Historical pieces on the Cadillac Catera often focus on its cringe-inducing advertising campaign, its myriad reliability issues and its overall failure in the marketplace. But there’s an interesting story that runs parallel to the Cadillac Catera’s development, one involving an Australian car with a Buick badge that just might have made for a better Cadillac.
That Buick was the XP-2000 concept, presented at the 1995 Detroit Auto Show. The unveiling occurred just a few months after the project was officially cancelled in November 1994, after the XP-2000 had passed through three of the five stages of GM’s product development cycle. It was to be a derivative of the upcoming 1997 Holden VT Commodore, itself a heavily revised version of the GM V-Car platform first introduced in 1994 on the Opel Omega. That original version of the V-Car was what ended up on American shores. Perhaps it shouldn’t have.
The XP-2000 concept was the proof of concept of Project GMX 127, a project scooped by Australian Wheels magazine. GMX 127 was a proposal by General Motors’ Australian subsidiary, Holden, to ship 50,000 units of the upcoming VT Commodore each year between 1998 and 2004. Commodore sedans and wagons would have joined an already sedan-heavy Buick lineup, ostensibly replacing the Roadmaster. Like the other sedans in Buick’s lineup, the production XP-2000 would have been powered by the venerable 3.8 V6. However, as the VT Commodore was also available with a supercharged 3.8 V6, as well as 5.0 and, later, 5.7 V8 engines, these would have been possibilities.
Although the cancellation of GMX 127 was a huge blow to Holden, they made lemonade out of these lemons. The tooling for left-hand-drive Commodores was put to good use, with Holden embarking on its largest export program yet. VT Commodores were exported to markets in the Middle East, Asia and South America, typically wearing Chevrolet Lumina or Omega badges. The VT Commodore – or, rather, a derivative of it known as the Monaro coupe – eventually reached American shores as the Pontiac GTO. However, the only VT Commodore derivative to wear a Buick badge was the Chinese-market Royaum, based on the long-wheelbase Holden Statesman and Caprice.
There was talk GMX 127 was scuttled because of UAW opposition. What is perhaps more likely is GM realized they were effectively going to have two GM V-Car derivatives in the North American market, and the one that was going to be more powerful and more reliable was going to wear the lesser Buick badge. Opel’s aggressive lobbying to supply Omegas to the North American market also torpedoed Holden’s proposal.
The Catera first debuted in North America as a concept at the 1994 Chicago Auto Show, wearing the Cadillac LSE nameplate and looking much like the production model. For a period of time – at least a year or two – the Cadillac LSE and Buick XP-2000 were simultaneously in development. Suffice it to say, GM cancelled the wrong project.
It’s not jingoism that has led me to that conclusion. After all, I can acknowledge the VT Commodore, while an impressive mainstream family sedan, wasn’t quite luxury brand material. The 3.8 V6 was too coarse, while the interior – although a significant step-up from most GM North American interiors – wasn’t on the same level as interiors in Lexuses and BMWs.
Would the VT Commodore have made a terrific Buick? Without a doubt, although it would have entered a very cluttered lineup and puzzled shoppers with its Regal dimensions but potentially higher price. But, as a Catera, the VT Commodore would have provided Cadillac with a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan with greater power and reliability. As the later first-generation CTS proved, Cadillac didn’t seem to mind having slightly less luxurious interiors and pushrod V8 power.
Although Opel was the winning bid for the Catera project, GM North America continued to flirt with Holden as a source for future Cadillacs. Holden was originally involved in the Sigma platform project and, although Holden and Cadillac went their separate ways, Holden’s Zeta platform was mooted as the base for a DTS/STS replacement known as the DT7.
