Five short years. Not long for such a long car.
It was launched 1991. By 1996, GM had given up on their RWD, body-on-frame sedans, a mere five summers later. The last North American market(1) Caprice served really as a stop-gap. Underneath the deceitfully aero-looking body lurked technology dating back to the Carter era. The engine and underbody could be largely swapped between the 1977 Caprice and the 1991 model.
That is not necessarily a criticism. It reflected the fact that the demands placed on big, comfy sedans simply had not changed that much. It also reflected the fact that more and more American drivers wanted to drive something else, such as the SUVs and front-drive imports that the car magazines preferred. Hence, those who wanted a Caprice in 1991 were pretty much the same people who wanted one in 1985 and 1977, so the basic mechanics could remain unmolested.
The advantages of this included reducing investment costs and thus the price to the customer, and eliminating the kinds of teething problems that bedeVille(2) General Motors’ more innovative offerings.
The low price meant Chevrolet did not have to try too hard to sell them. It also meant Caprices cost less than smaller cars in the range. The price-to-size relationship dislocated after the launch of 1990 Lumina, so the Caprice had bigger dimensions but cost not so many dollars more (a few dollars more, perhaps). I think of Caprices as oversized mid-spec Escorts: a lot of metal, but not a lot of features.
This mismatch also provides a clue to the fact the Caprice had driven itself into a legacy market where the customers did not care for year-on-year changes. They wanted a straightforward large car. I think GM could have carried on selling Caprices indefinitely (police, taxis, older drivers, enthusiasts), with a bodyshell change every decade. Alas, they abandoned vessel and left Ford as the last person standing in the big-cheap-BOF market.
I presume opportunity costs killed the Caprice and its Buick, Olds and Cadillac sisters: while GM could have turned a profit on selling a steady 25,000 Caprices every year they would have forfeited more profit selling 85,000 something-elses using the same inputs. Bad move: imagine if the Caprice had been a legacy line worked on by experienced late-career production staff, where a bit less pressure and bit more love for the product would have made for cars with character. There would have been a good bit of corporate social responsibility halo in that story along with it not costing very much. GM doesn’t do CSR, however…
I will finish by observing that in the modern Danish urban setting this car looks wide and stately. And very low. The only thing this long and low around here has a Jaguar badge. Even if the Caprice is styled big, it is also styled low and that means it tricks your perceptions: a Ford Focus is taller and not that much shorter, yet nothing like as imposing as the Caprice. That makes me also realise that today’s crop of bigger cars are not as imposing as you would expect, despite being big and tall. A W-140 is still imposing (it’s a better-built Swabian Caprice) and the rather dainty X300 Jaguars are imposing too. From this, I conclude that width matters.
(1) The Caprice name was reintroduced in 1999 for a rebadged version of the WH Series Holden Statesman which was sold in Middle-East, Latin and South American markets.
(2) Very droll, Richard! (DO)