Fleetwood Redesigned for Big Car Buyers

DETROIT – They once floated down Madison Avenue or cruised Route 66, sporting grand, graceful fins that by night took on a rocketship appearance as their bullet-shaped taillights glowed at those behind them.

The Boulevard Barge. The Highway Yacht. The Big Caddy.

Motor Trend magazine named the Cadillac Seville Touring sedan the 1992 Car of the Year.

Motor Trend magazine named the Cadillac Seville Touring sedan the 1992 Car of the Year.

For the 1993 model year, General Motors’ Arlington assembly plant will give birth to the next generation of a car that since the 1950s has symbolized prestige, wealth and power to America’s oldest generation of car buyers.Come October, what used to be called the Cadillac Brougham will roll from the Arlington assembly line into dealer showrooms as the Fleetwood, the next-generation six-passenger Cadillac.

It will remain the longest car made in America.Distinctively different from its Brougham predecessor, the new rear-wheel-drive Fleetwood- five years in the making – is expected to revive badly slumping sales in a market niche Cadillac once owned and would like back.

“This is a very important new car for Cadillac,” said Dave Cole, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan.”It’s important for them to nurture their traditional customer. They have turned their back on their traditional customer in the past, and it has hurt them badly.

“Cadillac needs this car to win them back.”

The new Fleetwood is the latest in a series of model introductions for Cadillac, which just last year launched wildly popular redesigned versions of its Eldorado and Seville models.Those cars, with less chrome and more European styling, were aimed directly at new Japanese entries Lexus and Infiniti and were intended to win back younger buyers who had strayed to those cars or to German products.

The luxury market has become perhaps the most competitive segment in the automobile industry. It is so hot that longtime entries Peugeot of France and Sterling of Britain left the business in the United States last year.And although profit margins on luxury cars have always been high, they have been lowered in recent years by the new Japanese entrants who analysts say spent as much as $70 million to establish their products.

GM doesn’t say how much it spends marketing products, but analysts say the company spent heavily to re-establish Seville and Eldorado.Cadillac will launch an advertising campaign for the Fleetwood in September, but it isn’t expected to be nearly as expensive a project as Seville and Eldorado.

There is probably no customer Cadillac knows how to reach better than buyers of its large, rear-drive cars. They average 68 years old with average annual household income of $60,000, even though nearly all are retired.

“But because there is a high percentage of retirees, they have high discretionary income,” said Jerry Florence, Cadillac’s director of marketing and product planning.”These are people who own their homes, have few debts and have a lot of money in the bank. They can go out and buy what they want, and they want a car that fits their lifestyle.”

They like to do things. They like to play golf, go boating and travel. They are more apt to have four or five people going out together, so the size of their car is very, very important to them.

“It’s for that reason, Florence said, that Cadillac when designing the new Fleetwood not only had to consider the normal owner, but the owner who intended to tow a boat or even the owner who would want the car stretched into a limousine.

Long before the first concept sketch or clay model, Cadillac began exploring customer sentiments for the new car in 1987, when it began thinking about replacing the Brougham.In a part of the development process GM insiders call “bubble up,” Cadillac held several car-buyer clinics on the Brougham, asking current owners and owners of competing vehicles what they wanted in a luxury, rear-drive car.

The answers were no great surprise: size and power.”No. 1, the customers wanted not just a large car, but the largest car,” said Greg Payne, Fleetwood car line manager at Cadillac.”They were very focused on size of the vehicle and wanted safety features, like anti-lock brakes, built into it. They wanted a big, big luxury car with adequate performance capabilities.”

Payne said that throughout the 1980s, the Brougham had suffered because some customers saw its 5-liter V-8 as lacking adequate power. A 5.7-liter V-8 introduced in 1990 gave the car a better balance of power and size and a spike in sales.

Still, during the past two years Brougham sales were hurt badly by Ford’s Lincoln Town Car, a large luxury sedan that was upgraded for 1990 and won praise from Detroit’s automotive media.”We focused on surpassing our competition,” said Mike Draybach, manager of Fleetwood customer satisfaction.

“Competition for this particular car was unquestionably the Town Car. Our customers are concerned with a big, easy boulevard ride. But at the same time they want easy maneuverability and controls that are easy to see and use. They want many things associated with small cars in a big car.”

He added that the success of smaller luxury cars, like BMW, helped redefine in the 1980s what was expected from a luxury car’s ride.”You have to remember that during the ’80s, the luxury car ride went from a big floating type of ride to something that was more tightly controlled,” he said.Payne was part of Cadillac’s “Brougham Vehicle Team,” a group of managers from all disciplines in GM that came together eight years ago to help the current model retain its luster.

Once Cadillac began exploring a Brougham replacement in 1987, the company drew employees from areas including marketing and sales, materials management, manufacturing engineering, vehicle engineering, vehicle design, customer satisfaction and financial planning to take part in the car’s development.

“We were all trying the understand this car program, and we wanted to develop and study its business attributes,” Payne said.”Obviously, we’re trying to make money. The purpose of bubbling up a car program is to establish that you have a customer to sell the car to and that you can make money while you are doing it.”

