(first posted 9/3/2015) It’s unfortunate that GM has a history of giving brands some of their best cars in the years right before the automaker goes ahead and discontinues that brand. They did it to Pontiac with the G8, Saab with the first new 9-5 in over a decade, and Saturn with not only the Aura, but basically its whole final-year lineup. Oldsmobile’s final years were also stricken with this rather tragic syndrome, with vehicles like the Alero showing great promise, only to die when Olds shut its doors in 2004.
Arriving for the 1999 model year, the compact Alero was one of several new models under Oldsmobile’s Centennial Plan, meant to inject new life into the ailing brand. Along with the larger Intrigue and Aurora, the Alero was targeted at the import buyer, and given very modern and un-Oldsmobile-like styling. The styling was clean and simplistic enough to have broad appeal, yet expressive enough to turn heads a bit, much like many of the import cars it competed with.
Whether or not it achieved many import conquest sales or helped lower the average Oldsmobile buyer’s age is another story, but the Alero certainly had the qualities to at least appeal to these buyers. There were also strong visual ties to the Intrigue and Aurora, adding to a brand unity that was important for rebuilding Olds’ image.
Unlike its platform-mate, the Pontiac Grand Am, the Oldsmobile Alero eschewed the plastic body cladding, black-mask effect taillights, and very racy-inspired interior for a more minimalist look inside and out. This wasn’t to say the Alero was generic-looking though. It still sported a somewhat aggressive front fascia, with a grille-less “bottom breather” nose, slim headlights, and large lower air intakes.
Flared wheel arches, a wide track and a sharp belt-line contributed to an athletic stance. Around back, designers gave it large “jeweled” taillights with the obligatory “international” amber turn signals. Along with the deck lid’s integrated spoiler, it made for a rather elegant look. Many Aleros also included an optional wing spoiler, for a slightly sportier appearance. Unlike most cars in its class, the Alero still offered a 2-door coupe, although sales predictably paled in comparison to the sedan. This 2001 GLS is one of just 4,795.
As stated, there was no lower body cladding à la Pontiac, but Aleros did receive a rather attractive lower body groove along their sides and bumpers for some tasteful flair. Especially with available alloy wheels, the Alero was an overall pleasing car to the eyes. It had the contemporary and inoffensive looks desired by buyers in this class, along with a few upscale and sporty cues to stand out a bit, at least in its earlier years.
Inside, the Alero’s interior largely echoed that of the Intrigue in design and materials. This meant an organically shaped, driver focused layout, along with neutral color schemes, two-tone darker upper and lighter lower dash and door panels, and supportive front buckets in either attractive premium cloth or available leather.
Admittedly, there were some cheap plastics, but the Alero was about on par with most cars in its class, including many Japanese vehicles. Furthermore, when compared to the Achieva and Cutlass it replaced, and even the Grand Am, the Alero’s interior represented a vast improvement, having a far more upscale and quality feel to it.
While the Alero was a stylistic marvel in comparison to the decrepit Achieva, its improvements were not merely skin-deep. With the Alero, engineers made extensive use of aluminum in suspension and brake components for reduced weight and better handling. The Alero now featured a fully independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, along with standard anti-lock brakes, traction control, and touring suspension. The top-line GLS model gained the 16-inch polished aluminum wheels seen here, riding on wider (225 mm) times.
Powertrain choices for the Alero were competitive and an improvement over its predecessors. Throughout its run, the Alero was available with either four or six cylinder power, each with their own dedicated four-speed automatic transmissions. A Getrag-sourced five-speed manual was available with I4 beginning for the 2000 model year. Throughout its entire run, the Alero’s optional engine was the LA4 3.4L V6 making 170 horsepower and 200 pound-foot of torque.
The base engine was initially the LD9 2.4L I4 making 150 horsepower and 155 pound-foot of torque. The LD9 was the final version of GM’s Quad Four engine family of engines that never quite achieved perfection. This version in particular was prone to early failure, and was subsequently replaced with the more modern 2.2L Ecotec I4 in 2002, whose output was 140 horsepower and 150 pound-foot of torque.
Initial sales of the Alero were strong, with it quickly becoming Oldsmobile’s annual best-selling model. With annual sales typically topping 100,000 units, this was a title the Alero held for the remainder of Oldsmobile’s existence. Unfortunately, like many GM cars, the Alero suffered from a lengthy single generation with little in the way of updates during its lifetime. Oldsmobile actually built several concept models based on the Alero, including a convertible and high-performance versions, but sadly these never made it to production.
Despite its classification as a compact car, externally, the Alero’s dimensions were far closer to contemporary mid-sized cars such as the Chrysler Cirrus, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima (the latter two which Olds extensively benchmarked in its development of the Alero), than to traditional compacts, such as the Toyota Corolla. This put Oldsmobile in a somewhat odd position, as it already had the slightly larger Intrigue to compete in this segment.
The Alero was by no means a perfect car. Despite numerous structural and mechanical improvements, it was still based on the N-body, which dated back to 1985. Quality and reliability were typical for a GM car of this era, which isn’t necessarily saying a lot. Although strides were taken to make the Alero more “import competitive”, there were some areas where it still lacked the refinement found in Japanese rivals. As one review put it, the best way to describe the Alero was “average”.
Notwithstanding these flaws, the Alero was still a very class-competitive vehicle (at least when it was introduced), one of GM’s most successful attempts to date to produce a small car that could hold its own against Japanese imports, and possibly the best small car Oldsmobile ever sold. Compared to its predecessors, the Alero was a significantly improved car, and a promising preview more exciting things to come for Oldsmobile. Unfortunately, GM’s decision to phase out Oldsmobile killed any chance of this optimistic future. Alero production officially ended on April 29, 2004, making it the last Oldsmobile ever built.
It is interesting to think what might have become of the Alero and Oldsmobile, had GM kept them alive. The Alero likely would’ve been redesigned in 2005 or 2006, moving to Epsilon platform along with the Grand Am’s successor, the G6. In fact, it’s probable that the car which became the Saturn Aura would’ve either been the next generation Alero or Intrigue. Even more intriguing is what could have become of the Aurora, especially if it was moved further upmarket in its second generation as originally planned, and not downsized to the initial Eighty-Eight successor. Maybe a few years of cars with greater distinction from other GMs would’ve been enough value proposition to save Oldsmobile from the chopping block in 2009. Or, more wishfully thinking, maybe Oldsmobile would’ve found an international buyer. Food for thought though.
I remember being really pissed off when Oldsmobile’s axing was announced, and I was only 12 at the time. You’re right: GM always seemed to get things right, right as they axed a brand. What frustrates me the most about GM in the 1990s was Roger Smith’s Saturn debacle. They wanted to try a different culture, a different factory, a different sales technique, I understand why they thought a fresh start was needed. But do you know what would have been better? Upgrading existing factories. Putting all that squandered development and marketing money into the existing Buick-Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Pontiac lines.
Of course, if we look at sunk costs, Oldsmobile’s revamp in the 1990s was quite a big sum for GM. Sales had been flagging, and I think they only started to rebound in 2000 or 2001 and it was only a small increase. But rejuvenation takes time so that was probably the start of a positive trend.
