Cookie-cutter offerings from GM, was only one issue that was self-inflicted — another was downsized vehicles that did not appeal to many customers. Like many companies, GM uses market research when it develops new products. But, if that market research depends on asking potential customers vague questions, or if those questions lead to a pre-determined conclusion, then the finished product will end up seemingly almost guaranteed to fail – the exact opposite result of why market research is used. There is no guarantee that any product will succeed, but the minimization of the chances of failure is why the fact-finding process needs to be thorough.
In GM’s case, the cheapest possible market research was used: potential customers were asked questions about cars during a phone conversation. Unfortunately, it is difficult to give honest responses about automobiles without actually being near a car in order to have some sort of a reference point. Armed with this wealth of customer feedback, the bean counters at GM decided that fuel efficiency was the most important factor when buying a car. And as the eighties progressed, so did the onslaught of downsized, cloned offerings from what soon became known as “Generic Motors.”
Is America headed for a recession?
As vehicles such as the downsized Buick and Oldsmobile sedans, Cadillac Cimarron, front-wheel-drive Fleetwoods and DeVilles – oh, and the 1986 Eldorado — were introduced, a whole new generation of automotive jokes were born.
During this downsizing phase, the most difficult changes for Cadillac buyers to accept may have been the Cimarron and the 1986 Eldorado. From the side, the Eldorado bared an eerie resemblance to a Pontiac Grand Am coupe. To add insult to injury, downsized Buick Regals, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes and Pontiac Grand Prixs ended the decade. As for Chevrolet, the Monte Carlo was replaced with the Lumina coupe, and the Celebrity – a car that made a nice profit, was replaced with the Lumina sedan – a car that sold at a loss.
Of course, industry isn’t the only abuser of public opinion.
Political strategists need to learn a valuable lesson from the carmakers: if Ford built a car that that offered everything that a similar Chevrolet offered — if that car even looked like a Chevy — the most loyal Chevy buyer will not cross over to Ford, because Chevrolet already offers everything that a customer wants. The biggest risk to Ford is that it would alienate its existing customers by straying from what made those existing customers loyal in the first place.
Just because market research says that it likes something in theory, doesn’t always mean that market research likes it in reality.
Image: 1986-1991 Cadillac Eldorado; author: Bull-Doser; public domain