GM Stock Drop Mirrors Olds Elimination

O.K. So this news July 3, 2008 had us frightened, freaked and sad. The stock value of General Motors is less than Mattel, which makes Hot Wheels. So reports Bloomberg.

Mattel! Ouch! But what is interesting is that the stock drop parallels the killing off of Oldsmobile in 2000. Take a look at the stock chart here, which runs from 2000 to 2008. GM’s stock (NYSE: GM) was in the 50s in 2000, and is now down barely in two digits.

Of course, we can’t blame all the misery on killing off Oldsmobile. Killing off Olds was merely a symptom of a company that did not like itself and was incapable of making good decisions. But this spring, the website had Oldsmobile sixth among the top brands that were missed by its readers. It also ran a great article on brand deletion, quoting radio talk show host Kenny Morse, who said that, “The last people who owned Oldsmobiles were die-hards. When they left Oldsmobile, they had nowhere else to go.”

Fact: Olds was selling thousands of units a year when GM killed the brand off, and those customers DID NOT migrate to other GM brands. Brand deletion is BAD for companies like GM that need scale! In fact, the “deletion” sent a VERY different message to consumers. An almost subliminal one. The message was one of GM’s unreliability. Here is the subliminal:

Hey you customers who have bought and loved our products for all these years. Well, we don’t believe there is a future in our greatest product, and we are unable to figure out how the first car brand in America can still be relevant, in spite of the fact that thousands of you chumps still like to buy Oldsmobiles. In fact, this great American brand Oldsmobile is so embarrassing to us that we need to spend MILLIONS to eliminate the pain and shame and shut it down. Just ignore all those ads that we have been saying all these years, that Olds is this great thing!

Furthermore, when Olds goes, you won’t trust us with our other brands either. Cause Buick, Pontiac and the rest might not be around either! But we know you like us anyway, cause we are GM, and you fogies can get off and buy some Buicks if you want some middle American car crap.

But the buyers left GM. They didn’t come back.

OK, so it was a bad decision. The question becomes what does GM do now? It doesn’t have the cash (or expertise) to rebuild the entire division. GM might actually be broke soon, or so say some analysts. It has to do something cheap, quick and dirty.

Remember CAIC/Nanjing is bringing back the MG. And around the world, Mini, Maybach, Bugatti and Stryker have returned. So this is not pie-in-the-sky, esoteric or mercurial to raise the question. If they don’t bring it back, it is FURTHER evidence that GM does not understand current consumer trends, which shows that consumers want their old friends back.

How to do it
Here’s some options of how GM could do it. Cheap.
  • It cannot be seen as desparate or backwards. It has to have enough humor and spunk and class and sensibility to the offering that it doesn’t appear to be a ruse.
  • Do NOT start Oldsmobile as a new division of GM. It becomes merely a marque within the Saturn division. Some have suggested on Bill Stewart’s Chrysler Blog that it would cost $500 million to bring back Plymouth. NO NO NO. Don’t spend that much. Start small. Make Olds a niche product. Remember that ONE network TV ad during a hit show is half a million. So spending tens of millions on this is a drop.
  • Find a vintage palette of 60s and 70s colors like champagne, light blue, silver, black and harvest gold. Paint color is a cheap way to create the identity of a revived Olds brand.
  • Think plush. Olds cars, whatever else, always had plush interiors. What that means needs to be interpreted. Just don’t make it look like a boudoir, which was a particular problem with the Ninety-Eights!
  • No bucket seats though; Americans again need a “datin’ car” that you can SLIDE ACROSS!
  • While Oldsmobile would be sold as a model at Saturn dealers, it would not be sold AS a Saturn, so as not to mess with the new identity that Saturn is creating. Remember many car marques were once single models. Did you know that Corvette is sold in Europe as a marque, and not as a Chevrolet model? So perhaps Oldsmobile becomes a one-model brand. Saturn dealers could elect to put up a sign outside, or not. At minimum they could hang some vintage showroom neon, or have some other simple point of sale displays. Saturn has a space theme; Olds, with its rocket logo, could easily relate, brand-wise. Take Olds to Saturn, we say.
Three Approaches to Bring Back Olds
  • Hipster Approach: It could take a new lifestyle approach and brand an imported economy car as Oldsmobile; as Mercedes has Smart or Toyota has Scion, it would be merely an add-on. It would make Oldsmobile be the brand for practical middle aged folks and hip college students, who want something sensible but can’t go as far as a Smart and need a little heavier feel and practical look but on the cheap. Remember, there are some people who won’t buy a Saturn. Period. This would take Olds back to its earliest roots. Put an Olds display at Target, with a car surrounded by merchandise. Promote the idea that GM has gone economy with its “greatest” and “first” brand. But don’t overstyle it like a Chevy Volt. It just needs to be a BOX THAT MOVES.
  • Fogey Approach: Oldsmobile takes a guzzler car like the Lucerne, and remakes it into the Ninety Eight. On the exterior, it eliminates the three airflow holes on each side of the car, makes a new logo badge on the front, and comes up with a few trim and color options that speak to the Olds brand.
  • Conversion Pimp My Ride Approach: GM could sell an Olds conversion kit for Saturn. The Oldsmobile approach would allow the customer to turn the Saturn into an Olds.
  • Export Approach: Did you know that Oldsmobiles have been exported? Read Lt. Col. Rick Francona’s post on Oldsmobiles in Baghdad, called Middle East Perspectives: Iraq trivia – the white Oldsmobile Cutlass. People around the world know Olds, and there might be a market in the rest of the world.
  • Retro Approach: Oldsmobile takes the Saturn Aura, and remakes it as the Oldsmobile Cutlass Brougham. It brings back all the elements of Olds, including Fisher Body logo, words like Brougham, velvet seats, pile carpeting, vintage colors and the like. It uses the old “rocket” logo of Olds outside, merely replacing the Saturn badge. Inside, it uses the scripty Olds logo on the manual. The car is marketed as a hip retro machine that is terribly well priced and a great, and comfy value.
EXTRA: Read BrandlandUSA’s past posts on car brands and their revivals. Yes, we are a bit nuts, as one reader said, but like Goldwater, you know we are right. Auto branding stories include:


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.

1 Comment

  1. My dream Olds model comeback would be a hybrid or alternative energy, Vista Cruiser, station wagon. 🙂 Anyone interested in Oldsmobile should stop by the Olds museum in Lansing, Michigan.

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