No. 927
December 13, 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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Tuesday
Jul112017

敢大胆

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. In a development that was not unexpected, Cadillac, the automobile company formerly known as the Cadillac Division of General Motors, passed away peacefully last month at the age of 115. With the current Cadillac management overlords at its bedside, Cadillac slipped away quietly, destined for an afterlife as a Chinese car company.

Cadillac, the once-proud American luxury automotive standard-bearer named after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of the city of Detroit, which was resurrected from the remnants of the Henry Ford Company in 1902 and then purchased by the newly formed General Motors in 1909, led a full and at times vivaciously exuberant and dramatic life, blazing the trail for design and technological advancements that still resonate to this day.

Over the decades Cadillac not only thrived in its role as a technical leader for the automotive industry, earning and adhering to its most famous advertising slogan – “The Standard of the World” - it became an inexorable part of the American lexicon as the symbol for the very best of the best, no matter what the product. It was not uncommon for manufacturers of products of all stripes to tout the fact that they in fact made, “The Cadillac of…”.

With an impact that transcended the automobile industry, Cadillac enjoyed a long reign as an American cultural icon. Even today, in fact just this week, Senator Ted Cruz, while commenting about America’s health care debacle, I mean debate, underscored Cadillac’s indelible place in the American landscape by saying, “If you want to buy a plan with all the bells and whistles, with all of the mandates under Title 1 (Obamacare), you can buy that plan, those plans will be on the market. Those plans will have significant federal taxpayer money behind them. But on the other hand if you can't afford a full Cadillac plan, you should be able to buy another plan that meets your needs. And so the consumer freedom option gives you, the consumer, choice whether to go with the full Cadillac or a skinnier plan that's a lot more affordable…”

The full Cadillac. Think about that for a moment. I daresay that no other automotive nameplate in the world has held such a hallowed place in the American cultural landscape as has Cadillac. Even though the world has changed and competitors from Lincoln and Mercedes to Audi and Lexus have all had their place in the sun and enjoyed varying degrees of success over the years, no automotive nameplate has resonated longer and more brightly than Cadillac.

Yes, there have been down moments for the brand, too many in fact, but it is simply remarkable that the name Cadillac still resonates so strongly to this day.

To be frank, the later years for Cadillac had been difficult. Rejuvenated by a renaissance in its design presence, and bolstered by a newly invigorated engineering point of view, the brand was placed in the hands of a new overlord, one Johan de Nysschen, a talented man of vision with a successful track record of leading Audi to prominence in the U.S. market.

But nonetheless de Nysschen’s plan to remake the Cadillac brand in Audi’s likeness didn’t exactly find favor in this market. Yes, there were exceptions, with the runaway success of the full-size Escalade SUV and crossover-crazed consumers scarfing up the XT5, but the rest of the plan floundered, mired in its Audi-ness. The ATS and CTS were barely treading water, and the technically interesting CT6 was languishing, as if stuck in neutral, while the high-performance offerings, the ATS-V and the CTS-V – though scintillating – were outliers totally unrelated to the brand.

Though de Nysschen’s plan was coldly rational, based on the perceived New World Order overwhelming the automobile business, the glorious historical legacy of the Cadillac brand was ignored, only surfacing in three riveting GM Design concepts – the Ciel, Elmiraj and the most recent Escala. These beautifully rendered design statements bristled with promise, portraying the Cadillac ideal with renewed exuberance and presenting themselves as “influencers” of future Cadillac designs, while boasting emotionally compelling names that were well, somehow perfectly befitting of Cadillac.

Yet that’s as far as it went. Those design concepts, which resonated with automobile enthusiasts far and wide, were left rotting in the sun where all GM Design concepts are left to die, while Cadillac’s in-market models – except for the Escalade – were saddled with Audi-esque alphanumeric nameplates that resonated with no one.

The new reality? Last month it became official: Cadillac now sells more cars in the Chinese market than here in the U.S., and that is a reality that isn’t going to change, in fact it will only pick up speed in the coming years. A sign of the times? Sure, all rational thought simply points to the fact that the Chinese market is destined to be the dominant transportation market for decades to come.

But I see it as the death of one of the most storied automotive legacies in automotive history. And even though the Cadillac office in New York is filled with wonderful emblems and tchotchkes from Cadillac’s past to great effect, none of it really matters anymore.

Will Cadillac still be here? Certainly. But make no mistake, the Chinese market will dictate the future direction and composition of the brand.

I often fantasize that there should be two Cadillacs, the one marked by the coldly generic and unengaging names of the current lineup that would be let loose in China for pure profitability. And the other composed of dramatically breathtaking design statements aimed at this market, “real” Cadillacs blessed with real names that reaffirm the brand’s glorious historical legacy to its core.

Ah well, that is not to be. It’s a Technicolor pipedream of an era long since past. Cadillac has been sentenced to an inauspicious afterlife in China, and there’s no turning back now.

By the way, “Dare Greatly” is depicted in this column’s headline, in case you wondered. And like everything else associated with Cadillac of late, it resonates with exactly no one.

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

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