General Motors Corp. (GM) will discontinue production of the Cadillac Fleetwood at the end of the 1996 model year and utilize its Arlington facility as a truck manufacturing plant.
A popular opinion within the limousine industry is that GM has essentially shut its doors to a highly reliable market by eliminating the large luxury cars with rear-wheel-drive that are converted to stretch limousines. But, insiders say the company intends to replace the Fleetwood with another, yet-to-be-determined front-wheel-drive vehicle that will satisfy the industry. Until then, GM plans to concentrate on the more profitable consumer market, which prefers smaller luxury models and trucks.
GM reported that truck sales have doubled from 1975 to 1994 to nearly $2 million for the calendar year. The company increased truck production by 25 percent in the past two years to keep pace with market demands.
“Niche markets, however, are extremely important,” says Vic Poleni, manager fleet/limousine activity. “We’d like to keep them as long as we can.”
Poleni speculated that GM will be considering the front-wheel-drive DeVille as a possible replacement for the Fleetwood, thus attempting to steer the limousine industry away from traditional preferences for rear-wheel-drive vehicles.
However, according to Ford, the Lincoln Town Car, its top-selling vehicle in the livery market, and the rear-wheel-drive limousine, will remain in demand.
“The industry has never been sold on a front-wheel drive limousine,” says John Treter, leasing and fleet sales manager for Lincoln-Mercury. He added that feedback he has received recently from the industry has been skeptical of front-wheel-drive limousines because of the greater risk for collision, high repair costs, and poor handling.
However, Poleni maintains that technological advancements in production methods and engineering have made front-wheel-drive cars competitive once again.
“With advancements in suspension systems, it doesn’t matter whether the car has a short-wheel base or a long-wheel base, cars can be made to drive the same — hard or soft — depending on preference,” says Poleni.
According to Poleni, the livery industry is also gearing towards smaller vehicles, citing an increase in the livery sedan market as opposed to three years ago. “Stretch limousines are on the ostentatious side,” says Poleni. “Corporate executives don’t want to be picked up in front of their businesses in a stretch limousine. The executives are now more image-conscious. They are leaning more and more toward sedan use.”
Treter said regardless of GM’s latest decision, Ford will continue business as usual, and has no plans to discontinue its flagship Town Car. “We’re taking nothing for granted, not assuming anything. We have a plan and we’re not going to change it, regardless of our competition’s actions this year.
GM’s move doesn’t surprise me,” Treter added. “Its recent Fleetwood production has been minimal.”