No. 926
December 6, 2017
 

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Autoextremist.com, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  witchhuntbook.com). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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Monday
Dec022013

Where does Cadillac go from here?

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. After having driven the superb new Cadillac CTS the question begs to be asked, where does Cadillac go from here? The True Believers at GM – and when I say the True Believers let’s be very clear I’m not referring to “Captain Queeg” or “Amway Bob,” the arrivistes who are quick to take credit for Cadillac’s current resurgence – have been at this reinventing Cadillac thing since as far back as 1998, when the division was staring at The Abyss.

Back then Cadillac was in its death throes, a hulking shell of a car company masquerading as GM’s luxury brand. Cadillac had been lost in the land of vinyl roofs and whitewalls for so long that they became resolutely out of touch with the world. And after having been asleep at the wheel with the cruise control set to “Oblivion,” they awoke only to find that the world had changed around them and that their heretofore loyal customers were either dying off or flocking to buy cars from Audi, BMW, Lexus or Mercedes-Benz.

Cadillac’s future was indeed bleak, and the only thing certain key people at GM knew at the time was that they couldn’t do what they had been doing one minute longer. Out of those dark days came the beginning of the “new” Cadillac, and the reinvention of GM’s luxury division began.

And now, sixteen years later, Cadillac is not only fully resuscitated; it’s showing flashes of brilliance. As I said in my review of the new CTS (See “On The Table” – WG), it’s not only the best American sedan ever built but it takes its place as one of the best cars in the world. Period.

Considering that the first-generation CTS was a barely worthwhile attempt at a luxury-performance sedan, and the second-generation car was “nice” but not ready for the big leagues, the fact that the new CTS is truly world-class good in the true sense of the phrase is a revelation. But the fact that the CTS is extraordinary also presents some challenges for Cadillac.

Now that Cadillac has plowed through the whole “we will out-do the Germans at the Nurburgring Nordschleife” brand exercise, what have they learned? I would hope that they’ve learned that a hot lap time on that famous German track doesn’t count for all that much. Yes, it’s great for the high-performance Corvette and Camaro product development troops, but if the success of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz in this market hinged on lap times at the Nurburgring, Cadillac headquarters would have been moved there by now. Besides, GM has the magnificent Milford Road Course and they’ve discovered that they can develop tremendous driving cars out there just as easily.

So, if it’s not lap times at the Nurburgring that will define the essence of the new Cadillac, what will it be? The CTS was clearly aimed at the BMW 5 Series, but I have never driven a 5 Series that feels as good as the new CTS does. Then again the current 5 is so far removed from what the essence of BMW used to be all about that it's scary. But don't misunderstand, the new CTS isn't about BMW losing its way, it's about the True Believers at GM in Design, Engineering and Product Development demonstrating that they can go to toe-to-toe with anyone in the world when they put their minds to it and are given the resources to do so.

Still, that doesn’t answer the ultimate question: What is Cadillac going to be when it grows up?

That the True Believers at GM have now demonstrated what they can do when they put their minds to it is evidenced by the overall goodness of the CTS, but will chasing BMW sustain GM’s luxury division for the long run? Is that Cadillac’s brand positioning going forward, to out-BMW BMW?

I would hope not because that is nothing more than a fool’s errand. Cadillac, in its newly rejuvenated and reinvigorated guise at least, should have bigger aspirations. After all, if Audi is all about luxury-performance technology, BMW is about “The Ultimate Driving Machine” (even though they only occasionally build those kinds of cars anymore), Lexus is about the customer-focused luxury “experience” and Mercedes is, well, it depends on the day what Mercedes actually is, because “The Best or Nothing” only rings true intermittently, where does that leave Cadillac?

The “American BMW.” No.

The “Thinking person’s alternative to the traditional German luxury automakers.”  Oh, hell no.

“The Standard of the World.” Hmmm. No, not yet.

But that last one has some legs. After all, it was one of the most powerful automotive advertising themes in the world back when Cadillac was The Shit. But that was a long, long time ago and after 30 years of first the Germans then Toyota beating Cadillac’s brains out in this market, convincing people that Cadillac is indeed “The Standard of the World” will take some doing.

As a matter of fact, Cadillac may never get there.

But it’s a statement that Cadillac owns, which is saying something in this nanosecond-attention-span world we live in today and it’s one that the True Believers inside GM can not only aspire to for their luxury brand, it’s one they can certainly live up to when they put their minds to it, if the new CTS is any indication. This machine will do a lot to change enthusiast consumers’ minds in this market and the word of mouth on the CTS should be very strong indeed going forward. It’s that good.

And the new ELR extended-range electric will do a lot to become Cadillac’s new “signature” car in the touchy-feely enclaves around the country, the new 2015 Escalade will be a home run for that narrowly focused market, the SRX at least holds its own in that hotly contested segment and the XTS is an excellent placeholder until the “big” Cadillac gets here in 2016 or thereabouts.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it at least another thousand times, but Cadillac has to get comfortable with being Cadillac. It was fine to have BMW in its sights and the Bavarian company was a great target to aim at, but now Cadillac can and must commence to do its own thing.

The stunning Elmiraj Concept, which made its debut at Pebble Beach this past August, is exactly what I’m talking about. The Elmiraj is dramatic, beautifully rendered, and it presents a confident and distinctly American point of view as to what a luxury motorcar should look and feel like.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If the True Believers working on Cadillac take the time to step back and understand what they have in the Elmiraj for a moment, they’ll know exactly where to go from here.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

​(Images courtesy of GM/Cadillac)

​​The 2014 Cadillac CTS.


The 2014 Cadillac ELR.

The 2013 Cadillac Elmiraj Concept.

 

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