Tuesday, April 1, 2008

return of the Oldsmobile

It is nearly four years to the day that the final Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line in Lansing, Michigan. And word has come that Oldsmobile is back. More startling than the announcement itself is its origin -- not from Lansing, not from Detroit, not from Michigan, not even from anywhere in North America.
A statement from Tokyo, of all places, reports that Toyota has secured rights to the Oldsmobile name. Asked for comment, GM is remaining extremely tight-lipped on the issue at the moment while presumably trying to sort out internally what oversight allowed this to happen -- and who to can for it.
Toyota officials have stated that GM's copyright on the Oldsmobile brand name expired midway through 2006. In the midst of the constant corporate shuffling underway in the domestic automotive juggernaut, somehow responsibility for renewal slipped through the cracks and the name floated around untethered for almost a year before someone at Toyota noticed. The unsubstantiated -- at this point -- story is that the alert came from the astute nephew of a still-confidential executive, who works as a clerk in the U.S. Copyright Office.
The Toyota executive saw an opportunity, and the rights to the name were scooped up by Toyota for a nominal re-filing fee -- just $5000. As Toyota pushes upmarket -- the Avalon and Highlander can both reach above $40,000, while a loaded Sequoia can eclipse $60,000 -- the question has been raised repeatedly just how much the American public is willing to pay for a vehicle with the same badge as a $12,000 Yaris. Toyota took note of the rapid failure of the Volkswagen Phaeton and does not wish to find itself in the same situation.
According to Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota USA, Oldsmobile will fill the gap between Toyota and the company's luxury flagship brand, Lexus. "Oldsmobile is an established and respected luxury nameplate." Carter says, "We fully realize this acquisition is unconventional, but the opportunity to immediately acquire over 100 years' worth of brand recognition couldn't be missed.
"It's a shame," Carter said, "that a company with the proud history of Oldsmobile ever left the market, and we feel that Toyota can establish the same sort of sufficiency with the Oldsmobile brand as we have with Lexus and Scion."
Citing Oldsmobile's greatest successes as a slightly upmarket and sportier alternative to its Chevrolet and Pontiac cousins, Carter said that the name will be applied to today's American performance-oriented luxury vehicles -- SUVs. Asked if the iForce V-8 in the Sequoia will be renamed Rocket for Oldsmobile applications, Carter scoffed. "Toyota is a company that looks forward, not back. The past can inspire us, but we can never relive it. We will not mire ourselves in bygone days."
And so Toyota is sticking with names from recent Oldsmobile history, so as not to alienate the young, upwardly mobile customers it is targeting. Bravada and Intrigue are names that will be familiar to the target demographic, affixed as they will be to the RAV4 and 4Runner SUVs, respectively.
"Bravada was the last big hit for Oldsmobile under its past ownership, and we believe it can be the first for the brand under our tutelage," Carter said. "And Intrigue was a product that was just gaining its footing when the brand was canceled. That name still has momentum, and we can capitalize on that."
The farthest reach into Oldsmobile history will be for the flagship vehicle, to be based not on the Toyota and Lexus flagship Land Cruiser/LX570, but the gargantuan Toyota Sequoia SUV. As Carter explains, "Land Cruiser is an established luxury nameplate that exists almost entirely outside of what is otherwise Toyota. It has its own customer base, which is extremely loyal, and there is simply not room for an Oldsmobile between the Land Cruiser and LX570."
The Sequoia, on the other hand, currently has no luxury counterpart. That will change when Oldsmobile launches its Super 88, the company's most blatant indulgence in the past. But there is some cleverness behind the name, as Carter points out it also pays homage to the fabled Oldsmobile 442 muscle car, in which the number stood for four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, and dual exhaust.
Super 88, according to Carter, will now refer to eight cylinders in the engine and eight gears in the transmission, as the eight-speed automatic from the Lexus LS-series luxury sedan will be adapted for use in this truck. The massively powerful Sequoia is already fast enough to humiliate its new Oldsmobile namesake -- we recorded 0–60 mph in just 6.6 seconds and a quarter-mile of 15.2 seconds and 92 mph with the six-speed automatic -- so Carter says the flexibility of the eight-speed will be exploited to endow the range-topper with the fuel economy of a much smaller vehicle.
Carter wouldn't say if Oldsmobile would get a version of the Tundra pickup with which the Sequoia shares its underpinnings, but did hint that Toyota has paid close attention to the Lincoln Mark LT, which is a Ford F-150 wearing Lincoln-look front sheet metal and a Navigator-style interior.
Toyota's final nod to Oldsmobile's past will be in the selection of its logo. For decades, Oldsmobile used a succession of rocket-themed emblems, and Toyota chose to resurrect that from Oldsmobile's most profitable time -- the red rocket of the 1980s. "Oldsmobile's rocket reached its zenith in the eighties," Carter says, "selling over 1 million units and becoming the third-best-selling brand in all of the U.S. That's the Oldsmobile we are proud of, and that's the Oldsmobile we wish to recreate."
This development could not come at a more ironic time, as General Motors desperately battles Toyota to retain its North American sales crown. Like the Boston Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920 brought about decades of frustration for Ruth's former team, Toyota is poised to turn GM's once-great weapon against its former owner. With an impressive engineering commitment and a delicate balance of reverence for the past and ambition for the future, we may be witnessing another Curse of the Bambino.

not really! LOL!! April Fools!!!

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