Known for its sensible and affordable vehicles, Oldsmobile created vehicles from the late 19th century until recently. The company was one of the oldest companies in the United States upon its closing. Keep reading to learn more about Oldsmobile’s over 100-year history here.
How the Company Got Started
Founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds in Michigan, Oldsmobile was first presented to the world as the Olds Motor Vehicle Company. The company operated independently until 1908 when they were acquired by General Motors. From early on in the company’s history, it produced reliable gas-powered vehicles that landed them a spot among the top car companies in the United States. Models like the Model R, the Limited Touring Series 23, and the Autocrat Series 32 were all a part of the company’s success before 1911. The next decades would prove to be extremely profitable and fundamental for Oldsmobile, securing them a reputation as a dependable car brand for the American family. They even joined in the muscle car phenomenon in the 1960s, creating models like the Toronado and the 442.
By the 1990s, the company’s hold on the automotive market had loosened. Oldsmobile models were slowly becoming less popular as more car companies, including other GM companies, rose in popularity. However, that does not discredit all the outstanding models the company designed and manufactured during its 100-year history. Until the company’s demise, it produced over 35 million American-made vehicles – making it a beloved part of the country’s automotive history. It was the oldest American car company and the fifth oldest automotive manufacturer in the world.
As one of the oldest car companies in automotive history, Oldsmobile is often under-recognized for its achievements. Although Henry Ford is known for mass-producing the first car, this was actually a feat that Oldsmobile conquered first. The Model R, the first vehicle that the company produced, was the first mass-produced vehicle in the world. Their Curved Dash lineup was some of the most popular vehicles in the early twentieth century, easily recognizable on the roads.
They also became involved with the racing scene, most notable in NASCAR. Participating mostly in stock racing, Oldsmobile models were frequent favorites for some of the most popular race car drivers on the track. The Rocket 88 was the first Oldsmobile model to be used in racing, followed by the 442 and Cutlass. With over 13 wins, the company made a place in racing history. It ended its presence in racing in 1992, focusing instead on making models for the road – not the racetrack.
The Oldsmobile logo has changed significantly throughout its history. When it was first developed in 1897, it represented the regal fashion that was popular at the time. Like most car companies, the logo was meant to look like a crest. This look changed in 1919 when the name of the company was placed front and center in a kitschy black font. In 1940, a space-themed look was embraced that, according to 1000 Logos, is an “internationally accepted and respected brand, powerful and confident.” After that, a more classic logo was favored by the automotive market and continued until the company was closed.
Oldsmobile remains one of the best-selling car companies in American history, especially between the late 90s. The early 2000s saw a steady decline in sales, despite Oldsmobile’s consistent release of new vehicles that seemed to be crowd pleasers. When the company eventually shut down, it had sold over 35 million vehicles from the time of its origin. The chart below shows Oldsmobile vehicle sales in the United States from 1996 to 2006 (after the company had closed). According to CarSalesBase, their most successful year during this period was 1999. They sold 352,163 units during this time.
A History of Reliability and Fame
Oldsmobile was known for producing some of the most sensible, yet popular, vehicles of all time. According to Hot Cars, here are some of them:
Most Popular Model
Most recently, the company’s most popular vehicle was the Alero. In fact, the car was so popular that it was exported to Europe; it was the only car in Oldsmobile history to do so. The Alero was a mid-sized, 4-door (or 2-door) car that was placed on the market for sale in 1998. As one of the last models built by the company, it had innovative features and the “coke bottle styling” that was popular in previous eras.
All Oldsmobile cars were made and manufactured in Lansing, Michigan, where the company’s headquarters were located. Models were sold in the United States, Canada, and Mexico (under the Chevy company name), and Europe (select models only).
Generally, Oldsmobile vehicles were known as safe to drive. They had decent fuel economy and were favored by many as a family vehicle. Later in their history, this family aspect became more popular and the vehicles received higher safety ratings. This also came with updated technology that was adopted by many companies during the late 1990s.
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