Cadillac is a brand of luxury vehicles, part of General Motors, produced and mostly sold in the United States and Canada. In the United States, the name became a synonym for "high quality", used in such phrases as "the Cadillac of watches," referring to a Rolex or an Omega. In English usage outside North America, other brands are used in such phrases - usually Rolls-Royce.
Cadillac was formed from the remnants of the Henry Ford Company when Henry Ford departed along with several of his key partners and the company was dissolved. With the intent of liquidating the firm's assets, Ford's financial backers, William Murphy and Lemuel Bowen called in engineer Henry M. Leland to appraise the plant and equipment prior to selling them. Instead, Leland persuaded them to continue the automobile business using Leland's proven 1-cylinder engine. Henry Ford's departure required a new name, and on August 22, 1902, the company reformed as the Cadillac Automobile Company.
The Cadillac automobile was named after the 17th century French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, founder of Detroit, Michigan, in 1701.
Cadillac helped to define advanced engineering, luxury and style early in Automotive History and would come to be known as one of the world’s finest made vehicles. Precision manufacturing of truly interchangeable parts was an award-winning industry first in 1908. Cadillac was the first manufacturer to release cars with a fully enclosed cab as factory equipment in 1910. Standard electric engine starting and lighting was another award winner for 1912. Cadillac introduced the first production V8 engine for the 1914 model year. Cadillac was the first manufacturer to utilize the skills of a designer to produce a car's body instead of an engineer (1927). This gave the public a car that looked as good as it performed. Cadillac's engineers were first to design a manual transmission with synchronizers for increased drivability (1929) and were instrumental in the early development of the automatic transmission, beginning in 1932. Cadillac offered a production V-16 engine from 1930 through 1940 and introduced the production independent wishbone front suspension in 1934. The marque introduced tailfins for 1948. From the late 1960s onward, Cadillac offered a fiber-optic indication system which alerted the driver of a failed light bulb.
Their first car was completed in October 1902, the 10 hp (7 kW) Cadillac. It was practically identical to the 1903 Ford Model A. Many sources say the first car rolled out of the factory on October 17; in the book Henry Leland — Master of Precision, on p.69, that date is shown to be October 20; yet another reliable source shows car #3 to have been built on October 16. In any case, the new Cadillac was shown at the New York Auto Show the following January, where it impressed the crowds enough to gather over two thousand firm orders. The Cadillac's biggest selling point was precision manufacturing and, therefore, reliability; it was simply a better made vehicle than its competition.
In February to March 1908, three Model K Cadillacs (1907 production) were released from the stock of Frederick Bennett (UK agent for Cadillac) at the Heddon Street showroom in London to compete in the annual Royal Automobile Club's Standardization Test. They were driven 25 miles to the Brooklands race track at Weybridge where they completed another 25 miles (40 km) before being put under lock and key until Monday March 2, 1908 when they were released and disassembled completely. Their 721 component parts were scrambled in one heap; 89 parts requiring extreme accuracy were withdrawn from the heap, locked away at the Brooklands club house and replaced with new parts from the showroom stock. Using only wrenches and screwdrivers the 3 cars were re-assembled and on Friday March 13 they completed a mandatory 500 mile (800 km) run. On completion of the test, one of the cars was placed under lock and key where it remained until the start of the 2,000 miles (3,200 km) Reliability Trials, several months later. It came out the winner of the R.A.C. Trophy. Parts interchangeability could not have been proven in any other more appropriate way. As a result of these tests, the Cadillac Automobile Company was awarded the Dewar Trophy for 1908 (actual award date was February 1909). The Dewar Trophy was an annual award for the most important advancement of the year in the automobile industry.
Cadillac was purchased by the General Motors conglomerate in 1909. Cadillac became General Motors' prestige division, devoted to the production of large luxury vehicles. The Cadillac line was also GM's default marque for "commercial chassis" institutional vehicles, such as limousines, ambulances, hearses, and funeral home flower cars. The latter three of which were custom built by aftermarket manufacturers: Cadillac does not produce any such vehicles in factory.
