Monday, July 9, 2007

2004: last Oldsmobile
1936: last car from Mr. Olds's other company

I often joked that I'd never be old enough to buy an Oldsmobile. It's not just a joke now -- nobody can buy a new Oldsmobile.

The last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line in April 2004 in Lansing, Michigan, in a plant that produced the venerable vehicles for nearly a century. The car carried the signatures of plant employees on the inside of the hood and was scheduled to be displayed at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing for about four months.

Oldsmobile, the brand that pioneered chrome-plated trim and gave drivers the Eighty Eight series, the front-wheel-drive Toronado and the Cutlass, was named for its founder, Ransom E. Olds, who started the Olds Motor Vehicle Co. in Lansing in 1897. It became part of GM in 1908. Of the 35.2 million Oldsmobiles built during the nameplate's existence, more than 14 million were built in Lansing.

The initials of Mr. Olds also appeared on REO-brand cars and trucks manufactured from 1905 to 1954, including the famous REO Speed Wagon light delivery truck. It was an ancestor of the pickup truck, and provided the name for the 1970s rock group REO Speedwagon, incorrectly pronounced as "R-E-O."

By 1907 REO had gross sales of $4 million and the company was one of the top four automobile manufacturers in the U.S. After 1908 however, despite the introduction of improved cars designed by Olds, REO's share of the automobile market shrank due in part to competition from emerging giants like Ford and General Motors.

From 1915 to 1925, REO was profitable. In 1925, under Olds's successor Richard Scott, REO launched an expansion program to make the company more competitive with other manufacturers by offering cars in different price ranges. The failure of this program and the effects of the Depression caused such heavy losses that Ransom Olds came out of retirement in 1933 and took control of REO again, but resigned in 1934. In 1936 REO abandoned cars to concentrate on trucks.

Although World War II truck orders enabled it to make something of a comeback, the company remained unstable in the postwar era. In 1954 it was sold to the Bohn Aluminum and Brass Company of Detroit, and in 1957 became a subsidiary of the White Motor Company. White then merged REO with Diamond T Trucks in 1967 to form Diamond-Reo Trucks, Inc. In 1975, this firm filed for bankruptcy and most of its assets were liquidated. The corporate shell reorganized in the 1930s after a bankruptcy and the end of automobile manufacturing went through a series of transmutations into the nuclear medicine and prefabricated housing businesses before becoming today's steel company Nucor.

GM announced in December 2000 it would end production of the struggling Oldsmobile line with the 2004 model year. The Alero was the last model remaining in the brand's once diverse lineup. The workers who made Oldsmobiles switched to other GM brands. (info from The Associated Press and Wikipedia)

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