Even though the Omega battled German executive sedans in the European market and the Commodore was pitched at family sedans, little was lost in translation when Holden created the VT Commodore. Yes, the Omega’s wide range of engines (I4 and V6 petrol and I4 and I6 diesel) were replaced with Buick V6 descendants and Chevy V8 engines, but the Omega’s independent rear suspension was retained. The Omega also grew in numerous dimensions to become the VT Commodore, gaining 3.6 inches in length. Much of that was in the wheelbase, which was stretched by 2.3 inches. The VT Commodore was also 1.5 inches wider.
The Omega may have had a smoother six-cylinder engine but it was down on power. The Catera’s 3.0 V6 produced 200 hp and 192 ft-lbs, while the base 3.8 in the VT Commodore produced slightly less horsepower (192) but a lot more torque (224 ft-lbs). And that was just the base engine, whereas the Catera’s 3.0 was the biggest engine available in the Omega. Later Omegas received a 3.2 V6 that matched the VT’s torque figures, but it arrived as the Catera was being discontinued.
Compared to the Commodore, the Omega/Catera had a more refined engine, a slightly more upscale interior and a more Teutonic feel. The Commodore countered with more space, more pace, and superior reliability. Would a Commodore Catera have sold as well as the real thing? We’ll never know. What we do know is the Catera was a mediocre seller.
Until its reliability issues became apparent, the baby Caddy didn’t seem like a bad deal. Priced just under $30k, the Catera was priced almost identically to the smaller, less powerful, more spartan BMW 318i and undercut the 328i by around $3k.
This echoed the Omega’s pricing in Europe, which typically mirrored that of the 3-Series range. Heavy fleet sales in Europe, however, meant the Omega depreciated much faster than the German compact sport sedans.
When it was launched for 1997, the Catera was unlike anything else in Cadillac’s lineup, being the only rear-wheel-drive vehicle and the only one without a V8 engine. The austere cabin with its imposing center stack and excessive buttons looked more like a BMW’s interior than a Seville’s, although the fake wood trim seemed to allude to the DeVille. And, true to its role as a German transplant, the Catera had useless cupholders.
Cadillac had desperately needed an entry-level model. While it may still have been the #2 luxury brand in the US in the mid-1990s, its sales were plateauing while the Japanese and German brands were seeing record growth. Cadillac had had nothing at the $30k price point; when the Catera was launched, it undercut the base DeVille by $6k and the Seville by $10k.
The Catera compared favorably to the 3-Series in many respects. It had that patented Germanic feel, with precise steering, a smooth ride and taut handling. While it didn’t quite match the 3-Series in outright handling ability, it countered with more cabin space. Standard equipment was also generous, with dual-zone climate control, traction control, keyless entry and a power driver’s seat. Despite its European origins, the Catera (and indeed, the Omega back home) seemed to follow the American tradition of offering plenty of metal for the money.
If only it offered more bang for the buck. The 3.0 V6 produced almost identical power and torque outputs to the similarly-sized and similarly-priced Acura 3.2TL, Lexus ES300 and Infiniti I30, as well as comparable fuel economy. Alas, the tubby Catera weighed a whopping 500-700 pounds more than those premium Japanese sedans. Even though it had a more adept rear-wheel-drive chassis, driving excitement was hardly assured when the only source of propulsion was a small V6 straining under the hood. And despite the Catera’s purported sport sedan role in the Cadillac lineup, there was no optional manual transmission as there was with the Omega. The only transmission was a four-speed automatic.
While Europeans largely avoided the Nissan QX – as the Infiniti I30 was known over there – as well as any other Japanese executive sedans like it, North Americans were far more embracing of Japanese products. The Catera may have seemed like good value for money next to a 3-Series but the TL, I30 and ES looked like great value for money. Not everybody wanted a canyon carver and if they did, they probably wouldn’t have thought to go to a Cadillac showroom to find one.
The Catera did succeed in bringing some younger buyers to the brand – certainly younger than those buying the Lexus ES – and became GM’s best conquest vehicle, with 45% of Catera owners coming from a non-GM vehicle. It was also popular with female buyers, who accounted for around half of all Catera buyers, while the average buyer age ticked down into the 50s. 25,411 units were sold in the Catera’s first year, just above Cadillac’s modest goal of 25,000 units.
