It's not your father's Oldsmobile. It hasn't been for a long time. That was the problem. In just a few short years, it went from a barnburner division selling over a million cars to a shadow of its former self struggling to keep pace with lowly Saturn, which recently passed Olds in sales.
I was christened into this business many years ago by one of GM's best, John Beltz, who would have become president of GM if he hadn't died at an early age. He taught me what a vice president and general manager of a GM division was all about, and he taught me a lot about Oldsmobile.
Somehow, Oldsmobile blew it. It happened with product, probably back in the early '80s. Oldsmobile survived the energy crisis and the onslaught of Japanese economy cars. It just couldn't survive General Motors.
I have a different opinion about the value of the brand, Oldsmobile. Any brand that was selling millions of vehicles a year just a decade ago deserves better. So much for brand management. It's still the product that makes the difference.
GM might as well shut it down. I can't imagine anyone buying an Olds after last week's announcement. They are going to have to put heavy rebates on what they've got in inventory to get rid of those vehicles. But I can't imagine keeping the production lines running unless they re-brand the models. No one wants to buy an orphan.
What puzzles everyone is that Oldsmobile finally had some decent models. Now it will follow Oakland, DeSoto, Plymouth, Edsel and others that couldn't make it in the largest market in the world.
GM has only eight brands left to sell in the United States. That includes Hummer and Saab and is probably still too many with GM's market share below 30 percent.
Most Oldsmobile dealers will do OK. Those few who don't sell anything else probably will get a buyout or another GM franchise. The rest will add an import franchise, and GM will wonder why it lost another two points of market share.
GM can't hang on to Oldsmobile for another few years. It isn't fair to the dealers, the customers, the employees. Traffic will dry up, used-car prices will tumble, and there will be a slow and costly demise.
I'll miss my father's Oldsmobile. It was a great car, a great franchise and a great division of General Motors.
How much of the investment in Saturn, which will never make money, could have been used to save Oldsmobile? It's too late to wonder.