In 1911, Cadillac was the first gasoline internal combustion engine auto to incorporate electric start, as opposed to earlier crank start. Originally marketed as a convenience device for female drivers, the electric starter developed by Charles Kettering was first used on the production models of 1912. Other innovations included the first automotive V8 engine in mass production in 1915; shatter-resistant safety glass in 1926; and the first fully synchronized transmission (with gears "locked" in relation to one another to prevent clashing upon execution of a shift) in 1928. The Cadillac and LaSalle synchronized transmissions quickly became known for their robustness, smoothness and ideal gear ratios for use by the go fast crowd. Many a hopped up Ford or Mercury V8 engine was mated to a recycled Cadillac or LaSalle transmission. In about 1928, automobile stylist Harley Earl, whom Cadillac had recruited in 1926 and who was to head the new Art and Color section starting in January 1928, designed for 1927 a new, smaller "companion" car to the Cadillac which he called the La Salle, after another French explorer, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. That marque remained in production until 1940.
Pre-World War II Cadillacs were well-built, powerful, mass-produced luxury cars, aimed at an upper class market, below that of such ultra-exclusive marques such as Pierce-Arrow and Duesenberg. In the 1930s, Cadillac added cars with 12- and 16-cylinder engines to their range, many of which were fitted with custom coach-built bodies; these engines were remarkable at the time for their ability to deliver a combination of high power, silky smoothness and quietness.
In 1932, after Cadillac suffered from record low sales and charges of discrimination against black customers, Alfred Sloan created a committee to consider the discontinuation of the Cadillac line. At a fateful board meeting, Cadillac president Nicholas Dreystadt heard that legendary boxer Joe Louis could not go into a dealership to buy a car, because he was black, and resorted to having a white friend make the purchase for him. Dreystadt gave the GM Board of Directors a 10 minute speech in which he advocated advertising to black consumers so as to increase sales. The Board agreed to give Dreystadt 18 months to produce results. By 1934, Cadillac had regained profitability. It is significant to note that after this decision, Cadillac was the only American automobile manufacturer to remain profitable during the Great Depression. By 1940, Cadillac sales had risen 1,000 percent compared to 1934, thus saving Cadillac from going out of business.
The year 1934 brought about a revolution in assembly line technology. Henry F. Phillips introduced the Phillips screw and driver onto the market. He entered into talks with General Motors and convinced the Cadillac group that his new screws would speed assembly times and therefore increase profits. Cadillac was the first automaker to use the Phillips technology, which was widely adopted in 1940.
In 1941, Cadillac became the first luxury car nameplate to offer an automatic transmission, GM's Hydra-Matic, which was initially introduced the previous year by sister division Oldsmobile.
Postwar Cadillacs, incorporating the ideas of General Motors styling chief Harley J. Earl, innovated many of the styling features that came to be synonymous with the classic (late 1940s-late 1950s) American automobile, including tailfins and wraparound windshields. Cadillac's first tailfins, inspired by the twin rudders of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, appeared in 1948; the 1959 Cadillac was the epitome of the tailfin craze, with the most recognizable tailfins of any production automobile.
Cadillac's other styling attribute was its front bumper designs which became known as Dagmar bumpers or simply Dagmars. What had started out after the war as an artillery shell shaped bumper guard became an increasingly important part of Cadillac's complicated front grille and bumper assembly. As the 1950s wore on, the element was placed higher in the front end design, negating their purpose as bumper guards. They also became more pronounced and were likened to the bosom of 1950s television personality Dagmar. In 1957 the bumpers gained black rubber finishes which only heightened the relationship between the styling element and a stylized, exaggerated bumber design. For 1958 the element was toned down and was completely absent on the 1959 models.
Despite record sales in 1973 and again in the late 1970s due to the popularity of the DeVille and Eldorado, Cadillac suffered from the malaise that set in to the American auto industry in the late 1970s to the late 1980s, primarily due to downsizing of cars in responses to fuel economy mandates following two energy crises. There were high points, such as the launch of the front-drive Eldorado in 1967 as a personal luxury coupe, with its simple, elegant design — a far cry from the tail-fin and chrome excesses of the 1950s. However, the 1970s saw vehicles memorable for excesses in dimensions and engine size before the downsizing era set in later in the decade. The new generation engine that debuted with the 1968 models at a displacement of 472 cubic inch V8 [7.7 liter] was designed for an ultimate capacity potential of 600 cubic inches. It was stroked to 500 cubic inches [8.2 liter] for the 1970 model Eldorado, then adopted across all models for 1975 but performance waned after peaking at 400 horsepower in the first year and declined in 1971 and later years due to reductions in compression ratios necessitated by the advent of low-octane unleaded fuel and increasing stringent emission requirements that further sapped performance and fuel economy.
The compact Seville was introduced as a 1976 model and used a fuel-injected version of the Oldsmobile 350 as its only engine. For the 1977 downsized full-sized cars and Eldorado, the engine stroke was reduced to that used in the 472 and the bore was reduced as well, yielding a capacity of 425 cubic inch displacement. The bore was further reduced for 1980-1981 to provide 368 inches, again sharing the stroke of the original 472, as well as the weight and physical bulk. The build quality also fell short when measured against German rivals.
As with most American brands, Cadillac was forced to downsize its offerings between the 1973 and 1979 fuel crises. Its staple De Ville and Fleetwood lines were downsized for 1977 and again for 1985 when the cars also changed to a front-drive configuration. A downsized Eldorado debuted in 1979 with a new bustleback Seville sedan introduced on the same platform in 1980. Both the Eldorado and Seville were further downsized in 1986 into the compact car class, with sales going down the tube due to loyal Cadillac buyers being repelled by their smaller size and high pricetages along with styling that resembled much cheaper GM cars such as the Pontiac Grand Am and Buick Skylark.
The "look-alike", "drive-alike" syndrome that affected most General Motors divisions as their cars went through the downsizing process didn't help much either. In late 1985, Cadillac's domestic archrival, Ford Motor Company's Lincoln, ran a series of ads titled "The Valet" depicting owners of Cadillacs and parking attendants had trouble distinguishing their cars from lesser Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs and even Chevrolets" with the question "Is that a Cadillac?" answered by the response "No, it's an Oldsmobile (or Buick, Chevy, etc.) and then the owner of a Lincoln came out of the blue with the line "The Lincoln Town Car" please, which was greatly distinguished from Cadillacs and other GM cars due to its much larger (traditional) size and distinctive styling. Each of the ads ended with the tagline "Lincoln, What a Luxury Car Should Be." The ads, which led to record sales for Lincoln, also reportedly embarrassed the top executives at Cadillac and GM's 14th Floor, leading GM to request that Ford drop "The Valet" ads for Lincoln.
Due to gasoline shortages, Cadillac offered an Oldsmobile V8 engine that used diesel, the 'LF9' 350-cubic-inch (5.7L) V8 engine, in its full-size cars from 1979 to 1981. Similar in appearance to the gasoline engines from which they were developed, they used much thicker and heavier castings, and a higher quality alloy was used for their block and heads. The main bearing journals were also increased to 3.000 inches in size to compensate for the higher operating stresses and pressures that diesels exert on their reciprocating parts. However, this engine gained a reputation for unreliability, mainly due to its inability to withstand the effects of the poor quality of the diesel fuel available at the time. The fuel system did not have an effective water separating system, and neither the buyers nor the dealer service staff were adequately informed about the products and procedures necessary for the proper maintenance of the engine. This led to corrosion in the fuel injection pump, leading in turn to incorrect injection cycles, cylinder head lift, stretching or breaking of cylinder head bolts, failure of head gaskets, hydro-lock from coolant leaking into the cylinder, and the breaking of engine components, thereby causing catastrophic engine failure. In the hands of an experienced diesel operator, these engines can (and often do) travel for hundreds of thousands of trouble free miles. However, for a society of people who just "gas and go", this engine was particularly ill suited to the task. Ironically, Detroit Diesel, another division of GM, had had decades of experience building Diesel engines.
In an attempt to extend its brand further downward to appeal to younger buyers, Cadillac launched the compact Cimarron in the 1982 model year. The Cimarron shared the J platform with the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunbird, and was expected to rival the BMW 3-series. As the Cimarron was rushed to production about three years ahead of schedule, only a four-cylinder engine was available (a V6 arrived in 1985) and, at first, minimal styling differences were made to distinguish it from the considerably cheaper Chevrolet version. Buyers generally dismissed the Cimarron as a "warmed-over Cavalier" with "leather seats and a luggage rack". Though Cimarron came with a hefty list of standard equipment and options, several of which were unavailable on Cavalier or Sunbird, and styling became much more in tune with other Cadillacs in its later years, sales did not significantly improve after its initial rejection, and it was discontinued in 1988. Although the motoring press lauded the first Cadillac manual transmission in decades (a four-speed stick in 1982 and five-speed beginning in 1983), the automatic's extra cost rankled buyers.
Another low point during the early 1980s was the variable displacement engine, branded the L62 V8-6-4 engine. Introduced in 1981, this 368 in³ (6.0 L) engine sequentially shut down cylinders as demand dropped. Company marketing hailed the engine as cutting-edge technology, but it proved unreliable and was dropped the next year in favor of a family of smaller aluminum V8 engines rushed into production. The 4100 (4.1 L) V8 engine was used widely in Cadillacs in the late 1980s. It suffered from coolant leaks, warped intake manifolds and warped heads. The 4100's problems cost Cadillac the loyalty of many customers.
