Pack Automotive Museum

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LeSALLE

Here is another of those “In order to get more market share let’s create another size/price car so we can sell more” theories.  In the early nineteen hundreds it was Cadillac that really owned the luxury car market in the United States.  General Motors new Cadillac Division General Manager Lawrence P. Fisher (sound familiar as in Fisher Brothers or “Body by Fisher”) was already in trouble when he took office in 1925.  Seems Packard had taken the #1 spot of Luxury car sales in the U.S. away from Cadi and General Motors execs we panicking.
At the time Cadillac was the top dog for the General, the next vehicle they had down on the price ladder was Buick but here’s the problem.  Cadillac was priced from $3,195 and Buick’s Top-O-The-Line at a mere $1,925.  In 1925 that $1,200+ was a huge difference even for an upwardly mobile family.  Add to the concern the fact that Packard had price-pointed and feature-positioned itself below the Cadillac and something had to be changed.  If that were not enough fear to concern yourself with please keep in mind that installment  contracts then only went for about 18 months long.  “Hey, lets add a model line” !  And that they did. 
Alfred P. Sloan, Style Guru for General Motors, was in charge and he and Fisher decided to go for a more youthful market and a much more dashing image than the staid Cadillac.  Fisher was aware of the marketplace and who was in it including one of Cadillac’s California distributor’s and the work he was doing operating a superb custom body shop.  When Fisher went to California he became acquainted with the young man and was so impressed with the designer and what he did and how he did it, he hired him as a consultant for the new LaSalle.  That young man’s name will turn into a legend………Harley Earl.
Earl made no bones about the fact that his inspiration for this new car was the existing styles of the Hispano-Suiza and was never apologetic about that fact.  LaSalle was formally introduced in 1927 and priced at $2685 as a 4-door sedan and $100 higher than the equivalent Fifth Series Packard. It was hands-down the most handsome American car in its day with its long, sweeping “clamshell” fenders, low-to-the-ground styling and a tall, narrow grill plus, the two-tone paints were a novelty in 1927 and considered a sensational hit. 
Knowing that Harley Earl was primarily responsible for this success and that he was still on contract for Cadillac in California, after the 1928 intro of the Cadillac, Fisher asked Earl to head up GM’s new department called the Art & Colour Section which was the auto industry’s very first in-house design & styling center.  Earl accepted.
LaSalle’s second year went without too many changes but by 1929 there was an abrupt departure in style with the extension of the wheelbase since most of LaSalle’s customers were appreciating that ride while Cadillac's ride with a shorter wheelbase (as well as slumping sales) began to slide even more. Oh oh!

Bottom line was that for the next 12 years LaSalle changed body styles, pricing and wheelbases as much as anyone but by 1940, three obstacles were hard to overcome. First, the make’s once-exclusive market niche had all but disappeared due to upward price escalation from Buick and the fact that LaSalle began looking like a Buick.  Number two reason was increasing mechanical and structural commonality between the various GM car lines and the LaSalle was no longer that "different" vehicle.  Finally, and the most telling reason, Cadillac finally got the message that the best way to move a middle-class car was to market it with a high class brand.  Accordingly, the low end of Cadi replaced the LaSalle line all together.  The LaSalle was a marketing mistake pure and simple.  With the exception of the first two years from intro, the LaSalle was a Cadillac in all but name and robbed the luxury line of potential sales more than it impacted it's intended target Packard.

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