The “Golden Age” in the U.S.: From a Class-Based Market to a Personal One
In the 1950s, the cars by the Big Three, especially GM, placed style ahead of engineering, “form ahead of function”, thus giving great importance to design. GM’s designers were free to design cars as they saw fit, believed, and wanted. Advertisements frequently used words like “power”, “mighty” and “bold”, emphasising the sense of America’s technological superiority at the time. Under the pressure of several European small-car specialists, such as Volkswagen, the market share of the Big Three declined in the late 1950s. In a few years, segmentation changed from being product-centred to being size-centred. The segmentation of the U.S. market by size helped the Big Three to defend their positions against imported cars, but hindered the path of the clear, class-based market positions of their full-sized cars. For as long as most households had only one car, the Big Three were able to maintain their traditional marketing strategies of positioning their products through prices to closely conform to the pyramid-shaped distribution of U.S. social classes. However, during the 1960s many American households started to own more than one car. When, in the 1970s, the energy crises drove Americans to buy smaller and more fuel-efficient family cars, Detroit’s traditional, large family cars died out, and with them so did the strategy of creating a hierarchy of cars, differentiated by price, which appealed to people in every social class (“ladder of consumers”).
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