If you find there is not enough material among DTW’s articles, I suggest you take a look at Curbside Classics. I was planning to write this anyway. Our discussion on American cars prompted me.
Curbside Classic’s Paul Neidermeyer ran a pair of articles recently about the ascent of the “brougham” trim level. He puts the moment at either 1964 with the Pontiac Bonneville Brougham or the 1965 Ford LTD. Along with a light writerly touch, Niedermeyer does some straightforward analysis. He makes a very valid point, getting beyond thoughts of velour button-pleats and mock-wood trim. For modern ears the term “brougham” gets in the way of understanding exactly the use of the term signified. The word distracts from the important point that marketing planners in GM and Ford in the 60s gave up being so assiduous in their demarcation of their brands.
Neidermeyer argues that up to the moment the brougham concept emerged, the big three were far more careful in defining the price and content boundaries of their vehicle ranges. Fords were clearly separate from Mercuries and those from Lincoln, for example. With the onset of affordable luxury (marketed as a “Brougham” or LTD, for example) it became harder to keep people paying for Lincolns and Mercuries when Fords had much of the same content. Doug de Muro notes at TTAC that this kind of blurring meant the 1988 Lincoln Continental didn’t distinguish itself enough from the Ford Taurus is was based on.
Here’s part of Neidermeyer’s conclusion: “Maybe that’s the real reason the LTD was created; trying to sell the sport qualities of the new ’65s would have been a stretch. The Ford Total Performance Era was already fragmenting before it reached its peak. And the Great Brougham Epoch wouldn’t need all that expensive racing to make its point. Charging 20% more for a different upholstery and a handful of badges was a hell of a lot more profitable too; Ford sold over 100k of the LTD packages in that first year alone. No wonder the whole industry piled in, and quickly. It didn’t take a genius to see that the profit margins were intoxicating.”
I suggest you go and read the rest of the article and the second one about the Pontiac. As a counterpoint from the present time, the Truth About Cars has an article which provides another angle on the problems faced by the middle market. Doug de Muro’s point is that there’s not any good reason why Lexus, Acura, BMW and Audi shouldn’t start selling minivans. He argues that for some people the minivan format is what they need and the market is not catering for the ones with deep pockets as well as a lot of kids.
Well, BMW have begun to move in that direction with their front-wheel drive MPV and you could argue that Mercedes R-class was a stab at the minivan. Audi is not yet there even if it would be so very easy for them to adapt both the Touran and Sharan to Audi requirements. That would spell trouble for Ford who don’t have anything fancier in Europe after the S-Max.
Between the mainstream makers adding more and more luxury to their cars and the “prestige” makers moving downstream into vehicle classes they previously shunned, we can see what this means for anyone in the middle. Pontiac, Saab, Lancia, Triumph, Rover and Wolseley before all that are doomed. You can see the challenge there is for a brand like Volvo whose raison d’etre made far more sense in the 80s.
There’s a flipside to this brougham phenomenon. In Ireland people won’t go brougham with their Hondas. I asked an Irish friend why people don’t buy more Accords (and the second last Accord was handsome). He said that after a certain point people just decide they may as well have a BMW (or Audi etc). And the limits of brougham afflict Ford who try to sell their Mondeo Vignale which is nothing less than a Ford LTD for our times. We can get from this that the brougham approach is risky for a firm’s own brands and it has limits. And it’s easier for an upscale firm to go down market than vice versa.
There are risks for all though. What will we think of Audi in 2028 when they are on their second iteration of the A4 van?