March 24, 2010
Cadillac will need more than “art and science” to get where it needs to go.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 3/23, 5:30PM) Detroit. Susan Docherty, freed-up from her sales responsibilities and all geared-up to run marketing for GM, is returning Cadillac to the essence of its “art and science” campaign of a decade ago - emphasizing its design and technology story in the hopes of differentiating Cadillac from its primary competitors - while basically relaunching the brand with an all-new advertising campaign from New York-based ad agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty. In other words, she’s trying to go back to what worked for Cadillac once before.
Oh, if it were that easy.
(I will look forward to seeing the new expression of the “art and science” campaign, but in the meantime a little perspective is in order here.)
In the dark old days of the division – the late 90s – Cadillac was dealing with a three-headed monster: 1. The division was on the ropes and being pummeled by tough-as-nails competitors like Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. 2. At the same time its typical buyers were literally dying off, hanging on to a rapidly fading era ensconced in their “country club” Cadillacs to the bitter end. And 3., To make matters worse, the Cadillac product lineup was hopelessly outdated and out of touch, lost in a netherworld of abject mediocrity and stunning non-competitiveness.
I like to call it the Trifecta of Not Good.
In many ways Cadillac back then epitomized where GM was as a whole, but fortunately some True Believers inside the company – led by John Smith and others – knew that massive changes would have to be made in order to turn Cadillac – and the company itself – around.
A comprehensive new program was launched involving a total redirect of the Cadillac brand image, including a fundamental shift in philosophy, which placed the product as King through a renewed emphasis on engineering and design integrity. And GM committed a massive $4 billion to what was essentially the complete reinvention of the brand.
The public debut of the “new” Cadillac was revealed in a concept car unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in 1999 called the Evoq. This car established the design language - dubbed “art and science” - for Cadillac that is alive and well today and that has become the brand’s signature. And from there we know the rest of the story.
The first CTS signaled a bold new direction for the brand, only to be exceeded by the next-generation CTS – the one we see today – which has become an established and worthy competitor in its segment and arguably, the design leader. And by an odd turn of events, the hulking Escalade SUV became a huge hit and solid money maker for the division, even though the brand’s “art and science” theme was basically abandoned in favor of a “blingified” motorized chrome storm, one that had its shining moment of popularity right before the economy collapsed.
And even though Cadillac was stuck with the bland DTS sedan and the under-achieving SRX in its portfolio, GM basically accomplished what they had set out to do, and that was to change the visual and sensual dynamic of Cadillac in the market. Cadillac now had an unmistakable “face” on the streets and byways of America, one that was at once memorable and instantly recognizable. And because of its bold, contemporary look and on-the-road presence, Cadillac had moved the needle in consumers’ minds to the point that it was no longer the staid, predictable, old-school luxury afterthought that it once was. And it could no longer be dismissed out of hand or ignored altogether, like in the bad old days.
The resuscitation of Cadillac taught GM an important lesson too – one that they were ultimately unable to act upon on the scale needed to save the company from pirouetting into bankruptcy unfortunately – but a valid one nonetheless. And that is by focusing their energy, resources and talent on the product, GM discovered that they actually could rebuild and redirect an existing division’s image - something that a lot of analysts insisted couldn’t be done.
Today, Cadillac has the CTS sedan, wagon and the sensational coupe (due here this summer), as well as the spectacular “V” versions of the sedan and coupe, the competently executed and completely redesigned SRX, and of course, the Escalade.
On a strongly positive note the product renaissance at Cadillac continues with an entire lineup of BMW 3 Series-sized competitors on the way in sedan, wagon and coupe form. I’ve seen these cars and they will be very tough competitors indeed. And the lackluster STS and ancient DTS will be combined into the beautiful XTS by 2012, a sedan that - if it lives up to its promise (a big “if” at this point) - will become a worthy flagship for Cadillac in the market.
But is that going to be enough? And where does Cadillac go from here?
As much as GM has poured into Cadillac at this juncture – and estimates range as high as a total of $8 billion over the last decade including the original $4 billion – even more has to be invested in Cadillac to get it into the league of Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and now Audi.
And how will this be accomplished?
First of all, the buyers who keep going to Cadillac showrooms to find their DTS-like products - aka the traditional, old-school Cadillac buyers – will never buy into the Cadillac that is about the CTS, the V series or the new 3 Series fighter, and Cadillac has to stop trying to appease those buyers and let them go, because those people are never going to find solace in the “new” Cadillac. Let’s face facts here - it’s a demographic that’s not on the upswing. Cadillac can’t keep playing to two constituencies; they’re either committed to the “new” Cadillac or they’re not. And given Cadillac’s future product portfolio, the traditional, “nostalgia” Cadillac buyer can no longer be a factor in Cadillac’s product planning. The future for Cadillac lies with people who have never set foot in a Cadillac showroom before.
Secondly, Cadillac has to commit to a major design and attitude rethink for their dealers. Yes, there are outstanding Cadillac dealers out there, but the look, feel, and tonality of the majority of Cadillac dealers need a major overhaul in line with where the brand is going. And there are still Cadillac dealers out there who don’t get that, unfortunately, and that simply must change.
That means GM has to stop screwing around with Cadillac and give them the funds to go their own way. These are no longer “GM” dealers, they’re Cadillac dealers. And that means a distinctive design and image execution must be in place for every Cadillac dealer in existence. (The corresponding “right” attitude on the part of the personnel working at these dealers goes without saying.)
Which leads me to my final point.
Cadillac is either going to be America’s show piece, luxury division, or it isn’t. Steps are being taken internally right now by Cadillac to “distance” itself from the GM umbrella, and at this point that is a very good thing because it matters not one iota whether or not consumers out there in the real world associate Cadillac with GM. As a matter of fact, it’s a distinct advantage to Cadillac if they don’t.
GM can be the behind-the-curtain presence (way behind, I might add), but if Cadillac aims to be America’s premier luxury car brand capable of duking it out with those aforementioned best-in-class competitors of note, then they will have to have the resources, the will and the product to get it done.
I’m fairly certain that they’ll have the product - it’s the resources and will part that I’m most concerned about.
That’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
The 1999 Cadillac Evoq Concept.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
Subscribe via iTunes:
Subscribe via RSS: