Cadillac: A Tradition of Innovation and Quality
March 11, 2009
Cadillac had its beginnings by rising from the ashes of the Henry Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford had left the company and taken his key partners with him. With Ford’s departure, the financial backers of the enterprise had every intention of scraping the company and selling off all of its assets. Engineer Henry Leland was brought in to appraise the equipment and the plant prior to sale. Instead, he convinced both William Murphy and Lemuel Brown to continue manufacturing automobiles using the one cylinder engine that Leland had invented. Because of Ford’s departure, the company needed a new name. Cadillac was chosen for the 17th century explorer, Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, which founded Detroit, Michigan.
From the it’s very beginnings Cadillac’s intention was to produce cars that both luxurious and unsurpassed in engineering and many of the firsts in car manufacturing can be attributed to Cadillac. Cadillac produced the first fully enclosed cab in 1910. 1912 saw Cadillac produce the first vehicles with an electrical system that enabled starting and ignition to be done with a key. Up until this point, cars were cranked by turning a crank located on the front of the car. Lighting was also a possibility with the introduction of an electrical system. By 1915, Cadillac had developed the first thermostatically controlled engine cooling system.
The United States Army recognized the excellence Cadillac had achieved so when, in 1917, U.S. Army officers in France needed dependable staff cars, the Army went to Cadillac.
Cadillac became the premier line for General Motors when the firm purchased Cadillac in 1909. General Motors was in the process of laying down a stratum of divisions, each committed to a particular type of customer. Cadillac was to be devoted to that upper echelon of society. Those citizens for whom money was no object and wanted large luxury vehicles. Cadillac still holds the market today for classic institutional vehicles such as limousines, hearses and ambulances.
Cadillac suffered its first financial setback beginning in 1932. The difficulties of the Great Depression did not spare Cadillac however, that was not the only cause of their distress. Charges of discrimination against black customers were also affecting the bottom line of the division and for a brief period, the board of directors actually considered discontinuing the line. Nicolas Dreystadt, the president of the Cadillac division convinced the board to focus advertising directly to black consumers to increase sales. Word had gotten back to Dreystadt that Joe Lewis had had to resort to having a white friend purchase his when a Cadillac dealership had refused to sell one to him because of his race. The board gave him 18 months to produce results or they would scrap the line. The idea was a success and Dreystadt was able to turn sales around and played a large role in Cadillac surviving the years of the depression. By 1940 sales of Cadillac’s had increased tenfold.
By the 1970’s Cadillac dominated the American market for luxury vehicles. However, the gas crisis of the time period took its toll on sales and Cadillac suffered along with the rest of U.S. car manufacturers.
While still a symbol of luxury and style, sales of Cadillac’s continued to slide and not until the introduction of the Escalade, Cadillac’s only SUV, did things pick up. The 21st century has not been kind to any of the big three U.S. automakers and only when congress interceded with a financial bailout, was GM able to make the decision to keep the luxury line. With the United States in the midst of a financial crisis, unseen since the 1930’s the future of Cadillac remains unclear.
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