General Motors Companion Make Program
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General Motors pioneered the idea that consumers would aspire to buy up an automotive product ladder if a company met certain price points. As General Motors entered the 1920s, the product ladder started with the price leading Chevrolet marque, and then progressed upward in price, power and appointments to Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick and ultimately to the luxury Cadillac marque.
However by the mid-1920s, a sizable price gap had been created between Chevrolet and Oakland, while the difference between an Oldsmobile and a Buick was even wider. There was also a product gap between Buick and Cadillac. To address this, General Motors authorized the introduction of four companion marques priced and designed to fill the gaps. Cadillac would introduce the LaSalle to fill the gap between Buick and Cadillac. Buick would introduce the Marquette to handle the higher end of the gap between Buick and Oldsmobile. Oldsmobile would introduce the Viking, which took the lower half of the spread between Oldsmobile and Buick. Finally, Oakland would introduce the lower-end Pontiac marque. This is often referred to as General Motors Companion Make Program. The final structure worked out to the following order:
Chevrolet alone did not receive a companion car at this time although Geo could be said to be Chevy's companion make, 60 years late. All of the companion makes ultimately failed with the exception of Pontiac, which outlived parent Oakland and continued as a GM marque until 2010.
Rival Ford Motor Company briefly experimented with companion makes as well. The company added Lincoln-Zephyr as a lower-end marque for Lincoln in 1936, introduced a De Luxe Ford as a companion make for its mainstream Ford line in 1937, and added Mercury to further fill the gap in 1939. This experiment was short-lived, however, with De Luxe Ford becoming a mere trim line in 1941 just as Lincoln canceled all but their Zephyr-based line.
In 1985, the Merkur brand was created as a companion brand to Lincoln that Ford hoped would appeal to import luxury buyers, but which would prove to be unsuccessful. Ford Motor Company would stick with Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln (with the brief exception of the Edsel failure) until 2010, when Ford announced the cessation of the Mercury brand. This simplified structure allowed Ford Division to expand upmarket more aggressively than Chevrolet with models such as the four-seat Thunderbird, the 1965 LTD and the current Titanium trim level models.
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