Cadillac must remake its image in the eyes of shoppers who aren’t even considering the brand right now despite better-than-ever products, analysts say.
Steve Carlisle, Cadillac’s new global president, said the comeback must start with an honest assessment of the brand’s missteps.
“If you look back over the long history of Cadillac, which I have – 116 years of it – where we’ve done best, where we’ve thrived, is when we’re leading,” Carlisle said. “We stepped away from that for a long time.”
Cadillac began to end a quarter-century drought in appeal around the turn of the 21st Century, Carlisle said. Vehicles like the ATS and CTS won acclaim from critics in the last decade.
But it hasn’t paid off in the US. In China, the brand has flourished, leading Cadillac to its best global sales ever in 2018. But at home sales fell about 15 per cent from 2013 to 2018.
GM CEO Mary Barra ousted Carlisle’s predecessor, Johan de Nysschen, in April after his turnaround plan didn’t generate enough results during his four-year tenure. The de Nysschen plan included moving Cadillac from metro Detroit to New York City, marketing Cadillacs to urban coastal customers, and adopting a letters-and-numbers naming strategy used in German luxury brands.
The problem is Cadillac “doesn’t need to be a German luxury brand. It needs to be an American luxury brand,” said Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst at Portico Analytics. “They have great products in the showroom,” but the marketing was “completely unrelatable” and failed to break through.
After replacing de Nysschen, Carlisle pivoted quickly to move the brand back to metro Detroit to be closer to engineers and decision makers, and to begin overhauling the marketing strategy.
Cadillac must find ways to appeal to “people who have false impressions of who we are” and “people who don’t know us at all,” including Millennials, Carlisle said. The brand has the features of industry-leading luxury vehicles, but many people don’t know it, he said. Cadillac will focus on new technology and new models that fill gaps in the line-up, he said.
It will deliver a remade or new vehicle every six months through 2021. That includes the XT6, which is smaller than the hulking Escalade SUV but larger than the XT5. It will also include a redesigned Escalade at some point soon, GM President Mark Reuss hinted last week.
One looming question is this: will Cadillac tap its packed cupboard of discontinued models to revive interest in the brand and capitalise on a wave of nostalgia?
Luxury rival Lincoln, which is owned by Ford, has already revived the Lincoln Aviator SUV, for example. And Lincoln has gained ground on Cadillac in the sales race.
Past vehicles waiting to be dusted off could include the Cadillac Eldorado or the Cadillac Fleetwood.
Carlisle said he’s “very open-minded” about resurrecting the brand’s historical names.
“But I think we’ve got to be really good custodians of where we apply those names,” he said. “You don’t want to just throw them out there.”
But he hinted that past could be prologue.
“Special cars or engines should have special names,” he said.
The question, however, is whether Cadillac itself remains special to car buyers.