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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > GM’s Cadillac

The Cadillac Division of General Motors fancies its cars as competitors with Mercedes. This fall the executives who run Cadillac will not be happy.

In early November, Mercedes will announce that it will install as standard equipment a driver side air bag (up to now it has been optional) on all its vehicles sold in the United States. What’s more, the German manufacturer will install as standard equipment its impressive anti-skid braking system on all but the smaller Mercedes, according to a company source.
This leaves Cadillac vehicles even further behind in the consumer technology that counts. Still not out of its notorious Cadillac diesel engine problems with many of its indignant customers, Cadillac is plagued with deficient quality nightmares that are driving its car buyers away sputtering.

While General Motors’ total vehicle production is up 10% during the first ten months of this year over the comparable period in 1784, Cadillac production is below that of last year. The declinebe came more pronounced in the past few weeks.

We have received so many customer complaints about Cadillacs that we respect more than ever the snob appeal of a heavily advertised brand name. For what other reasons would one shell out anywhere from $22,000 to $32,000 for an overstuffed big Chevrolet with some decoration? Certainly riot for the recalls. GM resists recalling defective Cadillacs unless it believes the problem is overtly serious. But, in March 1785 GM recalled about 250,000 Cadillacs because of faulty catalytic converters. This summer owners of 1984 Cadillacs with a 4.1-liter V-E engine received a letter from GM informing them that some 4.1-liter engines allow coolant to leak slowly into the crankcase resulting in the loss of oil lubricating ability that may produce major engine damage. Instead of replacing the engine with one not so seriously misdesigned, the Cadillac division offered superficial services to help patch up but not correct any engine problems.

For almost three years, James C. Walsh has been seeking justice from GM, GMAC and a GM dealer following repossession of his leased 1982 Sedan De Ville which had a sticking accelerator tendency. He had to brake the automobile frequently while the car was standing still to keep it from lunging forward. “I have actually allowed the car to accelerate to forty miles per hour without once touching the gas pedal,” he wrote the dealer. This is a rather extreme example of GM’s desire to automate.

Commercial limousine companies using Cadillacs have told us of recurring defects and repairs afflicting their models. Most do not want to go public with their complaints because they want to keep their negotiating power with GM intact, they say.

Other consumers are not so reticent. Betty Beard of Augusta, Georgia, bought a 1983 Eldorado and several days later the car had to be towed back to the dealer, beginning a host of problems that have cost her about $100 per month over and above all parts under warranty.

Charles Allen of St. Albans, West Virginia describes the failure of his 1982 De Ville’s transmission at the 38,000 miles mark.

Thomas W. Hopkins, a disabled veteran from Columbia, South Carolina cannot get his dealer to pay attention to his 1984 Cadillac’s leaks and power steering defects. Leonard Epstein of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, meticulously listed 24 defects and other problems with his 1985 Fleetwood and the time, trouble and frustration that have accompanied his search for corrections.

William Nachman of Bay Harbor Island, Florida is really annoyed. His letter to GM’s boss, Roger Smith, declares that he has owned ten Cadillacs but that he “will NEVER own another one.” His major complaint was that he can not get anyone in GM to investigate his diesel engine problems and his $4000 worth of repair bills since 1981. Smith does riot answer his customer complaint letters. But he makes lots of speeches about GM’s quality control. He told an audience of GM suppliers once that if they do not make their parts”perfect,” they should riot bother to try selling them to GM.

All this would be news to Dr. Prakash Patel of St. Joseph, Missouri. He writes periodic letters bringing us up to date on the most recent defects in his 1985 Cadillac Sedan De Ville (“cruise control, automatic right front seat adjustment, the list keeps on getting bigger,” he says.)

Some of you may have a hard time shedding tears for Cadillac owners. But if GM cannot build its expensive flagship automobile properly, can it do a better job for lower priced cars? No wonder GM scouts are searching the Far East for Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese cars to distribute in the U.S. under its own brand name. Maybe GM would rather become an import distributor after all.