I remember when Oldsmobile got axed, I was frustrated that Buick was spared considering their lineup had NOTHING that interested me. And again, a lot of people were annoyed Buick avoided the guillotine when Pontiac was axed. But Buick was capable of commanding higher transaction prices – when the brand wasn’t being mismanaged, mind you – and its strength in China was significant. Now they’ve Opelized the lineup mostly and that’s fine with me: Opels can’t be sold as Chevys and Buick needs smaller vehicles in its lineup as well, so by all means they can go to Buick. I wonder if Oldsmobile had been spared, if cars like the Aura, Sky and Outlook would have been Oldsmobiles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m GM glad made those three cars, but there was nothing especially Saturn about them other than their import-rivalling intentions. They could have easily been Oldsmobiles.
RIP Oldsmobile. The Alero was decent. Nothing great, but better than the Achieva and Grand Am. I do kind of wish the last Oldsmobile built was an Aurora though…
If you haven’t, make a trip to the Ransom E. Olds museum in Lansing. They had Alero #500 on display, loaned semi-permanently from the GM Heritage Collection. It is very neat. IIRC they have the oldest Curved Dash Olds known to exist in the same room. 107 years of history in just a handful of steps.
They also have the Aerotech 2, the Aurora GTS, an EV1 (used the Olds radio head unit), and tons more.
I also wonder if a surviving Oldsmobile would’ve gotten the Volt in the “experimental division” tradition.
Well said. I owned a 2006 Lacrosse and hated the car. Buick should have been left for the Chinese market and axed in the States. Oldsmobile and Pontiac deserved better. Although I liked my VUE, Saturn was a waste of time, money and effort. GM is just plain incompetent when managing brands. Cadillac will most likely be next the way the brand is going. Lincoln turned things around so could Cadillac if the right people were in charge.
In response to your comment that the Alero is better than the Grand Am…Actually the grand am and Alero are literally the exact same car with just different body styles. The 99-04 models of both cars were made with same engine and transmission options , the only difference being headlight and taillights plus a few interior differences.
These rust badly, especially in the space betweet the rear wheelwell and door.
The 3.4 is very well acquainted with lower intake manifold gasket failure, thanks to DexCool.
The dash coverings peel badly on these.
The N-Body was the last platform engineered by Oldsmobile before the platforms became GM corporation-wide engineering projects. Same goes for the Quad-4, the last engine independently engineered by Olds.
We have seen a 37k original mile 2003 3.4, driven by a teenager (probably a hand me down, hope he keeps it in better shape than i fear he will) and a 27,500 original mile 2001 2.4 GLS one-owner at work in the last month or so.
GM sold thes in Europe as the Chevrolet Alero.
When the last Alero went down the line ending Olds there was a news story on CNBC about it. When back to the studio the two anchors said. “What<s an Alero? and the other said, "I don't know, I used to have a Cutlass."
This is what happens when you don't know what you are, are embarrassed about what you were, and are trying to be something your not.
Thanks Brendan for taking a balanced look at this end of the line.
I rented an Alero with a V6 once. It was a great sleeper, much faster than you would have thought (It was a business trip to MO, the thing got past 100 MPH with ease).
These late-period Olds are proof that, contrary to popular opinion, appealing styling only goes so far in selling cars. It’s no magic bullet.
For me, watching Oldsmobile decline and die was like seeing someone get Alzheimers. It is so sad to see a vibrant and successful person slowly lose their abilities and personality, to a point where they are completely out of touch with reality. You remember the person for what they were, and mourn what they could have been.
That, in a nutshell, is Oldsmobile for me. It was one of the key car makes of my childhood, as they were absolutely everywhere when I was growing up. And they were nice cars! 88s, Ninety-Eights and Custom Cruisers all signaled comfort and solidity. The Cutlass line was a phenomenon, and seemed to appeal to everyone from kids/young adults to seniors. For the taste of the times, the cars were attractive both inside and out. Depending on the engine, they could be fairly good performers too. Even if they weren’t the quickest, the engines were smooth and reliable. Friends, neighbors, relatives all had them. I learned to drive on my mother’s Oldsmobile. They were popular, successful American cars, and as a kid I always figured Oldsmobile would always be invincible. I assumed I would buy one for myself one day.
So it was truly depressing to watch Oldsmobile proceed through the 1980s. The brand was so strong it could have easily recovered from missteps, at least initially. I know a lot of people were burned by the FWD Omega for example, but the rest of the line was strong. But sadly the duds just kept coming and coming and coming. No proper replacement arrived for the best selling Cutlass line. It just fractured into pieces, with Cutlass Ciera and Cutlass Calais and Cutlass Supreme and Cutlass Classic all being sold side-by-side. You had dated RWD vinyl-topped Cutlasses with tufted velour (by the 80s that was no longer stylish at all). You had ugly, stunted FWD cars like the N-body Cutlasses. Crappy, corporate engines prevailed. Quality tanked, materials got cheap, the cars started to seem cut rate. By the end of the decade, Olds had morphed from being the suburban standard for success and comfort to an out-of-touch old person’s car.
I remember Jean Lindamood’s Car and Driver review of the Cutlass Calais N-body in the mid-1980s, where she slammed the car, accusing it of missing the mark on comfort, style and performance and basically being unclear on its intended purpose and customer target. She ended the article by posing the question as to whether Oldsmobile would even be around in 20 years if they kept producing cars like that. I don’t think she had any idea how correct she’d be!
It takes decades to build a good reputation, but much less time to destroy one. The damage was so severe for Oldsmobile, and they missed so many opportunities to course correct, that it became fatal. This Alero (sorry, it should have been a Cutlass, while the Intrigue an 88, etc.) was too little, too late. It was nice enough for yesterday’s news, but not world class. If it had appeared in the early 1990s it could have legitimately regained momentum for the brand, but by 1999 it was just not competitive enough to overcome the Oldsmobile’s ruined reputation.
It was a tragically sad end to America’s oldest car maker.
It was really a sad decline. They used to set the standards and by the end just benchmarking, which inevitably left the models five years out of date and built from a parts bin.
Very nicely stated. I think you capture the feelings of what many Americans had for Oldsmobile, and how they felt watching it decline and die. Unlike other brands that have recently been killed off, Oldsmobile seems to be the most emotional for many due to its deep-rooted history that was hard not to be affected by. It certainly was emotional for me, and still is.
The collapse in Oldsmobile sales began in 1986, after a year where total sales exceeded a million cars. Is it a coincidence that 1985 was the last year for the big RWD B-body cars?
Yep, what I choose to remember about Olds is my grandma’s Olds 88 Brougham from 1984. By the time I was old enough to drive it, it had seen better days but even with 15 years of country road dust it still cleaned up decently and drove nicely. It was a bit fancier than my folk’s old Caprice Classic Brougham and seemed to have more torque though that might have been a faulty memory because, hell, they might have even had the same engine.
Either way, pretty much all Olds cars after that were in the “Meh…” category for me. The last 98s were OK and the Aurora kind of did it for me but by that time the writing was on the wall.
Great summary of what Oldsmobile was, and what it became in the 1980s. My parents were Oldsmobile loyalists, and it was painful to watch the brand flail about as it searched for direction and an indentity.
What you said about the Alero being too late is on the mark, and could apply to virtually any GM car introduced in the 1990s and early 2000s. Part of that comes from GM’s habit of benchmarking a current competitor when it developed the cars (in Oldsmobile’s case, generally a Honda). Unfortunately, by the time the GM vehicle had debuted, the competitor in question had either introduced the next generation of its entry in that segment, or was preparing to do so.