However, sales were flat for 1998 and then began to drop. For 1999, Cadillac introduced a Sport trim level with a firmer suspension tune but extremely subtle styling tweaks.
The following year, the Catera line received an attractive freshening. The Sport received blocky, AMG-esque 17-inch wheels, brushed metal-look interior trim, HID headlamps and a rear spoiler, while all Cateras lost the very American-looking full-width taillight/reflector set-up. This styling feature had been the only major change from the Omega, and now – slightly different grille aside – the Catera was visually identical to its cousin across the pond. By now, both the Omega and Catera had also seemed to get most of their reliability issues under control.
The Sport, with its bigger wheels and tires and firmer shocks and springs, handled even more adeptly than the base Catera. But the rumored manual transmission never arrived and the Catera never received the power its capable chassis deserved. Sales increased fractionally for 2000, but by 2001 the Catera was selling at under half its original projections.
The Catera may have brought some new buyers to the Cadillac fold but its oil leaks and electrical troubles may have scared them away. While the car offered much of the dynamic poise and refinement of its German rivals, as well as greater space and value-for-money, it lacked their cachet. As for its Japanese rivals, it may have handled better but its performance and reliability were worse. The Catera’s conservative styling, widely maligned advertising campaign and Cadillac’s belated arrival to the segment – and the resultant lack of awareness about Cadillac’s aspirations – further undid GM’s efforts.
Would a Cadillac Commodore have avoided all of these pitfalls? Perhaps not. But Catera owners would have spent less time in the shop.
Catera photographed in Palm Springs, CA in October 2016.
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Top 10 Obscure Special Editions and Forgotten Limited-Run Models: Cadillac Edition, Part II (Cadillac Catera Sport)
Great piece William. There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the ‘mere exposure effect’ which posits that our preferences are shaped by what we are familiar with. (I like to think of it as the ‘mama’s pasta effect’ – only your own mama’s pasta tastes the best.)
With that in mind, I still think the VT ‘dore was a better shape than the Omega/Catera. Another great export whatif that only demonstrates (yet again) the reality that success is not earned solely through merit.
Agreed. Holden’s styling team is better than most. (saying that as not that much of a Holden fan overall)
Well written. I was working at GM Europe at the time and remember well the discussions around pricing and how to sell the inventory at month end. This program was part of the strategy of many car companies at that time to leverage product platforms across regions.
The Omega, GM´s last “big Opel” suffered the same fate as all it´s predecessors…The Admiral, Kapitän, Diplomat, Senator….
While technologically mostly at least on par with their competitors, their lack of chachet led to them to being constantly looked down upon by the general public.
I often wonder, just how important was the lack of the manual transmission to the Catera’s failure? Yeah, we make a very big deal out of it in the auto enthusiast blogs (and I will certainly only consider owning an automatic in a car after a LOT of kick and screaming), but aren’t we 99% of all the people who’d consider driving a manual in the first place?
If it is that important, are we then talking halo effect on the rest of the line?
I had seriously considered a used Catera many years ago before buying an E36 M3 sedan (with automatic , because it was for the wife who couldn’t drive a manual) as I’d always quietly liked the car, and the prices for used models were certainly good.
Then my research staring bringing up the faults, and I realized why the used prices were so good . . . . . .
99 % of the car buying public usually couldnt care less about the things that car enthusiasts find desirable.
The flip side of that applies to engines. In this class, bragging rights are important (then and now), and in what was still the infancy of the internet, the enthusiast press had a tremendous amount of power in regards to determining what counts for bragging rights.
If the Catera had shipped with the Buick V6 they would’ve screamed BUT MUH ANCIENT PUSHROD ENGINE!!!, reamed “dumb old GM” for it and given readers the impression that it’s one step up from a donkey cart and not worth paying for even as a rental upgrade.
