There they were, lined up on the cover of Fortune magazine's Aug. 22, 1983, issue: General Motors' new mid-sized cars. The group of four — the Chevrolet Celebrity, Pontiac 6000, Buick Century and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera — made a striking statement.
But it wasn't the message GM executives wanted their new A-body cars to send. Fortune's point? It was hard to tell the look-alike cars apart.
Programs such as the A-body cars, which went into production in 1982, helped make GM the industry's poster child for badge engineering in the last quarter of the 20th century.
The term — a derisive label suggesting that a manufacturer changes little more than a brand badge to set vehicles apart — still makes former GM executives bristle. At a time when GM was trying to tout what its leaders considered a radical Japanese-style manufacturing makeover, the Fortune cover shed light on one of the company's marketplace vulnerabilities.
"That cover really stung," says Chuck Jordan, GM's chief designer from 1986 to 1992. "It was kind of unfair, but it made things really clear."
Says Lloyd Reuss, GM's president from 1990 to 1992, about the cover: "It was sort of a wake-up call."