Good point about the Honda benchmarks. During Alero development, I’m sure they were taking a long hard look at the 5th-generation Accord. However, the 6th-gen car came out in 1998, by which time the Alero was locked in for ’99 release. So the ’99 Alero hit the market as a very viable competitor for a generation of Accord that had gone out of production two years prior.
Always a day late and a dollar short.
If Olds/GM benchmarked the Accord’s engine with the Alero’s Quad Four, the bench must have tipped over in the process.
Frankly, that applies to pretty much everything else too. I hate to be a prick, but comparing the Alero to just about any Accord in terms or refinement, material quality, durability, packaging, etc. was a lost cause. Most of all, because it was so obvious that GM was chasing after the Japanese, and not closing the huge gap.
I’ve never driven a 5th-gen Accord (94-97) but I owned a 4th-gen for a year, so that’s what I have to compare it to. And the Alero was considerably more powerful, wasn’t much worse on gas, seemed to have similar interior volume, and, when new, probably looked competitive to that previous Accord in most areas other than NVH (which was a lost cause with any engine in the Quad 4 family) and interior materials quality (which was crap in the Alero to start with, and that was before they started to disintegrate).
Having witnessed the condition of the Alero and the condition of the Accord with 175k miles and at similar ages, durability was worlds apart.
BAM! Paul speaks truth.
Like Pontiac, Oldsmobile had its purpose back when GM had a 50% market share.
After the 80s, did it really have any reason to exist at all?
Chris M’s note about benchmarking the then-current Accord during development recalls Peter DeLorenzo’s account of Chevrolet doing EXACTLY the same thing when developing the 1997 Malibu.
If a dumb disc jockey like me can see the problems in that kind of benchmarking, – namely that the car you’re benchmarking will have been updated if not totally replaced with something better by the time your car comes out, making your new model instantly obsolete – you have to wonder what they were smoking at the tubes in Detroit in those days.
And why were BOTH divisions benchmarking Accord anyway?
I really believe GM has left those “good enough” days behind. Yes there are exceptions – glaring ones – but they’re fewer and farther between.
I’ve owned a 4th Gen Accord and driven several 5th gens, they’re pretty much identical beyond the 5th-gens extra insulation and interior space.
Hondas of that time tend to shake in park due to previous owners never changing the hydraulic motor mount, if its not that then its rust or brakes, otherwise pretty solid cars.
The biggest issue with GMs Japan-fighters were that they would copy the often bland aesthetics, install one of their crude old engines, and scoot it out without a thought to longevity.
They were like early Hyundai but without the cheap price.
Another vote for the excellence of this comment. Oldsmobile was very much a part of my early years and my first three cars were all proud wearers of the Rocket. Just amazing how mismanaged this brand became, GM tortured many people with Oldsmobile’s slow train wreck performance during the 1980s and early ’90s.
Sadly, your analogy is spot on. It was truly depressing to see.
My parents were Olds buyers from the 50s through early 80s…’58 Ninety Eight, ’69 Delta 88 hardtop, ’76 Cutlass S sedan, and the ’82 Cutlass Supreme sedan that never really ran quite right, and put them off GM cars. They drive Honda and Kia SUVs now, wouldn’t dream of buying a GM product…the last Ford they had was a ’65 Mustang convertible, and the last Chrysler was a ’78 Omni that was the world’s worst POS….it was used up at 65,000 miles.
The Oldsmobile Alero’s predecessors were also niche’ compact cars bloodlines from their era as well such as the:
1973-74 GM RWD X-Bodied Oldsmobile Omega (based from the 3G Chevrolet Nova)
1975-79 GM RWD X-Bodied Oldsmobile Omega (based from the 4G Chevrolet Nova)
1980-84 GM FWD X-Bodied Oldsmobile Omega
(based from the Chevrolet Citation)
1985-91 GM FWD N-Bodied Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais/Calais
1992-98 GM FWD N-Bodied Oldsmobile Achieva
1997-99 GM FWD L-Bodied Oldsmobile Cutlass
1998-04 GM FWD N-Bodied Oldsmobile Alero
The 1997-99 GM FWD L-Bodied Oldsmobile Cutlass was included in this batch because its a compact/mid-size car similar in size to both the Oldsmobile Achieva and Alero plus its based from the FWD L-Bodied Chevrolet Corsica/Beretta replacement the 1998-04 Malibu.
I can’t tell if you’re trying to make a point or just share Oldsmobile-related facts, but thank you for sharing the history of Oldsmobile’s compact cars. The original F-85 (1961-1963 GM RWD Y-body) was also classified as a compact car.
Actually both. I did not include the original F-85 GM RWD Y-Bodied versions because INMHO these models more were related to the 1964-88 RWD A/G-Bodies bloodlines which were later to become the miscellaneous Cutlass lines mid-sized cars. In addition, Oldsmobile fielded its first compact car in 1973 so it would have been a long decade gap between the F-85 GM RWD Y-Body and the Nova based Omega.
And your point?
That’s my point and I have no further answers.
Great story about the Alero, which I thought was a very attractive car at the time, particularly the top-of-the-line coupe featured here. I looked forward to the Alero’s introduction, as a co-worker had bought one of the first Intrigues in town. Unfortunately, when she showed us her brand-new Intrigue in the company parking lot, it failed to start, and had to be taken away via flat bed truck. That was a sign of things to come…the Intrigue wasn’t very reliable for her, even though it was a sharp car.
I remember reading owners’ tales of woe about their Aleros on Edmunds.com forums. In particular, water leaks on the front floor were a common and very annoying problem (shades of the 1957 Plymouth). The Alero looked great, but, like too many GM cars of that era, the corporation failed to sweat the details before finalizing production.
After GM announced the phase-out of Oldsmobile in December 2000, it seemed as though most Aleros ended up as rental cars. They were quite common as rental car fodder, and then as cheap used cars, around here. Which means that most of the Aleros around here have been driven to death by this point.
My first experience with the Alero was as a rental. My family rented one for Memorial Day weekend 1999 while visiting Virginia Beach, Colonial Williamsburg, and Busch Gardens. It was a white sedan with gray cloth interior and hubcaps. Not a bad car from what I remember (I was only 6).
As GN said above though, the name “Alero” had no meaning to Oldsmobile. My aunt had flown in earlier and got the car from Avis, and I remember upon meeting her, asking what she got. When she said an Alero, I had no idea it was an Oldsmobile.
Ah, the Alero. That’s one I have personal experience with–my wife owned an ’00 Alero GL1 for almost 10 years (2003-2013) and I drove it for the last 1.5 years we had it. I’d sum it up as a car of missed opportunities. T
he car really had some potentilal–quite attractive, one of the best-looking GM efforts of the era. Willing engine–hers had the 2.4, and I was surprised at how much I liked. More torque down low than you’d expect from an I4, and good power across. While it was no slalom terror, the handling was good for a compact sedan as well, and I think with a new set of shocks the ride would have been nice (it may have still been on the originals the entire time I knew it…). Reasonably comfy seats and decent ergonomics. All in all, quite an intriguing (pun intended) effort from GM.
So, based on looks and driving impressions, the car should have been a success. And, sales-wise, it was at least moderately successful. Then why isn’t this car remembered as a home run? Typical GM: quality not included.
Our Alero made it to 175,000 miles before the end on the original engine and transmission, so I’ll give it credit for that. But otherwise it was death by a thousand cuts. The lower manifold intake leaked the entire time I knew the car (5+ years), eventually started leaking both oil and coolant from various other spots–by the end, we had to top off the coolant and oil before going anywhere. The window regulators kept failing. The dash cover rolled up and wrinkled. It was hard on tires. It suffered multiple vacuum leaks that made the car almost undriveable. It was afflicted with the since-recalled Infamous Ignition Switch (that I had to replace myself pre-recall). The interior materials all started to disintegrate. The clearcoat delaminated badly (an entire fender and half the hood were matte pink by the time the car was 10 years old). I could go on…
Overall I’m a little conflicted. It drove well (mostly), looked good (except for the clearcoat), and lasted to 175k on mostly original mechanicals. But the quality was such a huge letdown. And, for my wife, it was enough to turn her off not only to GM but to American cars in general. The same trick GM pulled with so many buyers from the late 70’s onward, and a big part of why Olds isn’t around anymore.
The clearcoat delaminated badly (an entire fender and half the hood were matte pink by the time the car was 10 years old).
GM’s paint issues during that era were a huge turnoff. After about five years it was practically impossible to find a Corsica/Beretta that didn’t have bad paint.
Those with good paint probably all stayed in China.
They dumped Corsica, Tempo and Sundance to China and those cars generally hold up very well by compare to.. well, very very crappy cars at the time. Japanese Kei-car mostly, many more Soviet, Polish cars and Daewoos so. I’m rather impressed considering the acid rain in China too, and those Corsica’s clearcoat holds up rather well.
I had one. It was an ’01 sedan, dark red GL2, with the 3.4. It was my commuter scooter from around late fall of ’07 to January of 2011, bought very clean used with 105K and I ran it up to 151K in those three years. $3200, which was a very fair price.
It was an ok car that always got me where I was going, but I never really loved it – I mostly bought it because it was cheap and my old Sunfire was absolutely used up. (Typical GM – still ran like a top, but by 163K the rest of the car was falling apart around the drivetrain.) The biggest problem I had with the Alero was its size – for as big as they are on the outside, they’re surprisingly tight for space inside, even more so than the Sunfire was.
By the end of those three years the Alero was used up too – zero rust, but the replacement intake manifold gasket that had been installed under warranty long before I bought it was starting to leak, it developed a bad wheel bearing, it needed tires (surprisingly expensive, because it took lower profiles) and a few other niggling issues meant that keeping it on the road would have cost three weeks’ pay and I frankly needed a car easier to get in and out of. The Ford dealer didn’t want it but gave me $800 in trade on a used Five Hundred, and that was that.
“The Ford dealer didn’t want it but gave me $800 in trade on a used Five Hundred, and that was that.”
So out of one frying pan and into another? I was NOT impressed by my 500. It was about the same quality as the Alero.
I only got four months out of the Five Hundred before it was totaled in a crash. It was replaced with an ’09 Taurus, which has been quite reliable. Only wear items have needed replacement (new front shocks, no surprise at 125K, plus the usual scheduled maintenance and tires.) Of course, do note that they come with the new 6-speed instead of the CVT.
The Alero was the last GM car that any of us considered purchasing. We were an Oldsmobile loyal family; Oldsmobile was roughly the equivalent of an Infiniti versus Buick’s equivalent of a Lexus: Olds was a little sportier and younger than Buick while plushier than a Chevy/Pontiac, plus the dealer experience was better than at Chevy/Pontiac. We had a Calais, which was a very plushy, luxurious, premium feeling small car. We still have a ’95 Cutlass Supreme and a ’96 Ciera, although my ’93 Cutlass Convertible was a quality disaster and I replaced it with . . . a new Catera. 🙁
We looked at an Alero for my brother, it was advertised at some mind bogglingly low price, something like 10,000 brand new. It had crank windows and was a complete stripper. He opted for a 2001 Grand Prix instead, which he still has.
I still see a lot of Aleros around. A lot of these ended up in rental fleets and hit every rung of the buy-here-pay-here lots, which means I see a lot of them where I live. They must have been better built than the Intrigues because the Intrigues fell apart with a quickness. The Alero, as I recall, won a C/D comparison test or placed highly.
GM should have taken a page from Hyundai’s playbook. No one remembers Saturn fondly for inspiring cars, but they may have been the first really durable small car from GM and with the plastic panels, look decent years later. Hyundai clawed its way from pathetic joke to competitive by A) undercutting the competition and B) quality and C) a long warranty. Intrigues fell apart, Auroras fell apart, but if GM had focused on quality and backed it with a decent warranty, Olds might still be with us.
GM thought all the people who had bought Olds would go over to Buick, or Chevrolet, but they didn’t and defected to other companies. GM’s market share plummeted further and they had to pay some enormous sum for shuttering the dealers.
For our last couple of car purchases, we haven’t even considered a GM product. Having had an experience with an Opel, I would NOT consider a Buick. The Malibu offers nothing over its competition, GM no longer makes a minivan, and the crossover things are cramped and I hate crossovers. All the dowdy of a minivan with none of the practicality, and at a high price. The 300/Charger would have made an ideal Cutlass/88, and that’s what we bought.
It’s interesting that you mention Hyundai. I recall reading that, after GM had phased out Oldsmobile, it found that a surprisingly high percentage of Oldsmobile owners had switched to Hyundai.
Closing down Olds cost less than 1 billion including the dealers. If anything, GM long slide slowed down on the announcement that Olds would close. After the close, the slide continues at much the same pace.
No one should be surprised that GM would not keep 50% of the market. GM’s share in the 1950’s and 60’s is due as much to Chrysler not getting their fair share of the market as anything. Certainly was not because GM’s car were exceptional. During the 60’s imports were gaining marketshare and for GM there was only going to be one outcome unless Congress limited imports.
The final cost of closing down Oldsmobile was $2 billion, from what I’ve read.
I read GM financial statements regarding this.
Chrysler has rather steady market share since the ’50s, Most of the time it has been 10% to 17%, and usually it stays around 12%, 13%, unless with Valiant or forward-looking cars ( to almost 20% ) or late ’70s ( almost to 10% )
I think the market share of Chrysler brand, Dodge didn’t significantly change and Plymouth was all covered by Jeep.
Looking at Wikipedia’s domestic production numbers I found that Chrysler had 26% in 1948, better than Ford. After that they did stay around the 20% or just under till the end of the 50’s. By this time imports are a meaningful share of the market and wiki doesn’t have them.
But my point was that if the Big Three were equals (never going to happen), each of them should have had about 30% of the domestic market. Ford, with 3 brand names, probably should have the least. The reality is completely different.
Worldwide, VW is now #1 (including all of their brands).
The Olds diesel engine was a disaster. What was worse is that they were installed only in GMs high end cars. When your diesel Cadillac puked, it wasn’t a Cadillac engine, it was an Oldsmobile engine at fault so they got bad press from cars built by other divisions. There was a TV show back then that showed a meeting between GM and frustrated owners of Olds diesel engines. GM kept insisting that there was no problem with these engines. One very frustrated guy informed the GM rep that “My brand new Cadillac is leaking oil all over the parking lot of this establishment as we speak!” Olds never could shake that kind of bad press.
