Once a top performer for General Motors Corp., sales of Oldsmobiles reached more than a million cars annually in the mid 1980s.
But like the brand's famous Rocket 88 and the Cutlass that came before, the last of the modern-day models, an Alero, is due to roll off a Lansing, Mich., assembly line on Thursday.
"I think they're crazy. I couldn't believe it when they said they're not making Oldsmobile any more," said Margaret Vogel, 84, of Mesa.
Vogel plans to hang onto her 1991 Delta 88 and brought it to the Big Two dealership in Mesa for service on Tuesday.
"It rides beautifully. It's comfortable. It's a good, big heavy car. I feel if I got hit today, I wouldn't be crumpled up like a tuna can," Vogel said.
Vogel's model, the Delta 88, is no longer available and only one East Valley dealership, Legends Cadillac Hummer Saab in Scottsdale, carries any new Oldsmobiles. "Oldsmobile is actually America's oldest automotive nameplate and the oldest automotive brand. Or it was," said Chuck Dimmick, marketing and advertising director for Legends.
Although the dealership has a handful of new Oldsmobiles for sale, General Motors announced in December 2000 that it would discontinue the brand and that gave retailers time to prepare, said James Seawards, general sales manager.
"We've had several years of warning on this and we've balanced our inventories to make sure we're prepared for the phase-out," Seawards said.
The dealership has replaced Oldsmobile with Saab, another GM brand, but continues to service the vehicles, Seawards said.
Similarly, Big Two stopped carrying new Oldsmobile models last winter to focus on Toyota but continues to service and repair the cars, said Denny Nicol, service consultant.
That's a marked difference from Oldsmobile's powerful reign in the 1980s when more than 1 million models were sold annually from 1983 through 1986, said Jeff Brodoski, an auto analyst with JD Power and Associates in Troy, Mich.
That success was followed by significant plunges, with sales slumping from 700,000 units in 1987 to less than 200,000 in 2002. In 2003, the last full calendar year for sales and production, only 126,000 units were sold, Brodoski said.
Big Two's Nicol believes that as GM tried to appeal to a younger group of buyers, they eliminated the features that had attracted long-time customers. Full bench seats and a steering column gear shift were replaced with bucket seats and a floor shifter.
"They came out with that ‘This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.’ But the people that owned them were your father’s people," Nicol said. "Those are things that people who bought Oldsmobiles went for and Oldsmobile did away with them." Brodoski said that the elimination of the Oldsmobile brand may help other models within the GM lineup and is likely part of the company's overall corporate strategy in a highly competitive, crowded marketplace.
"Buick has a little more room to go a bit more upscale and make a slight move up. That could potentially open the door for Saturn," Brodoski said, referring to other GM brands.
The company is on an aggressive path to unveil new models over the next coming months, but that is unrelated to the Oldsmobile phase-out which was a "business decision by our top leadership," said GM spokeswoman Rebecca Harris.
Although the last Oldsmobile off the production line this week will be placed in a Michigan museum, it's unlikely that any others will become a collector's dream, said Joe Varley, an executive board member of the Oldsmobile Club of Arizona.
"Most of the newer Oldsmobiles, like most of the newer cars, aren't very interesting," said Varley.
Varley said he and other club members are saddened by Oldsmobile's demise because it marks the end of a brand that "was always an innovator in the car industry."
"Olds was the first with automatic transmissions, first with chrome plating and the first with modern front-wheel drive. That was the Toronado in 1966," Varley said.