Several years ago an automotive magnetic pole shifted. Lincoln, which entered the 2010s on life support, suddenly found itself being the talk of the town. The Continental generated a lot of positive buzz that carried over to the redesigned Navigator. And that momentum practically reached a fever pitch this year with the new Lincoln Aviator. By contrast, Cadillac doubled down on its confusing alphanumeric names, pathetically imitated the Germans, and failed to introduce a truly compelling vehicle of any sort. To make matters worse, Cadillac President Steve Carlisle cannot define the brand at all. Cadillac has no soul.
Despite all this, Cadillac isn’t doing too badly. And they may have finally turned a corner.
This recent development comes from the head honcho himself. Carlisle divulged the brand’s year-to-date retail sales figure and they’re apparently up by 2.4 percent. The brand is also expected to do well in China despite the unfavorable economic conditions that have impacted the Chinese auto industry. How’d they get to this point? Crossovers. The XT5 and XT6 kept the brand afloat amidst a sharp decline in sedan sales. And the outlook for 2020 looks good too, because the new Escalade will make its way to dealers before the year is out.
That’s not to say the brand is out of the woods just yet. Consumer Reports ranked Cadillac dead last in its latest reliability survey. The CT4 and CT5 received lukewarm reviews and were probably doomed before they hit dealer lots anyway. And GM still has no idea what Cadillac represents or where they’re headed. Cadillac recently pulled out of CES 2020, where they were widely expected to debut some sort of EV crossover. Beyond some vague promises of battery electric powertrains and a switchover to real names, there’s been no indication that the people running the show have any sort of road map.
That being said, it’s hard to completely condemn the brand right now. Other than Tesla, no other luxury brand is setting American on fire. Mercedes is only up 0.7 percent year-to-date through November. BMW stands at 4.5 percent. And Lexus only moved three more vehicles through November 2019 than it did during that same period in 2018. Lincoln might also finish this year on a strong note, but the Aviator, a crucially important vehicle for the brand, hasn’t received good press as of late. That makes Cadillac’s decision to launch the milquetoast XT6 on an older platform a smarter move than it appeared to be earlier in the year.
Aside from Tesla, American automotive luxury has perennially struggled to define itself. That’s changed a bit in recent years, but it’s still a problem that Ford and General Motors need to work on. If anything, Cadillac’s decent sales figures suggest that simply having an entry in a hot selling segment is all automakers really need to tread above water, even if the product itself isn’t class leading. Or perhaps doing well in China is it requires to stay alive in America. Probably both. Regardless, General Motors needs to instill some passion into Cadillac if it wants to make waves.