General Motors Companion Make Program
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The General Motors Companion Make Program was a mid-1920s program to introduce brands to fill pricing and design gaps in GM's brand (marque) lineup.
General Motors pioneered the idea that consumers would aspire to buy up an automotive product ladder if a company met certain price points. As General Motors entered the 1920s, the product ladder started with the price-leading Chevrolet make, and then progressed in price, power and appointments to Oakland (later replaced by Pontiac), Oldsmobile, Buick, and ultimately to the luxury Cadillac marque.
However, by the mid-1920s, a sizable price gap existed between Chevrolet and Oakland, while the difference between an Oldsmobile and a Buick was even wider. There was also a product gap between Buick and Cadillac. To address this, General Motors authorized the introduction of four "companion makes," designed and priced to fill the gaps. Cadillac would introduce the LaSalle to fill the gap between Buick and Cadillac. Buick would introduce the Marquette to handle the higher end of the gap between Buick and Oldsmobile. Oldsmobile would introduce the Viking, which took the lower half of the spread between Oldsmobile and Buick. Finally, Oakland would introduce the Pontiac marque between it and Chevrolet.
The final structure brand order:
- LaSalle (Cadillac)
- Marquette (Buick)
- Viking (Oldsmobile)
- Pontiac (Oakland)
Chevrolet alone did not receive a companion car at this time. In the wake of the Great Depression, companion makes shortly failed: Marquette was discontinued in 1930 and Viking in 1931. LaSalle would fare a little better, surviving as a marque until being discontinued in 1940. Meanwhile, Pontiac outlasted its "parent" make Oakland: Oakland was discontinued in 1931, but Pontiac remained as a GM marque until 2010.
Ford Motor Company repeatedly experimented with companion makes. It added Lincoln-Zephyr as a companion make for Lincoln in 1936, introduced a De Luxe Ford as a companion make for its mainstream Ford line in 1937, and added the intermediate Mercury line to further fill the gap in 1939. This experiment was short-lived, however, with De Luxe Ford becoming a mere trim line in 1941, a year after Lincoln had discontinued Zephyr.
In 1985, the Ford Germany-based Merkur brand was created as a companion brand to Lincoln that Ford hoped would appeal to import luxury buyers, but which would prove to be unsuccessful. Ford Motor Company would stick with Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln (with the brief exception of the Edsel failure) until 2010, when Ford announced the cessation of the Mercury brand. This simplified structure allowed Ford Division to expand upmarket more aggressively than Chevrolet with models such as the four-seat Thunderbird, the 1965 LTD and the current Titanium trim level models.
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