A photo for Friday: Cadillac BLS

This is a Swedish and, temporarily, Russian-made Cadillac based on a GM platform that saw service with Chevrolet, Saturn, Fiat and Opel-nameplates.

2005-2009 Cadillac BLS. Out there is a Russian-made American-branded car built off a Swedish and German base. This is not one of them. It’s in Denmark.

I have to say it’s easy to imagine the name BLS stood for something other than Business Life Sedan. Or did it stand for anything? If we feel like investigating further, the BLS is one symptom of all that was, and probably still is wrong with GM. But that line of inquiry is well-trodden: the criminal neglect of Saab, the maltreatment of Cadillac, the downgrading of Buick and the strange, unlucky short-term relationship with Fiat that funded Sergio Marchionne’s plans to keep the FCA zombie stumbling along.

The short description of the BLS is that it was a compact saloon and estate with a 2.0 or 2.8 litre petrol engine and a 1.9 litre diesel, a car styled in the manner of Cadillac’s Art & Science phase. Although sold in Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and South Africa, it never saw combat in N. America. I say ‘sold’ but in fact it was barely sold at all: about 3000 units found customers in 2007-2009, so maybe in all, 10,000 units litter the carparks and wreckers yards of its designated market areas. Has anyone imported one to its native land?

I am going to confine myself to the car seen in isolation: was it actually not all that bad? The RAC give it 67/100 in their pseudo-scientific rating system. I think it deserves only 66 points. Or maybe 68. The RAC’s diagnosis is not very positive: “Perhaps it seemed a good idea at the time. Clothe a Saab 9-3 in angular Cadillac styling and you have a car that has cost very little to develop but which offers the Cadillac brand a toehold in the European market appealing to a different buyer profile than its Saab sibling. What could go wrong? Quite a lot, as it happened. A patchy dealer network and little in the way of marketing support meant that the BLS, an otherwise decent car, withered on the vine. In March 2009, shortly before the BLS was discontinued, Cadillac managed 11 UK sales. Bentley managed 125 and Porsche moved 930 vehicles“.

Eleven buyers is a remarkable achievement. There was probably a very highly-paid Gerald or Helen in the UK assigned as brand-manager so it is certain this car lost plenty of lovely money on every example. In brief, the RAC suggest that it’s not too bad, a Saab for people for whom Saab is too common. Something else went wrong with the car, something beyond the metal: marketing.

2007 Cadillac BLS. Source

Parker’s give the car three stars out of a possible five. And they say “But there’s little else to recommend the BLS. It’s dull to drive, looks and feels dated inside with some flimsy switchgear while Cadillac’s dealer network is very limited in size. So while the price tag puts it alongside the likes of the BMW 3-Series, the quality and driving experience falls way short“.

In typical Car magazine style, the Cadillac is summed up as: “It rides and handles just like a European car, albeit a very average one, and it’s got a decent interior that’s far more suited to European tastes. The seats aren’t covered in red velour at all“. Well done Car for avoiding very old clichés. Well done, well done. Are they still on autopilot over there in Peterborough?  Things like this remind me why it’s been such a long time since I bought Car.

AutoExpress are the most charitable in verbal terms but give the car 2 of 5 stars: “The BLS is a capable cruiser, and refined on the move.” They also say this: “The Cadillac is all about comfort and ease of use. The suspension is notably soft, and lean around corners is rather pronounced. As a result, it’s not so involving, but there’s plenty of grip. Our biggest gripe concerns the steering, which is too light, suffers from kickback and lacks the precision we have come to expect from an executive model“.  That might not be bad if you want to waft a bit.

Essentially, one has to like the Saabillac styling and appreciate the rarity to imagine enjoying a BLS as a car rather than as another example of ham-fisted Cadillac relaunches/general corporate idiocy. It is however, not a terrible dud, just a product that was abandoned very soon after launch. I suppose I should cherish the one that lives in my neighbourhood.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

30 thoughts on “A photo for Friday: Cadillac BLS”

  1. This is one of the cars I’d love to read a full feature here at DTW. I hope it comes someday, although in all fairness there’s not much more to say about this Caddy. I was waiting for the pun that BLS stands for “Bob Lutz Special”, honoring the king of badge engineering at GM when the car was conceived. The fact that its development was forcibly funded by Saab is gruesome and helped leading the Swedes into the dark.