I was more thinking of how a car with sporty aspirations supposedly loses all its credibility if its not available with a manual transmission. I mean…how many Americans would seriously care?
Perception is everything; the fact the Caddy CTS offered a manual gave it “sporty cred”, making it seem like the true break from Cadillacs past of making land yachts. Nobody actually wanted a CTS manual; almost none sold. But the fact it was available was a big part of establishing the image of it as a sport sedan.
I remember the Catera, and not as unfondly as some. But I also remember in my area, where we had a huge Caddy only dealer that proclaimed itsel the country’s largest (in what way, I got no clue), that at least half the Cateras had carriage roofs. Which undermines the sporty break from the Fleetwood and DeVille just a smidge.
Yep. It’s been proven that the V-6 in the Catera had longevity problems, that it wasn’t as well designed as it could have been. But, because it’s “Dumb Old GM!”, what you got thru the Internet is that this engine was the second cousin to the Triumph Stag V-8. At best.
And, as you said, if the Buick 3800 had been installed, it would have been “Dumb Old GM!” cheaping out on the engine to keep the bean counters happy.
On of the Catera’s (many?) sins was to come out in the era when GM could do nothing right in the eyes of the motoring press.
Another of the Catera’s sins was that incredibly, remarkably lame “Caddy that zigs” advertising tagline it was saddled with: “OK, now ‘listen up’ as you hep young people say, this is a Cadillac especially for hep young people like yourselves!” Complete with a little cartoon…what was it, a duck?
Agreed, especially in this segment. The cars the Catera were pitched against (3 series, C-class, A4, I30, ES300, and TL)… how many of them were available with a manual. C-class, ES, and TL I believe weren’t. Of those that were, how many actually purchased a manual? 3-series, sure.
But look at the I30. For the first few years (at least), the I30 was available with a manual trans in the I30t, as well as an LSD. I was a big Maxima fan boy in the mid 90s, and thought it odd that Nissan didn’t offer the LSD with the Maxima SE but did with the I30t (and only on the manual equipped cars). I’ve seen countless Maxima SE 5-speeds, but only 1 I30t 5-speed, ever.
Interestingly enough, the 1st and second gen Lexus ES was available with a manual transmission and the C-Class also was available with one. The TL did not get one until the 3rd generation and that was only in the Type S
As for how many were made and bought? That is a good question. I have only seen manual C-Class out there(I even considered one)
You are correct that the TL didn’t get a manual until the third generation, but you could get the V6/manual in the CL coupe in 2002-2003. The 6-speed manual could actually be ordered on the base model third-generation TL from 2004-2006, but promptly became a Type-S-only option when that trim level debuted for 2007.
I bet most of the manual C-classes were the C230 hatchback. Anyone want to write a Deadly Sin on those?
Also, don’t forget that the Volvo S40, S70, and S60 could be had with a manual.
A very interesting piece, Will. The thing I find most fascinating is how after dealing with the fallout from the objectively bad 4.1 V8, the decision makers at Cadillac did not do a better job of vetting the durability of the Opel.
Opel would seem proof that the dysfunctions at GM in Detroit could overwhelm the division that should have excelled at building German cars for Germans. I defer to those with more familiarity, but it seems that Opel was sort of the joke of German auto manufacturers after the 70s.
My brother had a ’98 Caterra that was always breaking down. It met its end at a mere 85k.
When I worked at a dealership from 2004-2008, we referred to these as the “Caterrible”. Couldn’t give them away and they were reputed to be terribly unreliable.
I don’t remember a reputation for unreliability in the day. What I remember was it was heavy, mismatched in the marketplace, and aimed at two segments, but appealing to neither.
