Design Notes: 1975 Cadillac Seville
A Seville by any other name
Were you aware that Cadillac considered its rear-wheel-drive layout a compromise? Or that the targeted price was less than $8,000, a mark that was missed by well over 50 percent?
If this gorgeous car or the highlights from its development spark an interest, I invite you to read on.
This post contains more textual information than most of my other posts. While I’ve cut it down as much as I felt I could, without compromising the data, I don’t have as many pictures as I’d normally insert to visually break up the bulk. After spending almost ten hours in research, before writing a word, I realized there are limited images available from this car’s development stage.
However, it is not completely without pictures. Deep into the presentation and in the gallery, there are images of two concepts I obtained. I hope you enjoy this.
[Edit: 1975, 1975.5, or 1976? Please see the bottom of page 4 for more information regarding Seville’s introductory model year.]
Identifying the need and dissuading dissenters
As early as 1970, Cadillac’s normally confident management had noticed a trend. It didn’t relate directly to their vehicles but rather indirectly; the trend they were seeing was in their clientele.
Over the years, air-travel had substantially increased the number of Americans journeying internationally, thereby exposing more of Cadillac’s affluent customers to the ways other nations–primarily the Germans and British–defined automotive luxury. That is to say, in a sportier, less gargantuan package.
Cadillac dealerships were reporting that, upon returning, some of these travelers were asking why they couldn’t buy a Cadillac that was similar in size to the Mercedes 450SE or even the Diplomat (not the Dodge, but an upscale model made by Opel, shown to the left). Within Cadillac’s planning department, the next few years would prove to be tumultuous, though it would bear good fruit.
In 1970, Cadillac made the unprecedented move of sending out a questionnaire to not only their customers, which had been done before, but also to Mercedes owners. Much of the information gathering had revealed that a Mercedes buyer was not Cadillac’s usual sort. One of the results was particularly disturbing. When asked what their second choice vehicle would have been, if a Mercedes was not available, the answer was overwhelmingly “none” or “don’t know.”
The demographics would be only slightly less discouraging. Mercedes buyers reportedly tended to be female, younger, better educated, and more established professionally than those that were buying from domestic luxury brands.
(It should be noted that while Cadillac was handily cleaning Mercedes’ clock in sales, the German brand’s sales would double between 1968 and 1973. That’s compared to the overall luxury segment’s sales which would only increase an average of 43 percent, during the same period. Cadillac had accurately sensed a threat, or at least an opportunity.)
Since most of the import luxury cars were smaller, the market outlook for a tidier Cadillac appeared strong. However, that opinion wasn’t solely based on a comparison to the smaller offerings from European brands. It was also influenced by the recently-lifted oil embargo that had left scars in the minds of many consumers and automotive executives alike. The general belief, at the time, was that the modern automobile would trend toward becoming smaller and more efficient.
Even though the demand for Cadillac to offer a downsized model seemed clear to many, including the highest-ranking members of GM’s board of directors, it was reportedly the older members of Cadillac’s management (some even retired at the time) that were holding up the project.
It is reported by multiple sources that those in opposition to the idea were of a mindset, arguably established in the early 1920s by Alfred Sloan’s brand hierarchy, that smaller vehicles equate to cheaper vehicles. Thus, a diminutive Cadillac would be contrary to the brand’s modus operandi. Sounds like they had good intentions but might have been out of touch with contemporary thinking and trends.
Some of the naysayers even invoked Packard’s Clipper model (which actually nearly saved the already-doomed brand) and Cadillac’s former, lower-priced offshoot, LaSalle (1940 model shown to the right). The assertion was: since LaSalle was cancelled (after 1940), the lesser Cadillac idea had been tried and failed (a dubious claim which is questionably applicable, especially since the car being proposed was not anticipated to be cheap in relation to Cadillac’s range, unlike LaSalle which was intentionally positioned at the low end).
The burden was on the opposition and their case would become increasingly less convincing, or maybe it was that the case of those in favor was overwhelmingly mounting. In spring of 1972, Cadillac general manager, George Elges, trekked to various dealerships across the US and polled the dealers on their desire for a smaller car. The votes were 3.5 to 1, in favor. The following year, response to the same question had increased to 6 to 1, in favor.
As history ultimately demonstrates, plans for the car moved forward but not without further pushback.