Cadillac has had a long, turbulent history in the United States. When it was up, it was the go-to luxury car in the U.S.; when it was down, it was little more than an afterthought in the American conscience. Despite its ups and downs, Cadillac is still here and is surging, once again, into the national conscience. Below is a brief history of the rise, fall, and subsequent rise of the Cadillac brand.
The Glory Years
From the 1930s through the early 1970s Cadillac was a symbol of the American dream. During its hey-day, owning a Cadillac meant those three-martini lunches had paid off, and that you were well on your way to having the keys to the executive washroom. It meant that you had game and that you were a force to be reckoned with. You were Frank Sinatra and Super Fly and Don Draper rolled into one.
Elvis Presley was a huge fan of Cadillac, even going so far as to make a special trip to Houston, Texas to buy a 1956 El Dorado.
Cadillac wasn’t just a luxury brand; it also used innovative and eye-catching designs. In the 1940s and 1950s it was tail fins, hefty bumpers, and chrome everywhere that gave the cars an aquatic look — like sharks on land. In the 60s Cadillac simplified the design, removing some of the flair but maintaining the charisma – flash without being flashy.
In 1973, the OPEC oil embargo caused a surge in oil prices and the resulting crisis led to long lines at the gas stations and consumer disenchantment with large, gas-guzzling automobiles.
Foreign luxury cars, with their high-end design and engineering, and aggressive marketing campaigns, began to take over the market. By the early 80s, German and Japanese automobiles were the symbols of cutting-edge, forward-thinking progress, and the supersized luxury of the Cadillac became a symbol of American waste.
To make matters worse, the 1980s also brought big changes to the Detroit auto industry. With the surge in foreign car sales the Detroit auto industry and GM in particular, took serious hits to its bottom line. In an effort to save money GM CEO Roger Smith, combined all of GM’s brands, including Cadillac, under two generic umbrellas.
The result was a series of bland and boring vehicles that nobody really wanted, save for the few old-school Cadillac fans. Even having J.R. Ewing drive a Cadillac Allante on “Dallas” couldn’t rejuvenated the brand — by the end of the 80s, Cadillac was synonymous with rich old men.
The Difficult Comeback
Interestingly, it was the SUV craze of the late 90s that helped Cadillac regain some ground. Thanks to its presence in Hip-Hop music videos and its popularity with professional athletes, the Escalade was instrumental in putting Cadillac back on consumer radar.
Cadillac used the success of the Escalade to springboard to other projects. They created Evoq concept car that harkened back to the early aquatic shapes, but with updated, angular details that made it look like an armored sting ray zoning in for the kill.
As the 00s progressed, Cadillac continued to put the art back into their designs, as well as an eye toward lighter materials, better engineering, and improved gas mileage, to bring the brand into the 21st century.
Then came the bankruptcy, and the bailout, and the Detroit auto industry, and Cadillac in particular, became the symbol of American hubris.
But that bankruptcy wasn’t the end.
Cadillac continues to produce new vehicles and, under the GM umbrella, showed a profit in 2010. 2014 saw the introduction of the ELR electric vehicle, its entry into the growing Eco-friendly market, and the appointment of Mary T. Barra as the new CEO.
With all the new developments, Cadillac is still clinging to one thing from its past: its connection to the American Dream. Virtually every city in the nation has a Cadillac dealership. I recommend checking it out online and researching a bit before walking into a dealership. Ideally, your home city has one like the Houston Cadillac dealer site, which features robust search functions and demo sale options.
Regardless of where you buy, the Cadillac is once again the car of high achievers, go-getters, the stylish, and the successful – the Don Drapers of the new Millennium.