The BMW 3 and Mercedes C-class world didn’t like it; not sporty enough. It wasn’t a good enough car, or fancy enough, to compete with the 5 and E area. And for the folks buying Lexus ES, Acura TL, and Infiniti I30s, they wanted Japanese certainty of reliability in their minds, and wouldn’t have considered a RWD car in any event.
And of course Saab and Volvo appealed to their own fans, as they always have.
Fun fact: the Opel Omega B (the Catera) was available with an inline-six BMW diesel, as used in the 5-series.
Strictly speaking the Omega was in the same E-segment as the Benz E-Class and BMW 5-series, just like the contemporary Ford Scorpio.
But the writing was already on the wall back then: the days of an E-segment / Executive car offered by a mainstream brand (like Opel, Ford, Renault and Peugeot) were ending.
Excellent piece, with a lot of historical development info I wasn’t really aware of. The XP-2000 concept was certainly a handsome car, and it would have made a good Buick, Cadillac, or even Oldsmobile in my opinion.
As for the Catera, it always seemed lost to me in Cadillac’s lineup, even as a kid when it was new. When I was little, I obviously didn’t know its Holden/Opel origins (these were the pre-internet days), but I was very aware it was nothing else like any other Cadillac and was likely rebadged from something else.
The Catera came across as a dead-end, placeholder model, with no real path for continuation of any kind. Clearly Cadillac was never going to go in the direction of round styling.
When you think about it, the whole idea of an “entry level” Cadillac showed the bankruptcy of the old GM Sloan ladder. Of course BMW and Mercedes needed an entry level car because they were standalone manufacturers.
Cadillac’s entry level vehicle was already there – it was called a Buick or Oldsmobile. But GM had so screwed up what its Divisions were all about by that time that Olds and Buick were no longer doing that job. So they used an . . . Opel . . . instead?
While hardly disagreeing with your statement that GM had screwed up it’s divisions, I don’t think they would have worked here. The person they were trying to sell the Catera to is not unlike the BMW-desiring customer. Maybe they can’t afford the ticket on the big models, they it still had to say “BMW” or “Mercedes” on the hood. Another brand name is not acceptable (if it was, one of the Germans would have brought back Bogward a long time ago), but it isn’t basking in the glow of the that clientele.
Call them badge whores if you want (I do). But to sell to this crowd, it had to say Cadillac. Oldsmobile or Buick wasn’t good enough.
I don’t disagree with a thing you say. My point is that while BMW and MB needed “junior” car sales, GM did not. GM had the ability to say “Come back when you can afford one, son.” This would have kept Cadillac squarely in the prestige car class. If you can’t afford a Cadillac, well then you can’t afford a Cadillac. That was the whole point to GM’s many brands – to have a desirable car at every price point.
This shows us that the old brand structure had completely broken down. As you say, everyone who could swing the minimal lease payment wanted the “big car name” but for the least money. Cadillac won that very game against Packard and Lincoln in the 30s-early 50s by staying out of the lower prices. But now they were playing the game but playing it badly. First, by insisting on a small car for the “entry level” buyer. Second by failing to have serious upmarket alternatives at the high end of the market. It seems that Cadillac has turned into LaSalle.
How much of this was a problem with the dealer structure?
GM corporate was probably fine with customers moving up the ladder slowly, but if you own Capitol Cadillac you’re going to notice that Lorenz Buick & Story Olds are moving a lot more cars every month, and something at the LaSalle price point looks pretty tempting.
Interestingly, it seems like the Borgward name is still in the family but is now licensed to a Chinese manufacturer (like MG?) for a line of CUVs. They claim they’ll be entering Europe soon; we’ll see…
But GM had so screwed up what its Divisions were all about by that time
The Sloan ladder collapsed starting in the Depression, and just kept collapsing further after the war.
In 1930, the cheapest Cadillac coupe cost 583% more than a Chevy coupe.
In 1940, the cheapest Cadillac coupe cost 225% more than a Chevy Special DeLuxe coupe.
In 1950, a Cadillac Series 61 coupe cost 59% more than a Chevy Bel Air.
In 1971, a Cadillac Calais coupe cost 45% more than a Caprice coupe.
Cadillac became LaSalle (or Buick) a very long time ago.
The Sloan ladder was only really relevant in the 1920s.By 1961 when Buick and Olds were selling stripper compacts, the Sloan ladder was a pile of rotted rubble.
After WW2, it really became all about brands, not price. Brand image became paramount. And as all cars became more affordable, thanks to falling interest rates, long loan terms and leasing, in our brand-oriented culture, everyone wanted a brand that had more cachet. Which explains the relentless growth of Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porsche, etc.. And it only makes sense for them to exploit their brand by going increasingly downmarket. Which they have.
The power of brand image explains the meteoric rise of Pontiac in the 60s. It had essentially little or nothing to do with its pricing, but was all about its youthful, dynamic, up-and-coming cool image.
Buick simply does not and has not had a brand image that could hope to compete with the premium import brands. Look at how weak sales of the Regal is, which is a competent car.
This all explains why GM has invested so many billions to give Cadillac a (largely) unique stable of cars. It’s their only hope, by trying to reinforce the value of the Cadillac brand. But it’s obviously a tough battle, because the Cadillac brand was already cheapened a very long time ago.
I hate to break it to you, but for me and a very substantial portion of my demographic, Cadillac was already a joke in 1971, or even sooner. A slightly tarted-up Caprice for which GM fleeced its customers an extra 45%, because it had that hood ornament & badging. Which is why we didn’t buy them, and bought imports instead. And which is why Cadillac withered away. And which is why I called the Seville a Deadly Sin. Too little; way too late. It sold to the women (and some men) who had been complaining about Cadillacs being too long. And those just suckered in by its pretentiousness. But these buyers were in their upper 50s; seeing old folks driving Sevilles with padded tops, opera lights, and pep-Boy grade fake wire wheel covers was not going to get the Yuppies to warm up to them, or Cadillac.
I understand I don’t speak for everyone (especially at this site), but Cadillac’s all-too obvious decline started a very long time ago. Cars like the Cimarron and Catera were just part of the perpetual rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. There was no way the Catera was going to have any real chance. It would have needed to be better than the competition; instead it was decidedly inferior.
If the Catera had even been as good or better than a Mercedes or BMW, it might have possibly slowed the erosion of Cadillac a teenie-weenie bit. But it would have had to be followed up by equally good larger cars. As I said, it’s all about the brand. One good car in a stable of a brand that’s otherwise seen as geriatric-mobiles is NOT going to make the brand appealing to young, aspiring buyers.
This is what GM and Cadillac never got: you have to be the best (or seen as seriously trying to be the best) across all the product lines, so as to earn a reputation, the hard way. One car isn’t nearly enough.
How do you think the import brands developed the brand standing they have now? By building one semi-good car, but mediocre crap for the rest?
The world admires excellence. Hence the status of brands like Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche, Mercedes, RR, etc…. They all earned it by making better cars than the competition, or just excelling at what they did. The same applies in other consumer goods. Apple, Rolex, Gulfstream, etc..
Cadillac earned its status for excellence in the first four decades of its existence (1900-1939). The next three decades (40s-60s), it exploited that status, but largely by coasting. And by 1970, that had begun to run its course. Buyers who wanted genuine excellence found it abundantly elsewhere. Cadillac continued to coast downhill but its clientele of ever-older customers, who had been young when Cadillac still meant something, kept buying them regardless. Until they were mostly all dead. Just like Cadillac.
For the past decade, Cadillac has been trying to start from scratch. But that’s become a lot harder than it once was. The competition is brutal. And they have their reputation, largely intact. Which explains why Cadillac is making slow headway.