After more than a year of exploring the Brougham market and looking at its competition, the Brougham Team took an analysis of its findings to top GM management in December 1988.They were given the go-ahead to initiate concept studies on a Brougham replacement. GM and Cadillac designers at the company’s Detroit technical center came up with several alternative concepts for the car in what is a guarded, proprietary process.

Their efforts led to the building of fiberglass concept vehicles used in consumer clinics. Those vehicles, say members of the Brougham Team, were a close mockup of what is now the Fleetwood. The car served to do more than give Cadillac customer feedback. It also appeased members of the Cadillac dealer body that thought the new car would look too much like other newly redesigned cars that were also destined for Arlington at that time, the Chevrolet Caprice and Buick Roadmaster.

“When we first showed the car at the Cadillac Master Dealer program, they came to the party with three concerns,” said Alan Gagne, planning manager for the Fleetwood.”One, does it look like a Chevy Caprice? Two, does it look like a Roadmaster? And three, how much is it going to cost?”I can tell you that at that showing their first two concerns were completely eliminated.”

Cadillac won’t officially price the car until just before the opening of the 1993 model year in October. The Brougham Team won production funding for the project in mid-1990. By spring 1991, after bringing in plant engineers and hourly workers from Arlington, the team began working on building prototypes of the car in a manner rarely seen at GM.

“The Arlington facility physically built our prototype vehicle, not all of them but a goodly portion of them, in the plant and on-line,” Gagne said. “That is something we have not normally done at General Motors.

“Usually the prototypes are built here in Detroit at the Tech Center.”The advantage of building them in Arlington was that it gave us the voice of the assembler. The people who were going to have to build the car had input on its design characteristics.”

Payne added that producing the prototype cars in Arlington also gave the Brougham Team a better idea of how much it would cost to build the Fleetwood. And although GM doesn’t say how much it spends to bring a car to market, Payne did say that development costs of the car were well under initial projections.The team and Arlington’s workers built seven prototypes of the new car in spring 1991 and produced four more that summer for Cadillac to study.The later cars were built with design changes and adjustments the team discovered were necessary after production of the first batch.

Darrell Vinson, a salaried employee at Arlington, managed the prototype production program there.”We had salaried people from each of the departments – body shop, paint shop, trim and chassis – and an hourly group from each, involved in prototype production here at central office (in Detroit),” Vinson said.”Then we built the prototypes at the plant. As we would systematically build the cars, they would identify the problems. We were able to identify several problems and allow them to improve the process for the car at the assembly plant by prototyping in Arlington.”

Designing the Fleetwood for easy manufacturing was important from the beginning of the program.The team not only studied manufacturing during the design stage, but looked at how parts would be fed to the Arlington plant and how easily they would be installed.

“The easier a car is to assemble,” said Ernest Schaefer, platform manager for the Fleetwood and other GM cars, “the fewer defects you’re likely to have to deal with.”

The number of parts coming to Arlington ready for Fleetwood assembly dropped by 37 percent. That means more parts are coming inside existing components, translating into less time spent by workers and less opportunity for error.For example, trunk carpeting is now a single piece, premolded to match the contours of the trunk. Previously, multiple pieces of carpet were used and installation was complex.

Cadillac has also made the 5.7-liter V-8 standard for the new Fleetwood, eliminating a switch between engine types. It will also have dual air bags, anti-lock brakes and GM’s advanced traction controls system.In all, what the industry calls “build combinations,” available color options, option packages and single combinations, were reduced by 75 percent, another step to make production less complicated, while offering consumers more standard equipment.

Vinson is in charge of pilot car production at Arlington, a process that will end this month when Fleetwoods destined for Cadillac showrooms begin rolling off the production line.The car, at first, is expected to take up about one-third of the Arlington plant’s capacity.Vinson said the plant has purchased long-lead tooling and has a plan for increasing Fleetwood production if sales are greater than expected. The plan would boost Fleetwood production, while decreasing production of the Caprice or Roadmaster.

The product of this five-year development process is a car that Cadillac hopes will take sales from the Town Car.The company also has high hopes that the new Fleetwood will be able to regain a sales base of at least 40,000 units annually and will be exported to the Far East and Middle East.Cadillac hopes that changing the name of the car to Fleetwood will help in its launch.The decision, made within the last few months, is aimed at re-establishing the car as a large, luxury vehicle of Cadillac heritage.”The customer is what has driven that decision,” said Cadillac General Manager John Grettenberger. “It was called the Fleetwood before, and in the minds of most people that own cars of that vintage it never did change.”The Brougham name will only be found in an upscale version of the car called the Fleetwood Brougham. It replaces the Brougham d’Elegance.Cadillac had been marketing a front-wheel-drive car called the Fleetwood, but will now call that car the 60 Special for the 1993 model year. It will be redesigned and renamed for the 1994 model year.

Publication title: The New York Times: A1

Michael D. Towle

Number of pages: 0
Publication year: 1992

Publication date: Oct 30, 1992
Year: 1992
Section: Automotive
Place of publication: New York, NY
Publication subject: General Interest Periodicals–United States ISSN: 07463502

Source type: Newspapers
Language of publication: English
Document type: NEWSPAPER

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