Perhaps Cadillac Should Have Built Those Stunning Concepts After All

Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen has just been ousted after less than four years at the helm of GM’s luxury brand, and many suggest that he failed to see the SUV trend and relied too much on sedans, therefore hurting sales.

The former Infiniti and Audi exec certainly didn’t manage to make Cadillac a true contender in the premium class and failed to deliver on the sales front (China excluded), but maybe things aren’t quite as they seem.

Yes, the brand woke up too late to capitalize on the SUV craze and is seriously lacking in offerings compared to the Germans or Japanese. Which, given the popularity of the Escalade, seems a bit odd, but that’s just the way things are.

What de Nysschen, as well as the rest of General Motors top-level execs, failed to understand is that Cadillac shouldn’t have gone down the Germans-hunting role. For it to succeed, it would have required much more than just moving its HQ to New York City, for example; it would need a big investment on GM’s part and a long-term commitment, just as the Volkswagen Group did with Audi.

As it turned out, the General didn’t have much patience. Nor was it, or de Nysschen, paying that much attention to public reception of its cars – or its concepts, for that matter. This was a near-sighted strategy that clearly didn’t work out, and one of the reasons de Nysschen failed at his task.

Said They’d Build Them, But They Didn’t

It’s incredible how oblivious the company was to potential customers’ reaction on its sensational concepts, of which there has been no shortage off way before de Nysschen became Cadillac’s CEO.

In 2011, the automaker’s then head of design, Clay Dean, claimed that “We wouldn’t be showing the Ciel concept if we didn’t have any intentions of doing anything with it”. Well, the modern-day Eldorado-inspired convertible was spot on not just in the design department, but in the tech one, too, as it featured a hybrid powertrain, both of which would suit it perfectly even if it rolled off the production line today.

Nevertheless, apart from a part in 2015’s film Entourage, the Ciel never actually hit the road. Nor did the Elmiraj luxury coupe, which the company said was “very doable”, or the Escala saloon, though Cadillac made some bold claims about all of them when they were revealed. And that’s a shame, because they were striking in their design and could have worked perfectly as the brand’s halo cars whose charm, and some design elements, should peel off on the rest of the range.

The ELR Was Overpriced And Underengineered But A Class-Act Design Nonetheless

Would have this resulted in improved sales? In the short term, it’s hard to say, but it would have changed people’s perception of the whole brand. That’s if they were done properly, and by that we mean not like the ELR, which talked the talk with its design but failed to walk the walk. That was due to its engineering and pricing that were underwhelming for what essentially was a (much) more stylish Chevrolet Volt and resulted in it being a sales disaster.

Even so, it was a step in the right direction. Going after the Germans directly was a practice that was doomed to fail anyway, no matter how plush the new headquarters might have been. Cadillac should go on with its own business and differentiate itself from its competitors, not try and beat them on their own game.

Why, they already should have known as much by the Escalade’s success. It’s not the best in driving dynamics, quality or any other objectively-measured quantity, but it’s been a huge hit because it resonated with a lot of people and essentially became a thriving label of its own. Despite its shortcomings, the Escalade is not playing catch up but is the one rivals are trying to steal sales from.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Don’t Join Them; Do Your Own Thing

As we’ve stressed time and time again, buying a car seldom is based on rational criteria alone. That goes double for purchasing a premium model, where qualities such as brand perception, design, attention to detail and standing out from the crowd play a much more important part in the buyers’ decision than, say, pricing or running costs.

In the end, it all boils down to this: GM should have kept de Nysschen and persisted with its upscale move or not have hired him at all. We presume that they knew you can’t pull off an Audi just by hiring an ex-Audi guy and not investing big time and keep investing without letting sales numbers get in the way until you’ve become a credible player.

That’s what a real strategy is all about. That’s how Audi became a true player in the premium segment, and yet after all these years it still lags behind BMW and Merc when it comes to sales. It is now a premium brand, though, and its profits are much higher than what they used to be. There’s no such thing as a free lunch or a quick road to success, and GM ought to know that.

Make Sure You Have A Long Term Strategy – And Stick To It

Here’s hoping that newly appointed chief exec Steve Carlisle does better than his predecessor in laying out a solid plan and has GM CEO Mary Bara’s backing in the long run. Otherwise, it will be another opportunity missed, and we’re not exactly sure how many lives Cadillac still has left after all those years of failing to crawl back in the premium segment. For crawl it must, as leapfrogging the likes of Audi or Lexus in a single stroke is out of the question and the class is more hotly contested than ever, what with newcomers like Genesis joining Infiniti, Acura and the rest in vying for customers’ attention away from the German establishment.

Make no mistake: Carlisle is in for a Herculean task. Whether he chooses to launch a volley of SUVs, build the Escala or do something else completely, is entirely up to him. It just feels a shame to waste all this brilliant design talent displayed so far.

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  • Bo Hanan

    I think they should bring the crest back to the logo and fire Yohan, uh… OH!

    • Autoexperte

      Why Elmiraj?

  • OdysseyTag

    Have always had a soft spot for Cadillac’s design language.

  • Maricaibo

    The Elmirage was “…very doable…” and you let it die?!?

    Shame on you. Your designers created a fantastic automobile (not just a ‘car’) and you let the idea sit there. Wow. Just wow.

  • Nordschleife

    I agree with this article. While I felt JDN efforts weren’t really improving the brand, the blame isn’t solely on him. If Cadillac made the Escala in the same vein as Lincoln did the Aviator, it would have a hit on their hands.

    To the point of the article though, instead of following the Germans do your own thing. Sometimes being different works in your favor. Can we say Nintendo Wii

    • bd0007

      The Escala is going into production and there likely will be a CUV variant on the same platform,

      • Nordschleife

        I am aware they are making a sedan, however I tried to convey that I wanted them to skip the sedan and make a six-seater Escala styled vehicle in the same vein as Lincoln did with the Aviator. Hopefully the upcoming vehicle that was spied on the streets a few days ago looks less like a minivan (though it had a lot of camo) and more like a Escala styled crossover. Unfortunately timing is of the essence and the XT4 has not been universally well received so Cadillac cannot afford to waste time.

  • ThisDecepticonWillFU

    Hey GM please build those new Cadillac concept cars and the Buick Avista and GMC Denali XT by 2022 or there will be hell to pay.

  • LWOAP

    And now they’re paying for it. Tried to chase the Germans and look where that got them, had stunning concepts and let them stagnate. Now Lincoln is poised to kick Cadillac where it hurts and that could have been avoided.

    • DR.FUNK

      Yep…Lincoln has chance to leapfrog Caddy…but they won’t..They already blew it on the Continental.It’s like watching Moe & Curly gouge each other in the eyes.

    • Cobrajet

      They weren’t chasing all of the Germans, they were only looking at small BMWs.

  • Six_Tymes

    Yes, “Should Have”

    now is not the time…

  • IFDU

    Funny I’ve been hearing people say Cadillac should have chased the Germans for the longest. Cadillac decided to do just that, and now it was a bad idea. Praising Lincoln for their Crossover/SUV efforts, while crapping on Cadillac for having too many sedans…what is the auto industry…better yet–what kind of auto enthusiasts are on these sites now a days?

    A confusing bunch…..People say they hate crossovers but push companies to make more of them, and pressure them when they don’t make them fast enough. THEN! when they have too many of them, they want the trend to stop and call the people who buy them idiots….Make.Up.Your.Minds.

    • Nordschleife

      I completely agree but here’s my caveat to that. I think people initially thought that crossovers would be the bread and butter to create more dynamic vehicles I.e Porsche making the Cayenne but using those profits to keep the 911/718’s alive which was fine, but now because of changing markets and greedy automakers (especially American automakers) stopped using the resources to make the desirable cars. I can’t say Germans because Germans still have a diverse portfolio of all types of vehicles. I think every “auto enthusiast” as you put it secretly wants whatever vehicle (crossovers in this case) that will allow profits to develop more passion based products. If the Escalade and the XT5 didn’t give them enough profits, create the XT4 and hopefully the profits from that will get us a new XLR or whatever halo vehicle that “auto enthusiasts” would want.

  • bd0007

    The Escala is going into production and likely will be named the CT7 or CT8.

    JdN knew from the start that Cadillac needed more crossovers (which is why the first 2 new Cadillac models greenlit under his tenure were the XT4 and XT6); the problem was the lack of a suitable platform (the Alpha, due to its packaging limitations, wasn’t suitable for CUV-duty), which is why there was a delay until GM’s updated FWD CUV platforms were ready.

    And on top of that, RenCen delayed funding for the XT4 and XT6.

    All the models that are in development (and were greenlit by JdN) will make it to production and Carlisle will end up reaping the rewards.

  • PhilMcGraw

    I think the last high point of Cadillac was when they made the XLR. I thought that car was beautiful and classy when it was unveiled in 2003.

    That was also around the time that they sold the last great Seville sedan before they introduced the STS and everything went downhill from there.

    • Merc1

      The XLR was an utter failure. It was cheaply made, smelled like plastic and wasn’t anywhere near elegant looking enough to make it in that segment.

      M

      • PhilMcGraw

        Funny, considering that even CarandDriver called the XLR “a luxury roadster to be reckoned with” in their review in 2004.

        They even wrote of the interior: “Inside, the XLR is a total departure from the Corvette’s Rubbermaid furnishings. Almost every surface you touch or see is finished in cowhide, anodized aluminum, or eucalyptus wood.”

        MotorTrend when they reviewed the last generation Seville in 1998 said this: “The Seville is easily the most technologically advanced production car GM-perhaps the U.S.-has ever produced, and based on our initial impressions, can be safely called the best sport/luxury sedan built in America.”

        So, it looks like you have a very different opinion from those editors as well as from me as I’ve driven a 2002 Seville and I’ve been a passenger in an XLR. I’ve admired both.

        • Merc1

          The XLR flopped on the market because it was a joke for the price and the same magazine that said it was was a car to be reckoned with (whatever that means) ranked it 5th place in a comparison test. So much for that. It reeked of cheap plastic and was funny looking.

          The Seville being the best luxury/sport sedan built in American meant NOTHING considering that all the competition was built in Germany and Japan. That’s like praise for a class of one. In 1998 Cadillac was a joke which is part of the reason why GM went bankrupt 10 years later, they were building JUNK.

          M

          • PhilMcGraw

            You’re acting as though I said these Cadillac models were the best in their class. And if you look at my original comment, I NEVER said that. I simply stated the last high point for Cadillac in my opinion was the XLR and the last generation of the Seville. I never said Cadillac beat the competition or was best in class, but merely that was the last high point.

            I swear it’s like you seek out my comments and try to argue against whatever point I’m making. Obsessed much?

          • Merc1

            They weren’t a high point though, don’t you get it? They were JUNK. Product wise Cadillac is in a much better pace now. Nope I just tell it like it is. Those cars weren’t even remotely competitive at the time, some Cadillacs are now. It’s delusional to think a cheap Corvette knock off and a FWD Seville was their high point.

            M

      • Cobrajet

        The only good thing about that Seville was it’s styling.

    • THE ELR WAS VERY NICE BUT $75K WAS TOO MUCH.

      • PhilMcGraw

        I never said ELR. I said XLR.

        • Mr. Crankypants

          This exchange is a perfect example of why Cadillacs alpha-numeric naming convention should be dropped…confusing! Every Cadillac concept over the past several years has a name yet every model that comes to market except Escalade has the alpha-numeric name…BTW is the XTC on the way?
          When you’re heritage has such great names like DeVille and Eldorado, alphabet soup names don’t ring with the same elegance and heritage.

          • Status

            Cadillac’s heritage is alphanumerics. It’s in the names that Cadillac used for 50 years before the first Deville and Eldorado.

            The ‘named’ are disorganized and unstructured, have no hierarchy, cannot be translated or approximated in any language other than English (which complicate the car in markets outside the US), and the names like ‘Eldorado’ are just as alien and soulless without any character or heritage connection to anyone under 50 as much as you think the new names are.

            Strangely, it’s only the elderly Americans who can’t understand how one number being larger than another (CT5 and CT6) would equate with a car being larger than another. Everyone else in the world understands how Cadillac’s nomenclature works.

            Tell me how anyone is supposed to know that the Deville and the Seville and the Fleetwood are anything other than full-size sedans without having to google it. Now explain how a Chinese consumer is supposed to know and revere the ‘heritage’ of the Deville and Eldorado when they don’t have a sweet clue what it is.

            That’s why the CT# and XT# are better, more in-line with Cadillac’s 60+ year history of using alphanumerics, better organized, and more easily differentiated within their range than any of the old ‘named’ Cadillac that represent some of the worst cars Cadillac ever built.

          • Mr. Crankypants

            Status, I didn’t state they should use the old names, just that the alpha numerical ARE confusing and don’t evoke the same emotion as a beautiful name. Congrats to you for insulting both the Chinese and Senior Citizens -you must be a joy at parties.

          • Status

            I didn’t insult anyone, except you.