    Sometimes I really think about getting a BLS, although I wonder how hard would be to source body panels or lamps in case of dings or a crash. A Saab 9-3 with a softer suspension, a different brand image and the rarity, what’s not to like?

    (Your article deserves 91/100, Richard, as more pictures of this specimen would be great. It has nice wheels but the Anonymous Silver factory paint offsets this feature and makes this BLS lacklustre)

  2. In Continental Europe American cars were bought by people who wanted exactly those slightly crappy brash barges and didn’t care for the whiff of red light district, pimps and golden bracelets coming with the cars for free.
    Now they make a car that is the exact opposite – who did they think would buy them?
    People who wanted a Cadillac wouldn’t buy it because it was not American enough and people wanting a Euro car would not buy it because it was too American.

    1. Not to mention: even if you’d decided you’d want a rebodied 5-year old Saab with a shady, heavily depreciating badge, where the heck would you go to buy one? Anywhere in Europe there’s always a BMW dealership nearby to sell you a shiny new E90 3-series but good luck finding a seller of Cadillac/Saab/whatever else Kroymans distributed them to.

  3. One of those inscrutable GM cars from their Maximum Management Madness phase. No wonder they went bankrupt.
    I can’t imagine anyone but expatriate Americans being tempted by a dumbed-down Saab with clunky styling. And most expatriate 21st century Americans would be more likely to have been tempted by seemingly bargain-priced German marques – unless they were employed by GM, and had to drive a GM product as part of their employment contract.
    No, the days of Cadillac being a world-renowned prestige marque had ended about forty years earlier, though it seems nobody had told GM…

  4. Such a dull car! I remember seeing a few of them at the time here in Spain. Or maybe it was the same dull silver one, being driven around non-stop, like a sort of modern day medieval torture.

  5. I guess that they managed even more sales in Switzerland than in the UK. The BLS was a car that could actually be seen on the streets. This observation might be a bit biased, though, as there was a BLS estate in service as a taxi in my town, and I usually pass by the taxi stand at the station on my way to work…
    I never was a passenger in that taxi, so I can’t say much about the interior ambiance or comfort.

    By the way, for a Swiss railway fan, the name always sounds a bit strange, as BLS stands for “Bern Lötschberg Simplon”, an railway in west / central Switzerland.

  6. So a guy in Britain got a BLS wagon for 600 British quid at an auction and managed to squeeze 26 minutes of Saabillac content to a video posted this week:

    Good choice for bangernomics, eh?

  7. I always thought BLS stood for “BulLShit” ?

    They were constrained to the 9-3 body hardpoints, and it’s made on the same line, so its nothing but a re-skin of the Saab. It was a car that fooled no one in Sweden, but they can be seen occasionally as some sort of oddity.

    1. Hi Ingvar. The giveaway that the BLS is nothing more than a re-skin of the 9-3 is the awkward junction at the base of the C-pillar, where the angular corner of the DLO conflicts with the rounded Saab door window frame:

      Of course, you could avoid that issue by buying the BLS estate, if you can find one:

      Is it wrong that I don’t find it totally lacking in appeal?

    2. I find it handsome as well, in that tragic “you look nice, but I still wouldn’t” kind of way.

      If I hadn’t been following recent world events I would be amazed at the reluctance of people to learn the simplest of lessons, in this case: half-assing a product never works. Unless you’re VW.

    3. I still think Exhibit A for ‘half-assery’ in vehicle design is the awful BMW Z3. The design guidance seemed to be ‘Can we get away with this?’, such a disappointment after the Z1

    4. Hi Ingvar, I guess to a Swede the very existence of this car was an insult. A Saab is not good enough? America would be the natural place to sell this but…?
      Daniel, that wagon has too much roof showing above the windows for my liking. It looks like a second-rate aftermarket conversion. I think I understand the design langaiuge they;re going for (though I don’t find it appealing), but this just looks awkward.

