When Billy Durant created General Motors back at the Dawn of Automotive Time, he had exactly one brand name to work with: Buick. In the next few years, he added Oldsmobile, Oakland and Cadillac, in that order, before he was forced out of the company. During his absence, Durant partnered with Louis Chevrolet, subsequently buying him out; eventually, Durant was able to retake control of GM, integrating the Chevrolet brand into the GM mix.
After Durant was dethroned a second time, Alfred E. Sloan formalized the GM hierarchy: Cadillac at the top, then Buick, Oldsmobile, Oakland, and Chevy at the bottom. The idea was to have a car at every conceivable price point, so you had no excuse for not buying from GM. By the middle 1920s, though, the General detected space for even more in-between brands. For a time, GM had nine nameplates; Chevrolet was still at the bottom of the hierarchy, but each of the other four marques was assigned a “companion” make to fill those gaps.
This worked about as well as you think it would, which is hardly at all. Cadillac’s kid brother LaSalle ran great through most of the Depression, but was expelled in 1940. Buick and Oldsmobile barely got to know their Marquette and Viking siblings. And it’s no wonder, really; between mid-priced Olds and top-line Cadillac, GM was trying to push four separate brands.
And then there’s Oakland, which had to share its room with something barely above a Chevy, fercryingoutloud. Worse, that something was paying all the bills for the division. GM saw the writing on the cylinder wall, and euthanized Oakland after a brief run of ’31s. Junior — otherwise known as “Pontiac” — was on the endangered-species list in the early 1950s, but lived to the ripe old age of 84 before being deemed nonessential. At the time, it was outselling Buick by about 50 percent.
See also “Gutless supreme,” some thoughts on the death of Oldsmobile (1897-2004).