            What are you gonna do next? Get ornery and uptight on their behalf?

        • OOPS, NEVER MIND NEVER LIKED THE XLR.

  • SteersUright

    Cadillac should’ve remained classy, large, comfort-focused vehicles with beautiful design in the vein of Bentley, Rolls and such cars. They should’ve focused on road-isolation not road-holding, efficient and silent power befitting a luxury car not 640hp V models that set sedan track times, and design so beautiful and timeless (not “art and science” crap) that people seek them out for that alone. They revealed many concepts with much of the above and then released garbage thinking the concepts had pulled the wool over consumers’ eyes somehow.
    Now the world is headed towards electrification. Silent torquey power perfectly befitting the next generation of Cadillac. Im hoping for the best, as much as I dislike the current GM, because I do like Cadillac (and Camaro/Corvette for that matter).

  • Bash

    They definitly should.. and they still could.

  • SOME BEAUTIFUL CONCEPTS. EVEN IF THEY DIDN’T SELL EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS THEY’D AD CACHE TO THE BRAND. WALKING THROUGH THE CADILLAC SECTION AT THE CAR SHOW THIS YEAR IT WAS LIKE A GHOST TOWN. NO ONE WAS STANDING AROUND THE XT4. SAT INSIDE THE CT6 FOR FIVE SECONDS, NOTHING COMPELLING TO SEE.

  • Autoexperte

    Cadillac’s presidential car needs a better design. It looks very ugly. Outside the USA, many think that what Cadillacs look like

  • Bob White

    When the brand is dead last in reliability by Consumer Reports and even JD Power, styling isn’t the only issue. A pretty girl which is unreasonably high maintenance, is something anyone will grow tired of.

  • DR.FUNK

    Not true. Either the Ciel (my choice) or the Elmiraj would’ve been excellent “halo models”…and given potential Cadillac buyers something to look at other than another SUV.

  • Six Thousand Times

    Caddy’s strategy may have worked had they started in 1992 or even better, 1982 but they waited too long. Now it’s all SUVs in every segment.

  • Gary

    This is a spin article at best. He didn’t fail in that he wasn’t given enough time to succeed. He came to a brand that was basically ran into the ground. Every model that was offered during his tenure had already been in the pipeline save for the soon to be introduced XT4 that was developed under his watch. Long-term vision vs short-term gain; which did GM value more?

    • Andreas Tsaousis

      I believe the fact that GM was impatient was stressed enough in the article. He was considered a failure by his bosses, that’s why he was ousted after less than four years. It’s also clear that his successor should be given more time, as you can’t turn around a company immediately – whatever the strategy, it requires time and money to come into fruition.

  • Seven23

    Could Caddy have a sport car like Bentley Continental GT ?

  • Cobrajet

    The CT6 was a step in the right direction.

  • Cobrajet

    The Ciel concept is out of the date and is already made in the form of the CT6.

  • Jesse A. C. Majors

    I was truly stunned that they did not build Ceil. It would’ve sunglehandedly put then in another element of luxury. It was truly an inspired design that seemed doable even in concept form. They are cowards. They could’ve built at least 3 or 4 hundred just to see what would happen before mass producing.

  • The Ciel and Elmiraj YES. Just for the image of the brand. The Escala too hard to sell.
    They should make them in very limited numbers, they wouldn’t make any money, but it would held the brand to be seen as more as upmarket Buicks or Chevys.

  • Nicky Mouse

    I believe this article fail to present one of the main issues which is GM shortsightedness. Johan de Nysschen has had to increase Cadillac sales in China in order to justify investments on an onslaught of new products namely, new SUVs. And then after ‘justifying’ of new products Cadillac was forced to wait for GM’s global platforms to be ready for the development of new SUVs when it could have used the Alpha and Omega platform.
    With all that in mind and the fact that they are failing to utlize the superb Alpha and Omega platforms for any of flagship cars, I believe GM is the only one to blame for Cadillac lack of success in the market place

  • Adonis Price

    IMHO, the Escalade should have been revamped and kept as their cheapest model for a time. They could have done limited releases of the Sixteen, Ciel, and Elmiraj over the past decade and the Escala could have been introduced as a competitor to the S Class/A8/7 Series. Their downmarket cars could have been SUVs/Crossovers, but *only* after they had rebuilt their credibility as a luxury brand. They should have started small, not concerned themselves with chasing the Germans, and carved out their own niche.

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