Building On Daring

GM’s plans for Cadillac sound ambitious, but the gulf in product and perception terms facing the US luxury car brand appear to echo that of another, more familiar luxury marque.

2018 Cadillac XT4 crossover. Image credit: autoblog

When General Motors sold their European outpost to Groupe PSA last year, many believed the US car giant had upped sticks and left the Old World for good. But this week there was some fairly solid grounds for reviewing that assessment.

Speaking at the NADA-JD Power Automotive Forum at the eve of the New York auto show, Cadillac President, Johan de Nysschen announced to delegates, “Ladies and gentlemen, I can assure you that things are about to get very interesting at Cadillac.”

Amongst the interesting things de Nysschen has planned is reportedly a return to the European market, this despite several failed attempts to break the continent in the past. Placing an emphasis on renewing the product mix and re-establishing Cadillac’s positioning in both the domestic and Chinese spheres, he told those present, “It’s going to be a tough battle and we better be ready to fight it.”

Cadillac CT6 in an unusually antique setting. Is that a nod to Fitz and Van? Image credit: Cadillac.com

Critics have dismissed de Nysschen’s projected post-2025 march on Europe as quixotic at best, particularly given their current homeland commercial position, where its XT5 crossover reportedly outsold Cadillac’s combined saloon range by a margin of 35% last year. The GM flagship marque’s focus will by consequence move away from saloons – or at the very least, saloons as we’ve come to recognise them.

All of which sounds eerily familiar to some of us on this disordered isle, because the challenges facing Cadillac are broadly similar to those we’ve outlined at length surrounding brand-Jaguar. Both are storied names with a rich history in the luxury field. Both were once the ‘Standard of the World’ in their respective spheres.

Both also entered a prolonged period of stasis, neglect and chronic underinvestment which brought them to similar make or break impasses. Furthermore, the pathway for both brands (superficially at least) appears broadly similar.

2018 Cadillac ATS. Image Cadillac.com

This realisation prompted a look at Cadillac’s current saloon offerings, which consists of the entry level ATS, (launched 2012) which sits on GM’s Alpha RHD platform. Essentially a rival to Jaguar’s XE (and selling about as poorly), prices begin at $35,500 in the US. Next up is the XF-rivalling CTS saloon, the current model dating from 2013. Based on a stretched version of the Alpha RHD platform, it’s priced from $46,500.

Above the CTS sits the XTS, also dating from 2013. Sharing the FWD Ypsilon II platform with the Chevrolet Impala / Buick LeCrosse, it’s a (marginally) larger car than the CTS but at $46,400, comes at a (slightly) lower premium. Cadillac’s top-line saloon (and XJ competitor) is the 2016 CT6. Built on the GM Omega platform, this car, which has taken on a life of its own in China, is priced from $54,095.

Outsider impressions are of a saloon car range nearing the end of its natural life, (excluding the CT6 model). Additionally, a perplexing model overlap appears to exist between the RWD CTS and FWD XTS models, equivalent perhaps to Jaguar offering both XE and X-Type models concurrently. A state of affairs one suspects, some might find more palatable than others.

A collection of styling cues in search of an appropriate platform: Discuss. 2018 Cadillac XTS. Image credit: Cadillac.com

Part of de Nysschen’s plan involves not simply the renewal of Cadillac’s saloon range, but a cull. The XTS, one can’t help feeling, remains a legacy from Cadillac’s past, and therefore the first candidate to be taken to shady pines. But if the XTS represents the past, the newly announced XT4 crossover – the first of a slew of new model introductions promised every six months (or so) through to 2021 – signifies the future.

A fairly unremarkable looking CUV on the face of things, although if one considers that it will rival Jaguar’s warmed-over E-Pace, one is minded to think better – both of it and its prospects. Because if XT4 becomes as commercially successful as the larger XT5, Cadillac’s business case would be strengthened enormously. Add in the three additional crossover or SUV models which are promised and it could be transformed.

Like Jaguar, de Nysschen recognises (probably through similarly clenched teeth) the necessity for Cadillac to remain present in a shrinking saloon market, but speculation suggests both ATS and CTS model lines will be consolidated – a similar state of affairs to what must at the very least be considered across the Atlantic at Gaydon.

Yet while we know the Jaguar XJ is likely to be renewed as a halo-model EV, de Nysschen appeared to scotch notions of high-end Cadillac sedans, telling delegates this week, “I do not think that the world needs yet another large, three-box conventional sedan. We are going to produce a halo vehicle for Cadillac. When it comes, it will stun the world.”

2017 Cadillac Escala. Image: Robertas Parazitas

Drilling into de Nysschen’s statement (and ignoring its vaguely Trumpian overtones) one discerns an element of disingenuousness. Especially if recent reports that Cadillac will put a version of the well received Escala concept into production have any factual basis. Because I seem to recall this was a saloon, if not a three volume one.

