By Ed Garsten
The Detroit News
LANSING, Mich. Sometime between breakfast and lunch
today, a dark red Oldsmobile Alero will roll off the assembly
line here surrounded by an invitation-only audience paying
its last respects to Americas oldest automotive brand.
The car will be the 35,229,218th Oldsmobile built since Ransom
E. Olds established the brand in 1897, and it will be the
fans of Oldsmobile and other American brands, the passing
is hard to swallow.
I understand whats going on as far as a business
decision for GM, said Ken Nicholas, an Eaton Rapids
resident who heads the Lansing chapter of the Oldsmobile Club
But its hard to express the affection for the
car. Its like losing your favorite sports team.
In December 2000, with its U.S. market share still shrinking,
General Motors Corp. delivered Oldsmobiles death sentence.
The venerable brand was guilty of sluggish sales as consumers
turned to imports and other brands deemed more stylish or
trendy what the company calls business realities.
Oldsmobiles best year was in 1984 when it sold 1.2
million units. But despite the introduction of well-received
products such as the Alero, Bravada SUV and Aurora, sales
continued to dwindle.
For all of 2003, just 125,897 Oldsmobiles were sold, but
by then, most of its product line had gone out of production.
In later years, the brand was labeled by some as being an
old persons car, in part, because of its name. The ill-conceived
ad campaign meant to assure customers that the brand
was not your fathers Oldsmobile only made
Despite its stodgy reputation, Oldsmobile was responsible
for some of the most stylish and bodacious additions to automotive
In 1925, Oldsmobile was the first to introduce chrome plating,
and in 1940 was the first brand to offer an automatic transmission
on a volume vehicle.
Nine years later, the Eighty Eight was launched, featuring
Futuramic styling and Rocket V-8 power.
The first turbo-charged, fluid injected engine, called the
Jetfire, was introduced in 1962 and the first air bag appeared
on an Olds Toronado in 1974. Americans had their first chance
to experience front-wheel drive in a 1966 Toronado.
Nicholas, who has owned dozens of Oldsmobiles, said the cars
were more than just transportation.
They were almost a member of our family, he said.
The car went on our honeymoon, the kids came home from
the hospital and family vacations were planned around them.
The last Alero will be transported a few miles away to the
R.E. Olds Museum in downtown Lansing where it will be on display
from May 3 to Aug. 31 and no doubt be the center of attention
of a reception under a white tent.
It is the last Oldsmobile and the final in the series of
500 commemorative cars that all wear the dark cherry red metallic
paint, special badging and a medallion with its number.
The 78th in the series was displayed Wednesday outside the
former Oldsmobile headquarters.
The RE Olds Museum will carry the responsibility in the post-Oldsmobile
era to keep the brands name and heritage alive, executive
director Deborah Horstik said.
Its hard to put into words about the loss,
Horstik said. There will be a hole, something thats
missing. But it will always be here. Oldsmobile will not die
The end of Oldsmobile means the end of the line at the old
plant for about 1,500 workers. Many will transfer to the more
modern Lansing Grand River plant that builds the Cadillac
CTS, SRX and will soon add the new STS.
Others will retire and some will join the work force at a
new plant being built in nearby Delta Township that begins
production in 2006, according to GM spokeswoman Kim Carpenter.
Lansing Car Assembly will continue producing the Chevrolet
Classic, which is sold only to fleet and commercial customers,
and the Pontiac Grand Am until it goes out of production later
Art Baker began building Oldsmobiles in 1960. The first model
he worked on was the F-85. As president of UAW Local 652,
which represents workers at Lansing Car Assembly, he hasnt
worked on the line in several years, but his voice catches
when he thinks of the fact hell never have another chance
to build one.
Its the end of a product thats been our
identity, said Baker as he stood outside the former
Oldsmobile headquarters building. A part of us is lost.
Photo caption: Ransom E. Olds established
the brand in 1897. Some 35,229,218 Oldsmobiles have since