I had an Olds diesel (1978) which ran reasonably well while I had it. Never failed completely although the fuel pump started leaking and then I had seals in the fuel injection pump leak. I was able to drive the car to the dealer for service both times. The transmission was the weakest part of the drive train I think, a 200 turbohydramatic.
A lot of gas stations started selling diesel and did not know how to keep water out of the storage tanks or didn’t think it might be a problem. Water was a problem with the Olds because they did not plan for it either. I bought diesel only from truck stops.
Small console. Ignition switch in the dash. Good looks. Was always interested in these as I’d owned an 86 Calais 2 door and had been following Olds for a long time.
I’d collected the Car and Driver issue with the Calais test where Jean Lindamood predicted Oldsmobile’s fate 15 years before. Maryanne Keller was another, very vocal analyst saying the same thing.
What did it for me was the Malibu based Cutlass badged offering prior to the Alero. Such an obvious, cynical attempt to give Olds “something to sell in the segment”. Add Bravada and that corporate van clone and Lindamood’s prediction becomes very real.
GM needed to give Oldsmobile the attention it required in 1990, not 1999. And while I’ve loved my Saturns, that whole enterprise was a sad waste of corporate talent, resources and cash.
Olds got the Aurora in early 1994 with the overhead cam Aurora V8.
Why GM pulled the plug on Olds is not clear to me, but I think it may have been intended to send a message to GM dealers that they could.
Drove this car as a rental twice and liked it each time. Would have preferred a six, but the four that my rentals had in them (a four-door the first time, a coupe the second) were more than satisfactory. The only thing that bugged me is that the coupe had a bum stereo system – the left front and rear speakers worked only intermittently. But that’s it.
As something of a latent Oldsmobile fan, I really wanted to see the division’s late ’90s “rejuvenation” succeed. I wanted to like the Alero. It was attractively priced. You could equip it as a sporty stickshift coupe, or as a sensible sedan. It looked tasteful and attractive inside and out, and was far better than any other compact car GM had created thus far, save maybe for Saturn.
But it was too little, too late. Too big on the outside, and the refinement and quality control were cut short. It may have been benchmarked to a Honda and offered Honda-like dynamics, but no one was going to pick an Olds over a Honda unless they were in the mood to withstand un-Honda-like depreciation and keep the car in the shop for un-Honda-like warranty work. Of course this was GM, so I couldn’t expect anything less.
And of course, it was hard to be an Oldsmobile fan at all when zero divisional autonomy existed and it was obvious that the only thing that separated an Olds from a crappy Chevrolet, a plasticized Pontiac, or a bourgeois Buick were a few styling details and the name on the hood. If the funds for Roger Smith’s Saturn experiment had instead been spent on upgrading factories, improving quality control, and keeping their existing divisions stocked with decent product…maybe Oldsmobile would have had a future.
Excellent point that Olds seemed to be in something of a turnaround mode when the axe fell. The first gen Aurora, the Intrigue, Alero and the Bravada were the first Olds models to catch my attention in a positive way since about 1985. The quality of these cars remained a bit suspect, but seemed a heck of a lot better than what had come before them. The styling was also one of the better interpretations of what a contemporary car should look like.
Too bad that Olds burned so much equity in the Cutlass, Toronado, 88 and 98 names. It would have been nice to see those names go out with a bit more style at the end.
A testament to something, I’m not sure what, Olds sales actually increased for a short while after the announcement of the end was made. My guess is that some combination of better product and nostalgia were at play.
A high school friend of my daughter drove an Alero sedan all through school (ending this spring) and now her sister is driving the car to school. Not bad for a GM product that is at least a dozen years old. It still looks quite good despite living in rust country.
It’s worse than unfortunate that GM would discontinue a car brand. It’s damn unforgivable! Particularly if a name has been around for over 100 yrs. Sadly, it’s not just Oldsmobile, Pontiac was also discontinued.
My sister drives an 01 Alero purchased new by my brother. As it approaches 200k (2.4 manual) I am amazed how a car that looks as if it is falling apart is so reliable. The interior is particularly nasty in materials, fit and finish. It has that “GM” smell that you must experience to understand. Nevertheless it has never left anyone stranded and has only required an ignition tumbler and water pump service through the years. Someone once said “GM cars run poorly longer than most cars run”. In my experiences I would have to agree. I doubt many other cars would match it in cost of operation, but it is nothing you would look forward to driving.
Lots of faint praise. Which is a lot more than I could summon up, for another of GM’s rolling coffin nails. 🙂
Realistically, GM simply didn’t have what it took to turn the ship around. That became obvious to me in the mid-80s, when I started my personal GM Death Watch. The X cars were just the kick-off, and somewhat forgivable, because they had some great qualities (not actual quality). The J cars were the next step down, as they showed that GM was going to be forced to sell on price, not quality. But the N Cars really it for me: it was then obvious that GM had no clue what was really driving the success of the he imports. And they never got it, right to the end. (Do they yet?)
It’s not just reaching mid-range objective “benchmarks” that sell volume cars; it’s….red circles in Consumers Reports, to start with.
Car guys everywhere make fun of CR. A statistical sample that large is going to be mostly correct. I’ve found their reliability recommendations to be a good guide.
It’s not really a statistical sample. If they required all of their readers/subscribers to send in information on all of their stuff, then perhaps one could call it statistical or get statistically meaningful information out of it. The one thing it does do is to show the weakness of the various cars that are reported on. When enough people have the same problem, then there probably is a problem. Unless everyone reports, how many cars without problems is not known. People with trouble to report are more likely to send in than those with no problems.
Sorry, but I had the misfortune of owning one of these N-bodies and have no praise to share. The styling brought me in, but the vehicle quality was, at best, craptastic.
I bought it with about 25,000 miles, and unloaded it at 60,000 (at a HUGE loss thanks to GM abandoning Oldsmobile).
In those 35,000 miles, I had a number of failures to systems that ought to last well past 100k, including wheel bearings, a fan blower resistor, and an emergency flasher switch. Since I almost never used the emergency flasher switch, how it managed to fail is beyond me. but it took out the turn signals, so I had to address the failure.
When it was all said and done, I had a minor failure about every 5,000 miles. Since I do my own work, it was more annoying than expensive, but if I had been paying normal shop rates, I would have racked up $ 3,500 to $ 5,000 in repair bills. Unacceptable for any brand.
Oh, the hazard flasher switch. How could I forget that little beastie. The one on ours didn’t exactly fail–oh, no. Quite the opposite–it was constantly noisy. Click-click-click ad infinitum as you were going down the road. The flashers weren’t actually flashing but the stupid thing wouldn’t shut up for a while after starting off. Sometmes, for extra fun, it would buzz rather than click. Once the clicking did stop, if you dared use the turn signal, it would start again. Replacing the relay didn’t seem to help and I didn’t want to go into the dash to replace the whole thing. Fun!
These things must have an incredible survival rate. It seems they are everywhere. Well, at least in the Midwest. I live in an Indiana town of 12000 and I am surprised that when I run an errand I don’t encounter 3 or 4 of them. Most are in very good shape considering their age. I have noticed that the coupes have a tendency to rust out behind the door.
This car is kind of responsible for how I came to understand what it means to be a modern automobile owner.
