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.
Looking forward to a follow-up article on this subject at this time next year. And I’m not really expecting further improvement, getting the feeling that this year is a one-year anomaly.
Bottom line is that right now, compared to Tesla, all the traditional luxury brands look second rate and boring. And Cadillac is definite somewhere in the middle of the pack, with nothing particularly worth looking at, other than the Escalade. Which is the last vehicle I’d want to own, new or used.
I hate to say it(cause i truly love the Cadillac brand)but i agree with you word for word Syke.
I no longer want to own a car I aspired to own while I was younger for two main reasons:
1. They are no longer special. There is little in appearance to differentiate a high end car from anything else on the road. Leases on new cars and the plummeting depreciation on those 2-4 years old make them a very common sight.
2. Anything a high end car has can be had on a mid level, and sometimes an entry level car. Many folks, including myself, are unwilling to spend thousands more for a badge on the grille.
I’m not quite sure what Cadillac needs to do to make themselves relevant again, but slapping their crest on a Traverse is not the answer.
Interesting point – if most “luxury” cars are leased, ie. rented, are they still to be considered luxury? And is a BMW 3 series a luxury car if there are so many of them on the road?
Why wouldn’t it be considered a luxury car?
Whether leased, rented, or purchased, a BMW 3 series is still a BMW 3 series.
He means in the context of accessibility. You don’t have to be anywhere near upper class to get yourself into a brand new BMW. They’re the ultimate fake it til you make it machines. You can look like you rake in the dough even though you’re barely scratching the barrier of lower middle-class, and that’s become ever more obvious to everyone who would have in the past said “wow, a BMW, you must be doing well”. It’s just another brand to most people these days.
But I don’t consider the 3-series luxury car either, present or past. My definition of luxury is the same as my grandparents definition, cushy, soft, well trimmed in fine materials, powerful and capable, but not encouraging and of course an intimidating exterior presence. That still exists in Rollers and Bentleys, and big Mercedes and Maybachs. Cadillac’s insistence on chasing volume and besting track times BMW set, a sporty brand whose only luxury is its moderate expense, is why Cadillac has lost its identity. Cadillac not only fit the classic definition of luxury, Cadillac practically defined it.
BMW used to have a slogan in its ads (a long LONG time ago) that went something like “When all is said and done, it is extraordinary performance that makes an expensive car worth the money.” BMWs once upon a time were q-ships; plain little sedans that blew you away when you got behind the wheel. They were never luxury cars in the standard manner; i.e., fancy materials, cushy interiors, lots of power equipment. In fact, they were rather spartan inside. If you valued performance none of that mattered.
In recent years they’ve lost what made them special in the performance arena. Four cylinder turbos? Really? A BMW is supposed to have a turbine smooth naturally aspirated 6. Their steering feel was second to none; now they have electric assist steering that is indistiguishable from a half – dozen other brands. In a recent car mag comparo, I believe a Kia Stinger beat a 3 series.
Basically, BMW has lost what made it special and what made it worth the money. Now it’s simply another German carmaker in the vein of Audi and MB. I think Audi is now the better performer. I’ve owned BMW’s in the past but won’t own another.
I think what has happened to BMW’s identity in recent years is largely reminiscent of what happened to Cadillac during the malaise/brougham era. They had a genuine niche in the smooth cushy luxury game, and while not supercars by any means we’re still powerhouses eventually culminating in the 500ci engine. But as the 70s unfolded, low end brands largely matched in the luxury Cadillac offered, and emissions and fuel economy demands defanged its engines just like everyone else in the era. What does a mid 70s Cadillac truly offer that a mid 70s LTD doesn’t? So is BMW now. As you said, BMW has never been about appointments, in their most revered years the interiors are frankly “plasticy”, so now with technology and years of engineering prowess many many cars can match or exceed a 3 series, it doesn’t even take something that special like a Stinger.
Not often talked about and probably lost on most modern BMW drivers was the familiarity in engineering that allowed continuous refinement. RWD I6 engines and MacPherson struts are as part of the BMW DNA as rear engines defined Porsche/Volkswagen or far forward longitudinal engines defined Audi. These are distinct approaches to their cars and part of their Germanness. As pressures force them to adapt to more conventional designs, and particularly with the looming inevitably of electrification their identity will become even harder to figure out. Cadillac is there now, the ghost of BMWs future.
XR7Matt – agree with you 100% and well said!
The only new Cadillac I would own is a CT6-V. I’ve been behind the wheel of one or two at my dealership, and they’re very nicely appointed (Even if some of the trim is found on other GM vehicles), and the 4.2 Twin Turbo V8 is a hell of a thing. I may never have the chance to take it on the highway and let it stretch it’s legs, but hearing that thing start up and how smooth and quiet it is at town speeds, but letting itself be heard if you give it even just a little bit of gas, I can tell you that it’s something special.
That said, it’s also a 100k car. The price of that alone means it’ll never be obtainable until years down the line when it’s been wrung through and has enough problems to consider a pause.
Everything else is fine, just not anything I would own, and I can’t say any of them are special either. So, it’s just an anomaly in my opinion.
True Confession: I had to Google the CT6-V after reading Joseph’s comment above. It’s been so long since I’ve even noticed a Cadillac that I’m completely unaware of what they even have on offer. Perusing their website brought no new inspiration for me to look out for them either. Admittedly, the specs for the CT6-V are impressive, and the interior design is…pretty, I guess. I’m sure I’d love to drive one, but it doesn’t enthrall me.
The rest of the sedan lineup is as bland as dry toast. The final Chevy Impala is frankly a better looking car than any Cadillac sedan, IMO. The crossovers are decidedly “unspecial”, for lack of a better term. The only Cadillac that’s turned my head in recent years has been the coupe(s), and sadly I was probably only drawn to them for the relative novelty of 2 door coupes overall, since the “Arts & Science” design language has grown a bit long in the tooth. Honestly, for all I know the Cadillac coupe that last caught my eye in a restaurant parking lot could have been 8 years old.
For someone who’s kept a close eye on the automotive landscape and market since childhood, this assessment of the brand is a truly sad statement. It’s just one man’s opinion, but clearly I’m not alone.
2.4 percent is less than 4000 vehicles, i.e. a drop in the bucket that could be eliminated in one bad (worse) month. With several new crossovers in the showrooms that seems a bit disappointing. GM likely believes that this isn’t sustainable or anything more than a single talking point, otherwise they wouldn’t be changing the names or the entire brand’s operating model, i.e. moving it all to electric as reported here in the last couple of weeks.
I don’t really think launching the XT6 on an old platform is a good move as a growth strategy. The Aviator is a compelling product and it being on a new platform isn’t the problem in and of itself, that seems to imply that new is necessarily frought with problems; it seems that Ford’s poor labor relations at the plant level and perhaps engineering failures including inadequate testing are a bigger issue, other makers don’t seem to have these problems when introducing a new platform (or at least they aren’t as publicized if they do). If the domestic makers stop being able to introduce new SUV platforms in the meat of the market without major issues, then you’re only one step away from bungling a new truck platform, and then it will all really hit the fan.
All fair points, but compared with how other non-Tesla luxury automakers are doing, Cadillac’s growth is actually pretty decent. The brand still has massive issues but their crossovers are holding their own and I think people will find the XT6 appealing, even if it is bland. It’s reviews weren’t nearly as bad as everyone assumed.
The Escalade is a big deal for GM. They’ve got a stranglehold on that segment and the next gen model is bound to garner a lot of attention and sales. If they can keep up that momentum, they could do well. We’ll just have to wait and see if they can.
Escalade has a stranglehold on its segment? Perhaps nationally, but as Paul showed in his post on California sales earlier this month, the Range Rover beats it handily here. The Slade may sell well nationally but I’m not sure it’s got a real stranglehold. I’m hardly a Cadillac fan but I’m still saddened by the decline of a legendary brand.
Perhaps, however what a lot of people seem to miss is that all the other makers are major players in other markets as well (as is Tesla). Cadillac may have some sales in China but is dwarfed there by the others and completely inconsequential in Europe. The Escalade especially is a (part of) US only phenomenon which is a problem. Cadillacs sales are unlikely to be a major profit driver at GM, not with that many different models that try to be (need to be) different from the other GM lines.
Don’t forget about Lexus either, they may be down a percent or two YTD as of October but are still on track to get close to 300k sales this year in the US and around 750k or so worldwide. Frankly that’s where I think a lot of Cadillac buyers are camping out these days.
“2.4 percent is less than 4000 vehicles, i.e. a drop in the bucket that could be eliminated in one bad (worse) month.”
That was my thought, less a resurgence than a stop of the hemorrhaging.
Still, I’d rather hear a bit of good news for the Crest. I’ve liked the styling of most of their products of the past dozen years, and the performance and handling of some has been impressive.
The price premium for the tepid newer versions is hard to justify with interiors that are often less compelling than what GM is offering through Buick. And, the dismal reliability ratings for vehicles that have lots of features that can break is a deal killer for me, even for a highly depreciated low mileage car. Just not worth the hassle.
I’m a retired 65 year-old Boomer. I drive a BMW 5 Series; I lease and swap out every three years. I’ve been doing this for roughly 20 years now having graduated from 3 Series in my younger sportier days to 5’s as I’ve grown older and
fatterlazier. At my age you’d think Cadillac would be chasing me every minute, at least trying to sell me something. They aren’t. Benz does, Lexus does, Jaguar does; my email and mail box often have something from one or all of them. I don’t understand this. If anybody is going to buy a Caddy, it would be someone in my age and income bracket. Instead they’re chasing “entry level luxury” buyers. Why?
I’m not trying to brag; I’m not rich, just middle class, and frankly I view the 5 Series as a modern Oldsmobile in today’s “Sloan Hierarchy”. However if I am not being considered a potential Cadillac customer, who the Hell is? I understand about “lowering the average customer age” and “expanding your core demographic” but before you can expand, you have to have a core demographic. Until you want a Caddy like your rich uncle drives, you’re not going to want a “baby Caddy”
So my pitch is that Cadillac needs to do what (I believe) Lincoln is doing and focus on high-end product only. Dump the entry level Cadillac idea until Cadillac becomes something to aspire to (again?). Frankly Cadillac would probably lose less money if they only sold one or two models and rewarded dealers very handsomely for each one sold rather than cluttering up their lots with cars they’ll have to discount to get rid of.
The success of Cadillac lies in it’s show cars. those are the cars that get people hot for the brand. But instead we keep getting watered down versions of…………Chevys? There are idiots running Cadillac(and GM for that matter). Beside the Vette and Camaro and Subrban(and it’s brethrine)and pick up trucks(that are losing sales to Ram)what do they have???
It is curious as to why Cadillac has played it so safe with their concepts considering the consistently lukewarm performance of their actual production vehicles. They have had some outright stunning ones in the last 20 years like the Elmiraj that could legitimately be Bentley level in execution but all they ever amount to is a headlight shape or a grille texture on the same corporate underpinnings.
Contrast that with the Camaro concept from 2006, where other than the fixed quarter glass and oversized grille bow tie, the production fifth gen was identical to it. And it sold very well for the segment until it was replaced.
If Cadillac is to succeed long-term, I think the XT6 is there only hope within their current product mix, and I’m not too optimistic. Just look at the XT4. Subcompact/Compact CUVs are all the rage now, and the XT4 has been out for about a year now. I just saw my first one in person that was not a dealer loaner car this week.
I have yet to see one here in NEPA, where I can’t walk without tripping over MKCs, X1s, Q3s, even GLAs. Even top-spec CX-3s, XC40s, and a few of those hideous electric Jaguar crossover things are around.
Although maybe I’m wrong. The XT4 is hardly distinguishable from the Trax (ugh).
I even saw THREE CT6s in one day last week. And Cadillac themselves consider that a sales flop.
Cadillac is alive only because of its suv’s and crossovers. They can try to “re-invent” their sedans all they want, but the bottom line is they won’t sell. If I was in the market for a new luxury sedan Cadillac wouldn’t even be on my list. Cadillac’s aren’t worth it. And they haven’t been for years. I think the best money spent on a luxury sedan would be a Lexus. A Lexus will last a very long time and won’t have the kinds of menacing problems that Cadillac’s, Mercedes, BMW’s and especially Jaguar’s experience over a short time.
Even if I could get past the boring cars, I cannot dismiss the absolutely miserable dealership service experience I had the last time I owned a Cadillac. I’ve owned Porsche and Audi cars since then and service is excellent.
I’m looking forward to Cadillac’s electric. Porsche and Jaguar and Volvo’s electrics have disappointing range compared to Tesla – and they’re all companies that are new to electrics. A 100 kWh Taycan goes 200 miles – a comparable Tesla is good for 280. Big difference.
GM has been building electrics for a long time – their experimentation began in the mid-60s. And the Check Bolt’s eMPG and range compares very well with the Tesla Model 3. On a slightly larger battery, it’s getting 259 miles of range, exactly what the similarly sized Model 3 is getting. Almost there wilt
GM, like Tesla, knows more about building electrics than the new guys do. The Cadillac will be far more competitive with Tesla than Porsche, Jaguar and Volvo (not to mention Mercedes’s and BMW’s upcoming models, if the reporting I’ve seen is correct).
CT6 is a stunning car. Wish it had a real name.
how would that make it better?