Oldsmobile Sports Car
Nearly four years to the day that the final Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line in Lansing, Michigan, comes word that Oldsmobile is back. More startling than the announcement itself is its origin—not from Lansing, not from Detroit, not from Michigan, not even from anywhere in North America.
A statement from Tokyo, of all places, reports that Toyota has secured rights to the Oldsmobile name. Asked for comment, GM is remaining extremely tight-lipped on the issue at the moment while presumably trying to sort out internally what oversight allowed this to happen—and who to can for it.
A Most Egregious Oversight
Toyota officials have stated that GM’s copyright on the Oldsmobile brand name expired midway through 2006. In the midst of the constant corporate shuffling under way in the domestic automotive juggernaut, somehow responsibility for renewal slipped through the cracks and the name floated around untethered for almost a year before someone at Toyota noticed. The unsubstantiated—at this point—story is that the alert came from the astute nephew of a still-confidential executive, who works as a clerk in the U.S. Copyright Office.
The Toyota exec saw an opportunity, and the rights to the name were scooped up by Toyota for a nominal refiling fee—just $5000. As Toyota pushes upmarket—the Avalon and the Highlander can cost more than $40, 000, and a loaded Sequoia can eclipse $60, 000—the question has been raised repeatedly just how much the American public is willing to pay for a vehicle with the same badge as a $12, 000 Yaris. Toyota took note of the rapid failure of the Volkswagen Phaeton and does not wish to find itself in the same situation.
According to Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Oldsmobile will fill the gap between Toyota and the company’s luxury flagship brand, Lexus. “Oldsmobile is an established and respected luxury nameplate, ” Carter said. “We fully realize this acquisition is unconventional, but the opportunity to immediately acquire over 100 years’ worth of brand recognition couldn’t be missed.
“It’s a shame, ” Carter said, “that a company with the proud history of Oldsmobile ever left the market, and we feel Toyota can establish the same sort of staying power with the Oldsmobile brand as we have with Lexus and Scion.”
A New Twist on the Same Oldsmobile Ideal
Citing Oldsmobile’s greatest successes as a slightly upmarket and sportier alternative to its Chevrolet and Pontiac cousins, Carter said the name will be applied to today’s American performance-oriented luxury vehicles—SUVs. Asked if the iForce V-8 in the Sequoia will be renamed the Rocket for Oldsmobile applications, Carter scoffed: “Toyota is a company that looks forward, not back. The past can inspire us, but we can never relive it. We will not mire ourselves in bygone days.”
And so Toyota is sticking with names from recent Oldsmobile history, to avoid alienating the young, upwardly mobile customers it is targeting. Bravada and Intrigue are names that will be familiar to the target demographic, affixed as they will be to the RAV4 and 4Runner SUVs, respectively.