Back in 10th grade I had a biology teacher that was very good looking. She was also more than her figure; a bright, intelligent woman that was always in a good mood but not in that overly cheerful way that can be grating at times. My classmates and I were baffled when we found out her husband was divorcing her.
Anyway, one day I roll into the parking lot and she happens to pull up next to me in a brand new, jet black 2004 Olds Alero. I thought it looked great, so much so that I wondered how an individual on a teachers salary could swing it. Imagine my surprise when she tells me what a nightmare owning it has been, with the car and the dealership making her life more difficult than necessary.
Up until that point in my life, I didn’t really understand how brand new cars could fail almost right out of the gate, since my family always had older cars and their issues made more sense. I had always just assumed when you buy a new car that you are guaranteed a period of trouble free ownership.
And that was how I understood why she had no qualms about parking her brand new car in the student lot. Why care about scratches if the car stinks?
I don’t remember these being especially expensive new – probably about the price of a Corolla with all the cash they must have put on the hood.
At least with new cars, mostly everything is covered under warranty, so there isn’t that fear that you could be out thousands of dollars in repairs at any moment as one is in an older car. That’s why my mom rarely keeps a car for more than 1-2 years after the warranty expires. As she says, she’d rather be putting money into new car payments on a new car than repairs on an older car. Also, trading in car that’s only a few years old often gains a high trade-in value off the price of a new car.
Her ’04 Toyota Highlander (which became mine) was the one exception, as we kept it almost 9 years. In those last several years she did indeed have to invest a few thousand into it. Nothing majorly wrong, just normal wear and tear, but it was starting to turn into a money pit. Thankfully all the issues with her Jeep were covered under warranty.
And by no means am I saying buying new vs. used is better or vice-versa. Everyone has his or her own feelings on this, which are often passed down with each generation. Comparing people’s car buying habits is a very interesting topic.
Yeah, there are advantages to buying a new car, and presumably people do that so they can get into a reliable vehicle that won’t leave them stranded.
The problem stems from buying a car brand new then running into issues during the warranty period. Its a pain to have to bring your car into the dealership, and if they don’t offer a loaner, it can be a real hassle to figure out transportation while your ride is getting repaired. Multiply this several times and its easy to understand why people would be frustrated.
Plus, the dealership/manufacturer can always deny a warranty claim, so its not like your issue is necessarily going to be resolved for free. In the case of my bio teacher, she was frustrated because her car was having issues, she couldn’t get a loaner, and they started blaming her for the problems.
“Plus, the dealership/manufacturer can always deny a warranty claim, so its not like your issue is necessarily going to be resolved for free. In the case of my bio teacher, she was frustrated because her car was having issues, she couldn’t get a loaner, and they started blaming her for the problems.”
Buying new usually creates the convenience that you mention, but as long as an old car isn’t completely a basket case, it will almost always save you many thousands annually compared to a near new car. I drop about $1,500 annually into our 2002 Durango, but I paid cash (new) and its never had a payment. It’s annual taxes are just $100 and insurance is $500.
Compare that to my 2012 F-150 with its $550 monthly payment, $600 annual taxes, and $700 annual insurance. That’s comparable to the first house I bought in 1991.
Geez, what the heck state do you live in? I assume by annual taxes you mean the registration tags, but $600 per year?!
In Michigan, registration cost is based on the original MSRP for the car when new (not adjusted for depreciation, so it stays the same for the life of the car – kind of a weird formula), but even a $50,000 Mercedes would never be over $200 per year…. it’s around $100 a year for a Camry or Malibu or whatever, maybe $75/year for a strippo Honda Fit or Ford Fiesta. Our insurance rates are horrendous, but the registration cost is a non-issue even for the poorest of car owners. $600 per year sounds like what you’d pay in The Netherlands or some EU country.
“$600 per year sounds like what you’d pay in The Netherlands or some EU country.”
Australia too. I reckon you get registration dirt cheap in Michigan.
Depends on where you live, even down to the town. My mom and I each pay about $600-$700 (2013 Mercedes) and $500-range (2010 Acura) per year for our cars in excise taxes to our town. It’s crazy I know, especially since we live in a rural town. The amount decreases each year as the car gets older.
I have to laugh when we speak about taxes on old cars. When I lived in Georgia, the ad valorem tax on the car was supposed to be based on value (but I never did find out which value). I thought that would be good as the car aged it would be cheaper. Nope. It did go down in the first two years, but then it stayed the same for another two years and the final three years before I traded it, it went up and stayed up!
What a crock!
One more thing. Is this really considered a compact by anyone? I always thought they leaned more towards the mid size segment, but not quite. I certainly wouldnt comparison shop this with a Focus or a Cavalier, if I somehow time traveled back to 2004.
I have a feeling the Alero pricing scheme ended up a lot like the Dodge Avenger did; incentives so high that it became a viable competitor to a cheaper class, at least on price.
The interiors are compact class. They’re not very space efficient.
I see a lot of these in my part of the world. Mostly driven by young women or older women. I sorta, kinda like the look of the Alero. But not really my kind of car.
These are starting to become thinned out. The styling always catches my eye and I’m noticing them less and less. They’ve achieved roach status, but we’ll see virtually none on the road in ten years. When was the last time you saw more than one X-car a week?
I’d have rather they saved Olds and killed Buick. Buick is too close to Cadillac. GM could have used a three tier ladder with definitive price and styling differentiation:
Chevy, then Olds, then Cadillac.
The problem with that is the Buick sales in China-no way in hell they were going to try to get them to switch to Oldsmobile because they would not have.
Also, I suppose it depends on when you look at it, but in my book, the problem was that Olds and Buick inhabited pretty much the same rung in the GM ladder. They were both brands for folks who wanted the luxury of Cadillac without quite the same amount of flash-or, more likely the real reason-Cadillac luxury without Cadillac price tag. Both of them were debased by offering compacts and other little craptacular cars, not to mention vans and very lightly rebadged SUVs.
Buick emerged out of this confusion with more coherence than Olds did, IMO. Buick clearly went junior Cadillac while Olds was confused between Chevy/Pontiac and sorta kinda Buick/Cadillac with the Aurora. I think that’s what ultimately did it in, the lack of direction and Chinese affinity for Buick in a global market.
However, even if they did kill Buick and keep Olds, we’d just have the rebadged Opels that are now Buicks (and Chevy and Cadillac for that matter) as Olds. The Lacrosse would be an Aurora, or something like that.
Not to mention that Buick’s large car sales were probably far greater than Olds, leading to greater revenue, even if Oldsmobile and Buick sales were at pretty similar levels throughout the late-1990s. Buick clearly established its image as, for lack of a better term, an “old person’s car”, in the late-1980s and retained a loyal following of this demographic in the U.S. Meanwhile, Oldsmobile buyers were far more likely to defect to brands like Honda and Toyota during this period, as its image became even more confused.
The “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” ad campaign did not help Olds in that it failed to attract the younger customers that they wanted, and it also ticked off the older loyal customers that they already had. I’d be surprised if they don’t still talk about this in business schools. Buick didn’t tick off their loyal customers by making them feel like geezers.
Funny you should bring this up. Just the other day I saw a Buick commercial that’s part of their ongoing “That’s not a Buick” campaign. However in this one, a young 20-something girl states, “My grandfather drives a Buick”. It’s like GM learned nothing.
That was exactly my thought with the new Buick commercials-that isn’t a Buick?! Really? The waterfall grille, the ventiports, the side molding lines all scream “Buick!” and their add campaign tries to sell them as if they were somehow drastically different. I’m guessing their designers and ad people don’t communicate with each other.
GM has outside advertising agencies develop the advertising. I have to agree that the “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” was silly as well as the current “That’s not a Buick” is. One wonders how bad the alternative ideas were. They should come up with something new, now that a new model year is starting.
I think that Buick is ultimately superfluous in the North American market. I remember reading that the most commonly cross-shopped brands with Buick are Ford and Toyota. Isn’t Chevrolet supposed to be GM’s competition for those brands? That tells me that Americans don’t really view Buick as a step up from the volume brands.
Up-market Chevrolets, much like the Titanium and Platinum versions of various Fords, would boost Chevrolet’s image and serve the same market.
Isn’t that what the LTZ trim is for? I think it depends on the part of the country. In the Midwest, Buicks are still the sort of car that older folks buy for a more upscale comfortable car. That said, upper trim level Impalas and Tauri fill that role too. The old Sloan ladder means little at this point in the game.
I feel Buick is seen that way in most parts of the U.S. Similar with Lincoln.
Ford Fusion Titaniums probably appeal to a much wider range than the Lincoln MKZ, even though they’re similarly equipped and priced. Same story with the Malibu LTZ and Lacrosse. And I agree that the Taurus and Impala largely appeal to older drivers too.
Lincoln and Buick have made strides to appeal to younger buyers, but I think it’s only their crossovers that have found much of an audience in those in their 30s and 40s.
It’s been reported by more than one auto media publication that the Taurus is going to be dropped by Ford because of poor sales. If it wasn’t for police agencies the Taurus might have been gone sooner. The current Impala is a much better designed vehicle.
I’m surprised nobody at GM thought of the obvious.
Call Chinese-market Oldsmobiles Buicks.
Keep everybody happy.
These were sold as Chevrolet Alero here. This 15 year old Alero with the 3.4 liter V6 is yours for € 500.
LPG tank in the trunk included !
I just checked the exchange rate, Johannes. Not a very popular used buy in your country, then?
This kind of cars depreciates like nobody’s business. You can pick up a really neat and shiny circa 2000-2002 Cadillac Seville (with a 4.6 liter V8) for € 2,500 to € 5,000.
With “this kind of cars” I mean midsized and big US sedans with 6- or 8-cylinder engines.
The Chevy above has 312,000 km on the clock.
Ah, the Alero. Along with the Malibu (that I wrote up here on CC last year, and am surprised is not included in the “related reading” links for this page) and Grand Am, these final N-bodies are the Unofficial Background Sedans of Lansing, Michigan. All three were built here in the plant that now produces the CTS/ATS sedans just south of downtown. You can even see the final 2004 model on display at the Oldsmobile museum right across the freeway.
God I remember the rows of hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of those models, brand new and shiny, parked along the vast, enormous storage lots just below the freeway, circa 2003. I wish I had a picture, but the same lots are now populated by thousands of shiny Cadillacs that plant now produces. I should get a picture of those sometime – chrome as far as the eye can see. Massive auto factory storage lots are background scenery to people native of Michigan, but that might be an interesting capsule article for the CC community living in the rest of the country/world.
As the N-bodies slowly and painfully die out with peeling clearcoats and shedding hubcabs, they are rapidly being replaced by the ubiquitous 2006-2016 Impala Eternal(TM) and all three generations of Epsilon Malibus. I am surprised how easy you on this car, especially since you’re a car guy who is, how shall I say… “selective” about what interiors you find acceptable. These drove nice when new, I’ve been in dozens of them and in fact drove a 2002 Alero with crank windows in Driver’s Ed as my very first driving experience (glamorous, right?). But the interiors were of rubbermaid quality and they are not good vehicles mechanically beyond 150k. At all. This, more than styling, space, handling, or performance, is why GM went bankrupt. Enough said.
There really aren’t any set guidelines or requirements for “related reading” links. Sorry if it offends you I didn’t put a link to your Malibu article; it’s nothing personal I can assure you. Generally I only do related reading links to posts of the exact same car or a rebadged sibling, so I didn’t even consider the N-body Malibu. Other writers might do differently. FWIW there has also been a N-body Cutlass article and one on the Final Edition Oldsmobiles (Alero included).
As for being easy on this car, I think I provided a balanced opinion of it. I’ll admit that I have more of an emotional connection to Oldsmobile and was much sadder to see it go than say, Pontiac, which is the reason for the last paragraph. The Alero had many flaws, but compared to some other GM cars of the era, it was much better (even compared to its Grand Am sibling). In addition, while I generally don’t have a high opinion of GM cars (interiors especially, as you brought up), I can’t merely bash every single one in every single article I write about them. That gets old fast and people get sick of it.
Four years of content, Max, but generally just 3 links per post…
Sorry guys, I wasn’t actually offended or trying to plug my own article at all, I guess the inflection came off too harsh in my comment. Just making an observation that I was surprised because some writers post many, many links to cars that are only marginally related to the topic model, which I actually like a lot because I can read old content like it’s fresh again (I think William does this more than anyone, and he’s been writing here a lot lately). Didn’t mean to sound butt hurt, my bad.
Fair enough, endless GM bashing does get old, especially on CC, and on the surface this is one of their better efforts. I enjoyed reading the article and the pictures you found are extensive and fun to look at since it’s impossible to find nice ones on the street anymore. I share the emotional attachment to the brand versus Buick or Pontiac, and it was especially sad to see my hometown economy collapse even further when the brand folded. I blame GM corporate more than Olds itself, which was hardly its own entity by that point. I also reluctantly recognize that given the direction it was going, there was no place for Oldsmobile in the 21st century global car market. I’m firmly in the camp that Chevrolet/Cadillac are sufficient car lines for New GM, but the whole “what brands should stay and go” argument is an endless and ultimately subjective debate that has been re-hashed too many times.
No worries! It’s water under the bridge now.
Thank you though for your feedback regarding how you like the related articles. It’s always a question of “should I include this or not”, but it’s good to know that people appreciate them to a larger spectrum of cars that share some similarities. I’ll do my best to add more in the future.
Haha it’s all good man 🙂
Unfortunately text carries no tone, and this is why almost every email or text to an authority figure is a nerve-wracking experience for me! 😀
Also, glad you like the related reading links. It was Paul’s idea and I actually should do it more because it’s a great way to look at older material. I like the “rabbithole” effect of it, much like you find when you go Wiki-surfing.
Fellow Lansing native and third-gen member of the GM family.
Friendly amendment: the Alero, Grand Am and Malibu were not built at the current Cadillac plant. That was built exclusively for the 1st Gen CTS. The N-bodies and Malibu were built in three or four separate plants: final assembly was in North and South assembly (the latter quite old, the former from the lat 1970s), the unit bodies were put together at the old Fisher Body plan on Michigan and Verlinden and the body panels were stamped at the Willow Hwy. stamping plant. Of course, the Quad 4 engines were built at the engine plant on Canal. All have been closed down; nearly all razed. The old engine plant was sold and now has some light industrial use. Quite an empire the General used to have here.