With Jaguar slowly and painfully rebuilding its battered US hopes with vehicles more aligned to American tastes, so Cadillac must start from the lowest possible base if they are to contemplate another raid on European hearts, minds and bank balances. Both marques face a struggle against decades of entrenched and durable perceptions – mostly of the negative variety. Both must somehow communicate they’ve changed, yet avoid alienating loyalists who suspect they’re no longer what they were.

1984-Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Image credit: Curbside Classic

The route out of the brand-arc cul de sac is perilous, hard-won and not without risk of collateral damage. Neither Jaguar, nor Cadillac have as yet found the exit, but the bruises are there for all to see. Some suggest the key to regaining relevance is by returning to one’s core brand-truth. Certainly, one can identify its loss as a symptom of malaise. This has been the Volvo approach and is reaping rewards for the Swedish marque, but it appears neither Jaguar, nor Cadillac’s current custodians appear to believe in the Swedish Cure.

Arguably the most unashamedly American of marques, Cadillac’s rich history is both asset and hindrance. As Johan de Nysschen and his cohorts prepare to Dare Greatly (whatever that means) with a new generation of cars, SUVs and heaven knows what else to bear the Cadillac crest, the question now is whether the most prestigious name in US motoring must become something else entirely in order to succeed?

More on Cadillac

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

15 thoughts on “Building On Daring”

  1. Is the lack of any comments (so far) on this topic indicative of the sheer indifference with which the DTW readership greet the prospect of Cadilac’s return to Europe?

  2. I didn’t comment earlier because I only just saw the blog post, but I am indifferent to Cadillac’s proposed return to the EU plus, if Brexit goes through, the UK.

    Never mind whether the sedan (saloon in brit-speak) is going away. Cadillacs are too huge, too badly made and will be too poorly supported to be competitive in the EU+. And they don’t really have the old US-oriented barge virtues any more, if the old US-oriented barge virtues are virtues.

    They’re trying to be BMWs. Sports sedans, but to be bought be people who don’t sport and who live in environments where sporting is nearly impossible.

    1. I agree with Fred. If Cadillac is to return to its core value truth in the Swedish style as Eoin suggests then one must ask what those core value truths are in the perception of the market in which it is being offered.

      From a potential purchaser’s perspective in the UK, all US brands merge into one I would suggest; and they are all tarred with the brush that Fred uses, certainly in my mind.

      Eoin – please accept my apologies. I cannot for the life of me find the key on my laptop to correctly spell your name.

    2. I guess there are “barge virtues” – like comfort, space, calmness etc.
      And there was a large enough market of people who wanted those, at least here in Switzerland. This was some twenty or rather thirty years ago, and even at that time those people were predominantly at retirement age. In the meantime, American cars have lost their barge-ness and their drivers have lost their licences – if not their lives. Younger people want it sporty and are looking for Image. Both is seen to happen in Germany today and I don’t see how buyers can be convinced otherwise.

    3. Cadillac is the archetypical US car if ever there was one. As US cars are out of fashion already for quite a while, at least in most of Continental Europe, there is no need for Cadillacs.
      If I wanted to sell Cadillacs to Europeans I wouldn’t start with what they are

  3. When comfort means wobbly road manners, space means six metres’length and abysmal space efficiency and calmness equals to the car being quiet at 60 mph but threatening to fall apart at 70mph those are barge values most Euopean customers can do without.

    1. Falling apart at 70 mph? Seriously, are you for real?

      You quite obviously haven’t been in a Cadillac sedan of the last dozen years. Wobbly, they are not. In fact, the complaint is that they’re not cosseting enough, chasing handling and speed instead. Your stereotype is at least 15 and more like twenty years out of date. The XTS is the exception – it’s a giant Chevy Impala for the limo trade but it’ll trundle along at 90 all day long but is hardly a beached whale.

      I’ve driven the ATS and it’s a very sharp handler. Absolutely no rear seat room and iffy finish here and there, but it’s far nicer than a Mercedes CLA say, and RWD or AWD to boot, your choice. My brother almost bought a CTS after his Passat W8 he liked it so much, but went for an Infiniti G37 instead.

      The comically uninformed blathering on US cars here on a Euro website is exactly mirrored by comically uninformed blathering by Americans on European cars on their websites.

      And never the twain shall meet. Unless it’s in Canada where I live, watching both sides. The image disconnect is the reason Cadillac would never sell in Europe, no matter how good they might be. They’d be studiously ignored by one and all who already “know” what they’re like! Which of course is predetermined to be “bad”, because American. And that would seal their market fate right there. For the same reason, PSA selling French “rubbish” in the US again faces the mirror image problem. Out-of-date memories of potential customers. It really is comical. People like to nurse their preconceptions for decades.

