CC Capsule: 2009 Cadillac CTS – Turn The Boat Around

I was extremely excited to see this second-generation Cadillac CTS in my local shopping mall parking lot, even following it so I could get some photos. Those of you in North America may be wondering why such a common car is such a noteworthy sighting. It’s simple: the CTS wasn’t sold here. However, it very nearly was. The CTS’ cancelled launch in Australia was probably one of the most belated launch cancellations in automotive history.

I had intended to feature this CTS in my recent “Adventures of a Mall Mole” series (Parts One, Two, Three) but the story of the CTS’ aborted launch here couldn’t be told in a mere paragraph. The CTS had been set to spearhead the relaunch of the Cadillac brand in Australia, GM’s luxury brand last officially selling cars here in 1945. While GM had reintroduced Cadillac to Europe and even begun producing the fifth-generation Seville in right-hand-drive for the Japanese and UK markets, Australia had yet to see the wreath-and-crest return. With the second-generation CTS, Cadillac finally had a product that had the build quality, interior presentation, refinement and dynamics expected of its segment. Just as crucial, the CTS could be priced against the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in the hottest part of the luxury car market in Australia; had the Seville STS ever been sold here, it would have been much more expensive and therefore less relevant.

Initially scheduled for 2008, Cadillac’s relaunch was delayed to 2009. Then, just a week before Australian automotive journalists were set to test drive the CTS locally for the first time, GM announced they were cancelling the launch. 60 CTS sedans had already reached Australian shores and more had been on their way.

GM was planning to sell Cadillacs alongside Saabs and Hummers at a new network of GM Premium Brands dealerships, of which 16 dealerships nationwide had signed up. Unfortunately, the Global Financial Crisis and GM’s own financial crisis forced their hand. The cancelled order of right-hand-drive CTSs were diverted to New Zealand but a handful have found their way here. You’ll note the clear taillights, a hallmark of export Cadillacs.

The only other CTS I’ve seen here

Had the launch been allowed to continue, the CTS would have been sold here with the direct-injected 304-hp 3.6 V6 and six-speed automatic standard. No manual or all-wheel-drive would have been offered, but GM had plans to introduce a 2.9 turbodiesel V6 sourced from VM Motori—yet another plan dashed by GM’s bankruptcy. It’s unclear what other Cadillacs GM had planned to introduce, although odds are the sedan would have been joined by the coupe and wagon. The Escalade and second-generation SRX weren’t engineered for RHD and the rest of the lineup was quite old, so Cadillac likely would have been a one-model brand for a while.

Introducing the Cadillac brand here would have been an uphill struggle. If you don’t count the forgettable, 1990s foray of selling pricey Q45s in Nissan showrooms, Infiniti really arrived here in 2012 and managed a meager 807 sales in 2016. For comparison, BMW sold just under 4000 3-Series models alone that year. On the plus side, Cadillac would have had a larger dealer network and greater name recognition than its Japanese rival. However, it would have required an extensive advertising campaign considering most Australians have only vague recollections of tailfinned Cadillacs in pop culture and little knowledge of anything produced by the brand over the last few decades. That kind of name recognition may have actually represented baggage for would-be luxury sport sedan buyers.

Some automotive journalists were skeptical of the CTS’ potential sales success here considering it was roughly the same size as the Holden VE Commodore (Pontiac G8) and used a derivative of that car’s engine. Furthermore, the CTS would have been pricier than more powerful, V8-equipped Commodores. However, even the most luxuriously-appointed Commodore derivatives (e.g. the Calais and Caprice) couldn’t match the CTS in overall refinement or build or material quality and lacked many of its luxury features like ventilated seats and a panoramic sunroof.

The CTS’ American heritage would have also invited comparisons to the Chrysler 300, despite that car being a size up and a step down in terms of quality, dynamics and refinement. Then again, the 300 had even more extroverted styling and an optional V8 and actually managed to sell in decent numbers here for a few years.

For a Cadillac fan like me, GM’s decision to cancel the launch was agonizing. Worse, still, are the constant rumors Cadillac will return soon. Considering Infiniti’s sluggish growth and Australia’s saturated and ultimately small and globally irrelevant market, it doesn’t make sense for GM to make Cadillac’s launch here a priority. However, every couple of years rumors spill onto the pages of automotive news sites but it always ends with my hopes being dashed.

With Holden having ceased local production and the new Opel Insignia/Buick Regal-based ZB Commodore lacking a V8 or a long-wheelbase model, there’s now less internal competition for Cadillac. Here’s hoping the next time one of our car magazines spot a Caddy being tested by Holden engineers, it’s because it’s actually being readied for launch here.

You can add the Australian-market CTS and the 2.9 V6 diesel to the long, long list of planned products killed by GM’s bankruptcy, alongside the planned Zeta-underpinned Cadillac DT7 flagship, Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo, Buick Lucerne, Pontiac GTO/Holden Monaro, GMC Denali XT, and Holden Nullarbor crossover. And the return of the ute to the U.S. in the form of the Pontiac G8 ST, and a RHD version of the Chevy Camaro that our engineers developed. And, well, probably a lot more that we’ll remain in the dark about until Bob Lutz releases another book.

Ain’t bankruptcy a bitch?

Related Reading:

Future CC: The Smooth, Quiet Road to Nowhere – Cadillac STS

Future Curbside Classic: 2006-09 Cadillac STS-V — Gazing Longingly

Dealer Future Classic: 2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe – Child of Thunderbird or Bavaria?