Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Why Cadillac's $12 Billion Gamble To Get Back Its Mojo Won't Pay Off

It is difficult to say when Cadillac lost its mojo and began to relinquish its crown as America's leading luxury car to Mercedes and eventually Lexus and other German brands, but I'll pick 1992 when an ungainly and arguably ugly boat called the Cadillac Deville waddled onto the scene. 
Since then, it has been pretty much downhill for Cadillac as it lost its stylishness, prestige and for a while its quality.  Despite a promising recent resurgence that grew out of General Motors' bankruptcy, the marque has continued to flirt with extinction.  But now, in a ballsy $12 billion initiative that includes moving its headquarters from fusty Detroit to Manhattan's chic SoHo neighborhood, Cadillac is rolling out a new line of cars it claims will live up to its new Daring Greatly slogan and ad campaign.
While the first new model out of the gate, the full-sized CT6 sedan (which borrows from the naming nomenclature that Mercedes, BMW and Audi have long used) is a dazzler, it is too little too late.
"The world doesn't need another big German luxury car," says Cadillac marketing boss Ewe Ellinghaus, a former BMW executive.  He is more correct than he would ever admit.  The CT6 and the other new cars in the pipeline will "capture an American spirit in design and performance," as he puts it, without trying to emulate the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Audi 8 Series or Lexus LS460, but it just doesn't seem distinctive enough at a time when there is a growing homogeneousness among car brands.
Cadillac is battling years of self-inflicted cultural inertia while trying to get a foothold in the intensely competitive luxury car segment, as well as hoping that when members of Generations X and Y, including those all-important Millennials, refer to "their grandfather's car" they're talking about imported luxury brands that Baby Boomers have bought in droves and will embrace Cadillac as "the new cool," as Ellinghaus puts it.
But while the CT6 is an eyeful, it just doesn't strike me as a Mercedes beater.  And the Daring Greatly slogan is itself suspect because Cadillac's success will be built on engineering and performance, neither of which are exactly daring.  Besides which, people don't typically own or drive cars in SoHo.

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