My mother in law had one, quad4 automatic, and while it was fun to drive the build quality and reliability were awful. These were nowhere near on par with the Honda accord (which you could tell it was copied from). All parts, exterior interior the whole car, were cheap and would break early. The grand am was the same way. The saddest part was it was a fun car to drive. You could tell if the bean counters didn’t rule the roost this would be up to Honda standards. Oh well.
Worked for a multi line dealership from ’97-’00. VW, Volvo, Mazda and Olds. I also was impressed with the good looks of these cars. I remember thinking GM was finally on track with these good looking new cars. And being frustrated when someone came in looking for parts for their Cutlass, which one of 5 versions do you have, sir? I once had to order all the rear seatbelts for the rear of a new Alero. The male end was not the correct style to fit in the female (buckle). But to order belts you needed the part number of the belt in the car. I finally found a car on the lot that had the correct color and fit together, and ordered those. The local Cadillac dealership bought out our Old’s franchise around this time, I was a happy parts person. And only a few months later GM announced Old’s was going away. I imagine the Cadillac dealer was pretty pissed at this point.
These to me (along with the Luminas of the world) were the epitome of the non-descript look that the American car had sunk to in the 90s and early 00s.
I always thought a bit different about this generation of Oldsmobile. I felt, unquestionably that the had turned a corner. Now, granting that they were turning a corner in West Harlem and the competition was already on Wall Street.
But it was a corner. Oldsmobile’s products in this generation were an indication that Olds had some people who had an understanding about why less and less people were buying American cars. They dropped the ancient Brougham looks. They eliminated the excess chrome. They put in an interior in the modern Japanese/Lexus idiom, even if the quality wasn’t quite there. They understood.
Even the styling was not the horrible mis-fitting component styling that characterized other divisions at this time. Pontiac seemed to be aiming at the anti-Ricer crowd. Buick was solidifying itself as the car for grandpas who couldn’t afford a Cadillac. Chevy had decided design its cars around fleet customers and hope there were enough fools to buy the ones they shipped to dealers.
Only Oldsmobile was really trying to aim for the heart of the market. Did they succeed? No, they didn’t. But I wonder if the reason why is back-assward.
GM was (honestly still is!) a hide-bound company. They kept playing with mainstream OHV V6 engines for more than a decade after Ford ditched them entirely and Chrysler relegated them to poverty spec. Long after customers in the middle-priced, middle-market, middle-size bracket had come to expect either a Toyota V6’s refinement, or Nissan’s V6 screamer, or Honda’s middle ground between the two.
And I wonder if Oldsmobile was killed less because of its weak sales and more to try and stop it from demonstrating the utter irrelevancy of all other divisions cars. Every other sedan they made at the time Olds was killed, with the vague possible exception of the CTS just coming on line, was completely incapable of parity with the previous generation of import. Not only did they not reach parity, they weren’t even aiming for it.
Chevy aimed at cheap space, Pontiac at cheap pseudo sportiness, and Buick at cheap living rooms on wheels. And Cadillac was mostly, as we say in Yiddish, “Er klert tsi a floy hot a pupik”. (They were wondering if a fly has a belly button, or more specifically, why there sales were declining when they were not offering cars that people under 80 had any desire to buy.)
Very well written as I believe you’re very accurate in your analysis. Part of the problem at General Motors was the company did and may still have, too many layers of management. No wonder great ideas were watered down resulting in lacklustre cars or poor engineering.
At the end of the 80’s GM had decided that Buick should become American style cars and Oldsmobile should be European style cars. For Buick this meant that the T-types had to go. For Oldsmobile this mean that the Oldsmobile Turing Sedan could continue. The Aurora was the first new Euro style car. The midsize Intrigue was also a Euro style. Both get overhead cam engines. Buick keeps the pushrod.
So your perception that Oldsmobiles are different is right on the mark. Both Buick and Olds were selling Euro style cars in the 80’s, but sales are quite limited I think. Perhaps the Oldsmobile versions did better than Buicks, I don’t know. I don’t know if Buick and Olds were both offered the opportunity to do the Euro style or how the final decision came about.
Upper management should not have been too surprised to see the decline in sales as Oldsmobiles lineup became more Europeanized. Perhaps this was the plan all along to justify terminating at least one or the other division.
Considering the disaster that the overhead cam Northstar V8 was, GM’s slow movement to overhead cams is not a bad thing. The is make an overhead cam version of the X-car V6 for a short time. The overhead cam 90 degree V6 for Oldsmobile was only available with an Oldsmobile, and was dropped along with Olds. Then we got, with the RWD Cadillac’s, a fairly good V6 design. GM’s pushrods have gotten a lot of improvement too, and really are not bad engines.
I did own a first generation Aurora (1998) and a 1995 Buick Riviera. The Aurora had a lot of style, but all things considered, the Riviera was a better car. Both cars had really awful plastics.
“International Buyer”. It caught my attention. A “Rocket” badged Chevrolet (Alero)… No comments on the Oldsmobile brand discontinuation.
A few months late to the party but still felt compelled to chime in. I bought an 04 Alero 4cyl 4 door with 163,xxx miles about 6 years ago from a neighbor. Fast forward to today and its still going fairly reliably at nearly 218,000. The body and paint still look good and the interior has held up fairly well, save for the dashboard and airbag cover wrinkling, though not curled up…yet. My a/c is still ice cold and heat is nice and hot, and the radio buttons just started chipping in the last year or so. The windows have yet to fail although the driver’s is putting up quite a racket lately. I did have an irritating fuel pump issue where the connector shorted out which decommissioned it for a few months while I tried to diagnose the issue. All in all I feel that I’ve had good luck with it. However I’m beginning to consider moving on. The front end has developed quite a bit of noise, which nobody can seem to figure out, and the automatic transmission shifts a little hard occasionally. Starts every time though, so maybe I will just hang on to it out of curiosity to see how many miles I can rack up. There is also something I enjoy about Oldsmobiles and driving a car from a defunct brand. Maybe I’ll get a Pontiac next. I’ve lusted after the last-Gen Grand Prix for quite a while.
Really Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick had no purpose when the market for the rear wheel drive V8 engined Bonneville/Catalina/Grand Prix, Delta 88/Ninety Eight/Cutlass/Cutlass Supreme, LeSabre/Electra/Park Avenue/Riviera/ Century/Regal died. The front wheel drive V6/4 cylinder replacements for these cars that debuted starting in the 1985 model year were just lackluster. Once Americans got a taste of the Corolla/Camry/Civic/Accord, BMW, and Mercedes, there was no turning back, even though I love the big V8 engined GM cars.
Interesting writeup about a blandmobile if it had a Kia badge or Proton badge on it I wouldnt have been surprised, its a basic GM mid range car which is pretty much anything below Cadillac, no reason for it to exist and of course now it doesnt Chevrolet covers all the bases with Buipel just below Caddy.
Well, it has been 6 years since my original comment on this thread. Funny thing is, there are still plenty of Aleros in our town after all these years. There aren’t as many but every once in awhile I spot one I had never seen before. Most are still in good shape, too.
Part of the reason for so many here is that our small town had it’s own Olds dealer until GM pulled the rug out from under them. Olds was one of the most popular makes here up until that time.
Just to preserve it for posterity, those headlights are or were used in the current UPS trucks made by Morgan Olson for at least a ten year period. I designed the hood about a decade ago and these lights were commercially available. See if you can spot them.