According to authors Al Ries and Laura Ries, there are "22 Immutable Laws of Branding." Number 21 is the Law of Mortality, which states that "no brand will live forever. Euthanasia is often the best solution." In other words, it's all about "knowing when to quit." This is when there is a justification to terminate a brand.
Doing so is never easy, but becomes necessary, as the brand manager, marketer, accountant, or CEO determines that a product line has failed to maintain its profitability margins or forecasted that future growth is nil or minimal at best, so sadly, there is no true opportunity to further nurture the brand.
Thus, a decision is reached, a death sentence is set and a legacy comes to an end. Hard to believe that this becomes the wisest of all choices. As the Ries' declare, "Brands, like people, [know] there is a time to live and a time to die."
Your Grandfather's Olds
Such is the case for Oldsmobile, which built its last car on May 5, 2004, at its one remaining factory in lovely Lansing, Michigan. The powers that be inside General Motors decided several years ago that this storied, but evidently flawed, brand no longer deserved to live. It has been allowed to die slowly, which some have found to be regrettable, but like a beloved pet whose owners want to keep around just a little while longer, the brand that Ransom E. Olds created more than 106 years ago, and which sold more than 35 million automobiles, was simply not strong enough to survive the extremely competitive automotive marketplace. Thus, it was time to put dear Oldsmobile to sleep.
For several generations, Oldsmobile was one of the pillars of General Motors, and for the entire automotive industry. In fact, Oldsmobile was the first automotive manufacturer to build cars in Detroit. The little horseless carriage with a single-cylinder, water-cooled four-cycle engine and a curved dashboard became the focus of Oldsmobile production following a 1901 fire.
It was the news of the fire, not the car, that generated interest in the Curved Dash Olds and shortly thereafter, with some positive publicity stemming from a Detroit to New York "road trip,"—the longest automobile trip made at that time—the new factory began to pump out the company's first high-volume vehicle. Mr. Olds followed up with a 1905 transcontinental race from New York City to Portland, accomplished in 45 days.
It was an astonishing achievement for the day, and helped to solidify Oldsmobile's place as an automobile, which offered both innovation and confidence. It changed a lot of minds among people willing to consider trading in their horses for an automobile.
Ransom E. Olds also recognized the need to mass-produce these cars, but it was actually competitor Henry Ford who put the assembly line into place. Nevertheless, Olds had the ingenuity to recognize the concept had merit and would become critical in the fulfillment of thousands of orders (4,000 were built in 1903), a prediction he made based on forecasted demand. He fully supported the development of this early assembly track and with steady improvement and production the Curved Dash became the most popular car in the U.S.
The strength of the vehicle, including its remarkable ability to "slog through most terrain" convinced the Post Office to accept the need for a more reliable vehicle, and it purchased Oldsmobiles for use as its first mail trucks.
But Mr. Olds, like many of his contemporaries, was more of a visionary than a businessman. He subsequently quit his own company following a dispute with investors and left the Detroit factory, moving back to his Lansing home. He did not own the trademark to Oldsmobile, that being held by the Detroit-based operation, so he started a new automobile company based on his initials, R.E.O. Reos began a slow rise in sales, catching on due to their various unique attributes, and lasted until 1936, when the marque, like so many others, ended production because of competition. Reo trucks, however, continued to be manufactured until 1957 when it became a division of White Trucks. Further mergers resulted in the final end of production by 1974.
Among Oldsmobile's many vehicles, there was definitely one car that earned its own page in automotive history, and that was the Toronado. The first U.S.-built, "modern-day" car to offer front wheel drive, the 1966 debut of this two-door, long-bodied "coupe," a.k.a. musclecar, coupled with a 425 cu. in. V8 (later a 455) was as fast as it was beautiful. It was clearly unlike any other model in the GM parking lot, and it found its way into more than a few customers' garages.
Frankly, the same can be said for the legendary Olds 4-4-2 (or 442, according to the purists), introduced partly as a response to Pontiac's GTO. Both were virtually racecars by the end of the 1960s, offering plenty of high performance backed by, well, high performance.
And if that wasn't enough, what child didn't want to ride in their neighbor's (and likely pleaded with their own parent to own one, too) domed station wagon, the Vista Cruiser? Was traveling on family vacations something everyone looked forward to? No, but in a Vista Cruiser, it was a different thing.
Innovation struck again when the Toronado offered a driver's side airbag in 1974. At the time, the device was actually air cushions tucked in the steering wheel and dash, but it was the precursor to today's standards. Safety was clearly playing a role in this model year when cars also had to incorporate larger bumpers, so the timing was right to introduce the airbag. Finally, a second set of brake lights was mounted under the back window, laying the groundwork for today's standard CHMSL (Center High Mounted Stop Lamps). These features would be the last significant achievements for this outstanding vehicle.
Nevertheless, Oldsmobile was on a roll in the 1970s. Its Cutlass model proved to be one of the most sought after vehicles of any era, and its success enabled Oldsmobile to top one million sales for 1978. Half of those were for the Cutlass.