car manufacturers. Today’s Cadillac vehicles mix performance, luxury, and convenience in a way that Cadillac’s founder, precision machinist Henry Leland, would definitely approve of. With vehicles like the new Cadillac, CTS-V Cadillac is once more the “Standard of the World”, and the Cadillac of Luxury Performance Cars.
Mr. Zimmer, I suggest you visit a Cadillac showroom and test drive the current models before your next Cadillac article. Consider the facts, then “May the best car win”.