Design Notes: 1975 Cadillac Seville
The name game
I opened this post with a question regarding two potential names for this car. Would you believe there were actually hundreds at one point?
The naming process was described by Mr. Horsburgh as being, “definitely more difficult than naming your own child. There’s a lot of emotionalism. Ego-maniacal attitudes came forth, and there were strong feelings within General Motors about the name for our new baby.” Interestingly, at one time during the energy crisis, it was suggested that all “Cadillac” designations be removed. Thankfully, that didn’t pan out.
This naming process involved many departments by request: Engineering, Manufacturing, Financial, Public Relations, Personnel, Reliability, Purchasing, the Corporate Design Studio, and others.
Mr. Horsburgh set up some naming criteria which I’ve summed up here: 1) the name would preferably be associated easily with Cadillac to save marketing money, and; 2) have a reasonably apparent meaning; no negative meanings; no braggadocio because the car was to stand for understated elegance; a French name would be appropriate; a possible tie-in with patriotism; the name has to look right on the car and in advertising, be legally available and not associated with a competitor’s product.
Oh, is that all?
Here are some samples from the influx of suggestions: Merlette, Sierra, La Mancha, Canterbury, l’Eclipse, Urbana, Le Nouveau, DeIntegro, Medici, Debonair, Berkshire, Caravel, Road America, Concept II, Americus, Leland, Minuet, Camelot, Renaissance, Counselor, and De Ville.
Chaired by Mr. Horsburgh, a team whittled away at the list. Some were easier to eliminate than others. For example, “Leland ,” while incorporating some of Cadillac’s history by using its founder’s name, it was pointed out by someone that Mr. Leland ultimately ended up at Ford’s Lincoln division. And De Ville? It appears that someone forgot it was already in use—by them.
By June 7, 1974 a memo was prepared that provided a list of the 24 best names. The list had one curious absentee. Seville was not included, even though it had been one of the original suggestions (but was spelled “Se Ville”).
By late 1974, the list had painstakingly been reduced to seven names, although, by that point, it included some previously rejected names that had been pulled back in. The list was: Allegro, Couronne, DuMonde, Envoy, LaSalle, St. Moritz, and Seville.
Believe it or not, Cadillac held another clinic event to solicit opinions, this time for the name. Showing participants the seven contenders, it involved 100 male owners of luxury cars (half Cadillacs, the other half made up of Lincolns, Thunderbirds, Imperials, Rivieras, Toronados, Mercedes, Jaguars, etc.). The interview results produced a 100-page document that concluded LaSalle was at the top (with a score of 187), St. Moritz in second (trailing with a score of 97), and Seville came in third (with a score of only 35).
So why didn’t Cadillac name the car LaSalle? Or, St. Moritz? LaSalle, in the mid-1970s, still held strong sentiment, both positive and negative. It was, after all, Cadillac’s formerly cancelled sub brand. While explanations could be given for that cancellation, rarely would time be afforded for such reasoning. Mr. Horsburgh recalled, “LaSalle would have alienated some people—maybe even 30 percent of our management and dealers—but the other 70 percent would have loved it.”
Even though St. Moritz was correctly pronounced by three-quarters of those polled, Cadillac figured the general population would get tongue-tied. Pronunciation is integral to a successful name used in marketing, so marketers were opposed to taking any chances.
That left Seville as next in line. Besides having already been used on an Eldorado coupe from 1956 through 1960, there wasn’t much in its favor—apart from the fact that it had virtually no negative connotations associated with it. The decision was left to upper management and all involved determined that, so long as the car was excellent, they didn’t need a name to do the work. Seville was selected.
Quality in demand
Another interesting side note is that, in order to ensure the car was indeed as excellent as promised, the first 2,000 Sevilles were all painted the same color (metallic silver), had grey leather interiors, and featured all of the options. In doing so, it made it easier to guarantee consistent quality on the all-important first models that would be shipped to Cadillac’s 1,615 dealerships.
Some of the dealerships had as many as 179 confirmed orders by announcement day. One dealership held 15 deposits of $4,500 each, a month before any of them had seen the car or had any idea what it even looked like. It was that important of a launch for the brand.
Even though there was a 1975 model Seville, Cadillac technically missed its goal since it arrived late. Production started on March 25, 1975 and its official debut was on May 1.
Seville’s sales for the first (short) year totaled 16,355 which amounted to roughly 6 percent of Cadillac’s combined total. For 1976, its first full year on the market, sales reached 43,772 accounting for nearly 15 percent of the division’s total. Although Seville’s slice of Cadillac’s overall total was slightly down for 1977, to 13 percent, that didn’t mean they sold fewer. In fact they actually sold 1,288 more than in 1976. Cadillac just had a better year overall and sales were up almost across the board. Seville’s sales peaked for 1978, at 56,985 units and a 17 percent total share, before beginning a fairly steady decline. Sales dropped slightly, to 53,487, for 1979 and its division-total percentage dropped to 14. (Sales for 1980, after the redesign, plummeted to 38,344.)
[Edit: The question of Seville’s first model year came up on another site that I had posted a link to this story on. First, for any readers not aware, there are at least two years by which a vehicle can be referred to: model and production. A vehicle’s model year can be different than the calendar year in which it was produced. That’s why 2013 model year vehicles can be bought during calendar year 2012. Manufacturers play this numbers game for various reasons, including benefits in marketing. (Incidentally, this is a primarily US practice whereas many countries utilize alphanumeric nomenclature to mark generational distinctions, leaving the year to indicate its production.)
For a manufacturer to use differing years, the US government (specifically the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) requires only that production of the subject model begin no sooner than January 1 of the calendar year that precedes the model year by which it will be identified.
Until I performed research on Seville, I generally understood 1976 to be its first model year. I was aware it was available in early 1975 (specifically, production began March 26, 1975 and sales officially launched on May 1) but traditionally had heard 1976 in reference to Seville’s beginnings. In all of the hours I spent reading and sorting through images, I didn’t come across a single reference to the first year being a 1976 model.
Photos, textual descriptions, tables, and comparisons all described the first year model as being a 1975 (apart from a couple of 1975.5 references I ran across). These documents include periodicals from the time of the car’s release and subsequent historical reference books from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
It actually surprised me. Not only did 1975 appear to be the historical consensus but I had not even a single source to support labeling it otherwise. So does this mean that 1975 is correct? Not exactly.
At the top of this edit, I mentioned a discussion on another website which prompted the postscript. In that discussion, an eyewitness from the time (username megeebee) communicated a different recollection. He actually worked as a detailer/new car prep person at a Cadillac dealership in 1975 and remembers working late the night they received their first Seville. He was responsible for prepping it for a preview party the following morning and recalls the stickers showing “1976” as the model year. And that’s on one of the earliest copies.
So where does that leave things? I’ve left the title and references throughout my post as-is since I feel compelled to go by what I’ve found in my studies. However, it’s my goal to disseminate accurate automotive information, not to be right, above all else. Ultimately, you will have to be your own judge but if you should posses knowledge or artifact that could shed additional light on the topic, please share.]
Continue to the next page to see the concepts.