      De Nyscchen was head of Audi USA during its rapid market ascension a decade ago, was headhunted by Infiniti and shoved into their new Shanghai HQ, hated it and left a few months later for Cadillac. There he persuaded the suits at GM to let him set up Cadillac HQ in New York City, far away from smelly factories and reality and other icky things like committee meetings.

      Surrounding himself with young breathless acolytes, he invented with Melody Lee, Marketing Manager or something, the incredible Caddy slogan “Dare Greatly” which no-one understands, then feeling thirsty, he turned the first floor of HQ into a coffee shop.

      Then presided over Cadillac sales declines while continuously promising more for the future. This amazing story is real and he somehow hasn’t been fired yet, despite probably costing GM more than Opel. Well, long wheelbase versions of the cars sell quite well in China. Maybe that has saved him from early “retirement”.

      Thus fortified as to the correctness of his brilliance, thinking he could sell coal to Newcastle, why not stand up and spout gibberish about Cadillac returning to Europe, where he’s from. It’s as good as all his other ideas have been so far, after all.

      What a hoot! This article and comments had everything. Well done Mr Doyle.

    2. I don’t think it’s necessarily because of prejudices that American cars don’t sell in Europe or that Peugeot can’t sell in the U.S: their ranges are usually woefully inadequate for the intended market.

  4. There does seem to be some uncertainty as to the direction Cadillac should take – certainly, it remains a matter of some debate within its home country. It’s one that seems to be framed in purely binary terms: either a return to traditional values or the current tack, where they appear to chasing a similar offer to that of the German marques.

    On current form, it appears that de Nysschen and co have rejected the ways of old and brook no return. (Read Jaguar) By the way, the only current Cadillac vehicle that really deserves the term, ‘barge-like’ is probably the Escalade. Even the XTS, which appears to these untrained eyes as the last gasp of old-school Cadillacs doesn’t appear to be a wallowing behemoth. (Although I’m prepared to be corrected on that score).

    But is there a third way I ask? Can Cadillac modernise, yet regain an element of the swagger and showmanship that characterised their best years? Can the hitherto incompatible imperatives of dynamic competence and sybaritic lushness be somehow married into some globally acceptable blend, without emerging as thin gruel?

    It’s clear there will be (or can be) no return to the land yachts of old – a matter which will upset some, but by the same token simply aping what the Germans are doing – especially now as their entire business model appears to be unravelling – is not a recipe for success either. To paraphrase the old Mamas and Papa’s song, Cadillac needs to make it’s own kind of music. Ditto Jaguar, for that matter, which is perhaps more suggestive of the ‘Swedish Cure’ as mentioned in the piece.

    But finding the recipe that doesn’t stick to the pan is the truly difficult part.

    Adrian: Not to worry. The síneadh fada is employed in the Irish language for emphasis – in the case of Eóin to emphasise the ‘o’. (The E is silent, which confuses the hell out of most non-Irish). It isn’t really catered for on most keyboards, but an acute ó works fine. On a European keyboard, by holding down the alt gr key while typing the appropriate vowel, you’ll get your fada / acute. There endeth the lesson…

    1. Thank you for the lesson, both in keyboard skills and pronunciation. I am a little wiser than before Eóin!

    2. Well said Mr M. The actual cars are pretty fine these days. But the image problem remains.

  5. I wish the XT4 didn’t have that triangular black plastic panel on its rear Windows. It really cheapen the whole thing in my opinion. It’s such an American thing this black plastic triangle, I only noticed its prevalence among U.S cars when I was actually there, I had never noticed before how ubiquitous it was.

  6. Purely by accident, I discovered what I believe to be the inspiration for Cadillac’s ‘Dare Greatly’ tagline. It stems from a speech by former US President, Theodore Rooseveldt, titled ‘citizenship in a Republic’ given at the Paris Sorbonne in 1910. In it, he lambasts the critic; instead hailing “the man in the arena”, the man “who at the worst, if he fails, he fails by daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

    What this inconsequential critic is forced to point out however, is that this only serves to illustrate that chiselling a couple of words from a speech, shorn of context and meaning, does not compelling marketing communications make. To say nothing of sense.

    Nice work Melody…

  7. Cadillac Interiors are nothing special, which is arguably the problem. The Lincoln Navigator, and Continental have exceptionally well finished interiors (and very American interiors), and the new Aviatior concept is fantastic.

  8. On a recent trip to New York / New Jersey I saw a few Alfa Giulias (a pleasant surprise each time) but not a single Caddy ATS.

    Interesting that Cadillac, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo all pinned their comeback plans on new compact sedans on expensive rear drive platforms.

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