The mid-1980s saw Cadillac try to rebuild its image, aware that European and Japanese imports were on a rise, and with Honda launching its American luxury division, Acura. Some new design approaches were tried: the Seville, for instance, was downsized to BMW 5 series proportions and had gracefully rounded wheel arches with only a hint of chrome. The greatest challenge to the imports was the Cadillac Allante, a convertible designed by Pininfarina of Italy, and built on what was touted as the world's longest production line—with the car's bodies fabricated in Italy and flown by Boeing 747 to the United States to meet their transmission and engine.
The Allante's styling influenced other Cadillacs, especially the Seville, which adopted its sharper, tailored lines. Indeed, Cadillac was so confident of the Seville that it was exported to Europe, where it faced stiff opposition.
The Cimarron and Seville models marked a beginning of "smaller" cars for the Cadillac line. Throughout the 1980s, American auto makers downsized most of their models, and the Cadillac was no exception. By the late '80s, the Brougham was the only Cadillac model that retained the style and size of the "big" DeVilles and Fleetwoods of the '70s. The Brougham was redesigned in 1993 and renamed the Fleetwood, with an optional Brougham package. The Fleetwood was discontinued after the 1996 model year. Following the demise of the Fleetwood, the Lincoln Town Car was left as the sole traditional full-sized luxury car remaining in the U.S. market.
After GM phased out the D platform in 1996, Cadillac was left with a completely front-wheel drive lineup except for the European-based Catera, introduced for 1997. The GMC Yukon Denali-based Escalade, Cadillac's first sport utility vehicle, was introduced in 1998 for the 1999 model year, and featured standard all-wheel drive. It was quickly created to capitalize on the instant market success of the Lincoln Navigator launched as a 1998 model and seemingly destined to propel the Lincoln brand's sales total for the 1998 calendar year well ahead of Cadillac's. Had this happened, it would have been the first time Lincoln's sales total exceeded Cadillac's in the previous forty-eight years.
By November of 1998, Lincoln's year-to-date lead was a comfortable 6,783 vehicles, but Cadillac's December sales were reported as 23,861 vehicles, more than 10,000 ahead of its November sales. A prominent proportion of this increase was a rise in Escalade sales from 960 in November to 3,642 in December. The result was an overall lead for the Cadillac brand by a slim 222 vehicles. Subsequent audits of sales records during the first quarter of 1999, prompted by the unusual numbers posted in December plus the fact that Escalade sales had dropped to a mere 225 vehicles in January 1999, resulted in the discovery of an "error" of 4,773 units. With this corrected, it meant that Lincoln had in fact passed Cadillac in total sales for the 1998 calendar year (187,121 Lincolns sold vs. 182,570 for Cadillac).
In the first week of May, 1999, a public retraction and apology was issued by GM spokesman Jim Farmer, admitting that "a combination of internal control breakdowns and overzealousness on the part of our team members" was the cause of the overstated figures, and adding that those responsible had been disciplined. However neither brand would have any reason to celebrate any sales success in the U.S. luxury market as their prior number-one and number-two positions had been overtaken by Japanese and German brands.
Somewhat surprisingly for a model with such a strong design heritage, Cadillac has recently resisted the temptation to produce any "retro" models such as the revived Ford Thunderbird or the VW New Beetle, and has instead pressed ahead with a new design philosophy for the 21st century called "art and science" which it says "incorporates sharp, shear forms and crisp edges — a form vocabulary that expresses bold, high-technology design and invokes the technology used to design it."
Despite Cadillac's attempt to create attractive smaller cars through the Art & Science model, sales of coupes had been sluggish and the make's flagship models, such as the Eldorado, continued their perception as large and unwieldy sedans that were the province only of the older buyer. Cadillac's fortunes changed dramatically, however, with the introduction of the Escalade, a large and ostentatious luxury SUV. The Escalade was initially a favorite of rappers such as Jay-Z, whose cachet added to the Escalade's imposing size and luxurious features to make the Escalade a desired mark of wealth and status. The Escalade has undeniably introduced the Cadillac brand to a younger generation of affluent buyers, and has re-established the Cadillac name as synonymous with luxury rather than geriatricy.
Currently Cadillac offers no hybrid passenger cars. However, Bob Lutz was quoted in July 2007 as saying that "nearly every Cadillac product could feature a hybrid variant as early as the next two years."