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How Cadillac Become the Standard of the World

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On: Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 2:42PM | By: Teddy Field


How Cadillac Become the Standard of the World

Once upon a time, if you were somebody, you owned a Cadillac. Rock stars, movie stars, politicians, potentates, they all drove or were driven in a Cadillac. This once famous American marque fell from favor over the last few decades, mostly due to cost-cutting and general corporate apathy. However, exciting new models like the Cadillac CTS, Cadillac ATS, and Cadillac Escalade, have Cadillac dealers brimming with new customers. But how did Cadillac become “The standard of the world”? Let's find out...

Back in1902, Henry Ford's first car company (The Henry Ford Company), went bankrupt and his bankers hired a man named Henry Leland to appraise the business. Mr. Leland owned a company that manufactured precision gears for Oldsmobile, so the bankers felt he was the perfect man to put a price tag on everything. However, Leland felt that he could resurrect the business, and he convinced the bankers to put him in charge. His first order of business was changing the name to Cadillac, after the French explorer that founded Detroit. Then he put his own 10-hp engine into Ford's car and put it on sale.

The powerful (for 1903) Cadillac was an immediate success, and Leland reinvested the profits into precision manufacturing equipment for Cadillac parts. This allowed the parts to be interchangeable (that was a radical innovation at the time), thereby enabling mass production (another innovation). While at the helm of Cadillac, Leland introduced many other ground-breaking ideas, including the automotive electrical system, the electric starter, electric headlights, the first V8 engine, and standardized placement for the gas, brake and clutch pedal. Leland eventually bought out the bankers and sold Cadillac to General Motors for $4 Million dollars, which is the equivalent to $100 Million today.

Although he'd sold the company, GM boss Billy Durant asked Leland to stay and run the company. At the time, Cadillac had to operate as an independent company, competing directly with other car brands owned General Motors. Buick for example, was gunning for the exact same customers as Cadillac, but Leland's leadership eventually landed his company at the top of GM's “pecking order”. By 1917, the world was deep into its first international war, and the U.S. Government asked Cadillac to help build the Liberty V12 aircraft engine. Since Billy Durant was a pacifist, he ordered Leland not to participate. This angered Henry Leland so much that he resigned his post at Cadillac, went across town and started building the engines under the name Lincoln Motor Company. Durant eventually allowed Cadillac to participate in the war effort, and Leland's company eventually went bankrupt and got absorbed by the Ford Motor Company.

Ironically, the two companies started by Henry Leland; Cadillac and Lincoln, are still arch rivals to this day. However, Cadillac's latest CTS and ATS luxury sedans are more directly targeted at BMW and Audi. And to think, none of it would've been possible if Henry Ford hadn't failed on his first try at making cars.


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