Cadillac had two big pieces of news at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show: The new money-printing XT6 crossover and big plans for electrification in the coming years starting with a battery-powered crossover. The problem, however, is right now. Sales are down, the direction forward is unclear, it feels behind the curve in nearly every way and no one seems convinced by vague and pithy remarks about “the brand” by its new, Michigan-based leadership. Here’s the thing, though—GM knows Cadillac is in trouble.
This comes to us from a Reuters interview with GM President Mark Reuss, one that happened last week right before the auto show but has really been picking up steam just in recent days.
It came on the heels of news that Cadillac would become GM’s lead electric brand, just as GM itself will be all-electric at some point. But though details on how Cadillac’s newfound electric strategy will make it relevant in this century are scarce, Reuss at least seems to appreciate the severity of the situation:
“We don’t have any chances left with taking Cadillac to a really new place,” newly appointed GM President Mark Reuss told Reuters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show. “This is pretty much it.”
“So we really have to hit the ball here,” he added. “It’s my job to make sure we do.”
[…] Reuss did not elaborate on what would happen if the multi-year effort to make the Cadillac brand more profitable failed.
But GM has demonstrated repeatedly over the last two years a willingness to exit unprofitable markets and kill weak car lines in North America. In November it put five North American factories, including four in the United States, on notice for closure and cut almost 15,000 jobs.
That’s a markedly different tone than we got in an interview with new Cadillac president Steve Carlisle. There, the best we could get from Carlisle and a spokesman was that future electric products will have “the look, the feel, the brand of Cadillac,” but without any detail as to what that’s even supposed to mean anymore. I get the sense that there’s a sizable contingent within GM for whom it’s always 1965, all big tail fins and glamorous land yachts and being The Standard of the World, without truly realizing that the rest of the world has moved on.
Cadillac’s multibillion-dollar, New York City-led branding effort—not a bad idea on its face—largely failed for not having the right products at the right time. The interview closes with Reuss saying: “All I’m focused on is what we’re doing right now… and getting momentum back in Cadillac.” But isn’t that what it was trying to do over the past few years, including in New York?
All of this begs the question: What even is Cadillac anymore, and if GM doesn’t seem to know that, who does?
The new XT6 hardly impressed anyone at the Detroit Auto Show, and like the rest of Cadillac’s new crossovers it looks and feels more like a nice Chevrolet than anything else. The semi-autonomous Super Cruise is nowhere to be found on it either, which presumes a more conservative approach to that technology than we’ve seen in recent years. The Book subscription service is now dead.
And while the electric crossover announcement is interesting, it comes years behind other luxury competitors, many of whom have such cars on the road already or will this year. As ever, GM’s luxury brand feels years behind everyone else, and the plan to catch up is just “Trust us, we’re Cadillac.”
But as that Reuters story notes, GM’s post-bailout leadership has shown a willingness to cut its losses that the company has never really had historically. It’s dumped bad brands, exited unprofitable markets like Europe (a place where Cadillac isn’t even a true player the way Mercedes and Audi and the rest are) and is trimming back on its U.S. workforce.
Cadillac needs to get it together and soon or it probably won’t be around for very long. Now, even GM seems to get that.