GM’s plans for Cadillac sound ambitious, but the gulf in product and perception facing the US luxury car brand seem to reflect that of another, more familiar name.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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?