    5. David: at least everybody got a good laugh out of the Bond film it was “introduced” in… I don’t dislike the design, but it has little or nothing to do with BMW – a portent of things to come, then.

      The BLS estate shares that “interesting” roof with the 9-3:

    6. @Peter: On the contrary! There were some sort of inversed snobbery in Sweden where Saab owners took some sort of ironic pride in the Cadillac badge, along the lines of “Look! My Saab is so good that they made it a Cadillac!” The car becoming an ironic kitsch attribute amongst Saab aficionados.

    7. I agree that the roof above the windows is not to everyone’s taste. However, I think it’s one of the more elegant ways to marry a dropping window line (which was given by the saloon’s doors) with an estate back. It’s much more satisfying than some of the butchery that Citroën committed in the eighties (BX, XM), or the famous Volvo 240 doors.

    1. Mobile.de has eight of them, some are at prices that would buy a car.

  8. Speaking of SAAB, I think they are for sale, including their EV project, project ‘Emily’. I wish someone would buy them – there must be a Chinese company out there. It would make a great way to enter Europe.

    1. Hello Daniel – yes, by Evergrande – I should have said ‘another Chinese company’, preferably a car maker.

    2. Ah yes, Evergrande. NEVS is the least of that company’s problems. 😲

    3. Yes – I’ve been watching the Electric Viking YouTube channel, recently and it’s been covered on there. He does some interesting analysis, although I think it’s sometimes a bit overwrought and somewhat shortsighted. I don’t mean to sound disparaging, but he sometimes seems to forget that things will change over the longer term in ways which no one can predict and that organizations and governments have secret plans which few people currently know about.

      For example, I know that Japan relies quite heavily on the automotive sector for its wealth and that they’ve been slow to produce EVs. However, I don’t think that it’s all going to end in catastrophe in a decade or so, as he suggests.

  9. NEVS are Chinese, but they’re still ‘SVEN’ backwards…

    The mortal elements of the BLS made an appearance in 2015 in a couple of development hacks for the Turkish national electric car project, spotted at the R&D centre of TÜBİTAK, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey.

    The consortium now known as Togg (Türkiye’nin Otomobili Girişim Grubu) purchased the Saab 9-3 platform rights from NEVS for 40 million Euros. Some engineering input from NEVS was included in the deal. Its a fair guess that there will be some Saabillac DNA under the Togg T10X electric suv currently edging towards production.

    1. Not to forget also BAIC’s now-defunct Senova brand, some of whose products used the older Saab IP and tooling which GM were willing to sell off.

      Some might suggest that the – not inconsiderable* – money spent creating the Saabillac would have been better spent on facelifting the Saab range, but by that time it was probably beyond salvation.

      The unfortunate Spyker takeover seems like a bizarre interlude. The NEVS-era finality was assured by GM and the “security” company Saab AB. The first wouldn’t allow any prospective owner to use their IP, the second wouldn’t allow use of the brand name, which they own, and licensed to GM.

      In an odd circularity, Geely subsidiary Polestar have just announced that they will set up a R&D facility within part of Saab’s Trollhättan site. Strange times.

      *beyond MG Rover’s wildest dreams.

  10. Given that the BLS slotted below CTS (the successor of Catera, hence probably the C), the B is likely just to mark it as the smaller, less expensive option. This later continued with the ATS. Cadillac’s letter nomenclature began back in the day when Seville was offered in either SLS or STS trims, where LS stood for “luxury sedan” and TS for “touring sedan”, the sporty one. The BLS wasn’t very sporty, so perhaps that’s why Cadillac chose to call it BLS then. But it’s still an odd decision, since even the land yacht Deville was renamed DTS, not DLS.

    I have to say that making the BTS a good design was an uphill battle, considering how even the original Saab design wasn’t very inspired. On the other hand, making the 2nd generation 9-3 a more generic 4 door shape was probably intentional to facilitate projects like this. Turning a liftback into a Cadillac would likely been a risk too big to take.

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