To establish a hot new brand requires doing something truly different. Like Tesla, as an example. It’s a hot brand, regardless of what you might think about them. They have 400k reservations for a car they’re still figuring out how to build in volume. What would Cadillac give to have 400k reservations for its….ATS??? Ha!! They can’t barely give them away.
But what has Cadillac done that’s really different, or better? Imitating BMW and Mercedes isn’t going to cut it anymore, in part because BMW and Mercedes are being challenged by the rapid changes in the market and upstarts like Tesla. Cadillac is chasing the BMW of ten years ago. Is that really a viable strategy? Well, it’s better than what they were doing in the bad old days, but it may not cut it.
You have to take risks, and push the limits, or break through them. That’s something the great brands all did to establish themselves, and Cadillac did in the pre-war era. But then you have to keep committed to staying on top. Coasting doesn’t cut it, at least not for long.
And yet, as all this stupidity was going around GM’s passenger car groups, the truck group was knocking out one home run after another. In a way, it was self-defeating. GM could still post healthy profits, but on the backs of their truck division. When truck sales crashed during the ’07 recession, the game was up.
GM Tucks were CAFE exempt. There cars were not.
Besides the 3800 V-6 GM could not (and still cannot) make a quality CAFE compliant motor. I would nominate the 3.6 DI as a replacement but I have heard stories about their timing chains stretching and breaking.
They should have expanded their relationship with Toyota, Suzuki, and Isuzu back in the Geo days to produce engines for their entire small car line-up but that would have been admitting failure. GM would not admit failure until they handed the reins to Mary Barra during the Cobalt Ignition Recall. Even then they did not admit that their engines were failures.
Well the automobile market is constantly changing. My opinion is that Cadillac (as well as Lincoln and Imperial) were low end luxury cars in the world market. They still are. I don’t think comparing a top of the line Chevrolet with the lowest priced Cadillac makes any sense.
The luxury car market is/has shifted to crossovers, which Cadillac is way behind on, but Buick is not.
Your percentages are off for both 1930 and 1940. I think you mean 483% more (or 5.83 times the price of the chevy) and 2.25 times the price of the chevy (which is 125% more).
Exactly. The Germans had a structure of several models with similar styling but different sizes and prices, all under one brand name. The basic cars stayed pretty much the same for six or eight years and then were replaced by the next edition.
GM had an older and American strategy of having different (five) brand names with somewhat different personalities and styling but with a whole lot of obvious sharing of basic bodies. Styling was revised more often (yearly in the 50’s – 60’s) but without necessarily any basic change. In some periods there were two basic bodies, and mid range cars like Buick had models based on both.
The GM approach was coming to an end and the German approach was winning. A smaller Cadillac that pretty much didn’t look like a Cadillac (because it was an Opel) and then turned out to be unreliable was not a good idea. By then they needed to seriously rethink everything. Later it was of course goodbye to Pontiac and Oldsmobile, unfortunate possibly but necessary.
Japanese and Korean brands decided to have two levels (Toyota and Lexus, for example) although like American cars of olde they may share basic structures. European brands have stayed with one brand name, but now they mostly all have lower priced cars mostly with shared platforms, like Skoda (VW) and dacia (Renault). GM now has three levels: Cadillac, Buick, and Chevrolet.
It took a while for GM to transition from the olden American days to the modern international days. The Catera was a badly done stab at it.
But today of course all Buicks below the biggest ones are Opels. But they aren’t unreliable or otherwise compromised like the Catera.
Brendan, the Catera was yet another of GM’s engineering marvels called “something to sell in the segment”. No other standards needed to apply.
See: Malibu based Cutlass, Torrent, Montana, Relay, Escalade, G3, etc etc etc.Or Nova, Spectrum, Storm, Optra [?].
Just plug something in from an affiliate or overseas division and Bam !: instant plus sales to unknowing [or uncaring] buyers.
What I remember about the Catera was the marketing campaign “The Caddy that Zigs” – with the cartoon duck.
I didn’t think it suited the brand.
The Catera was supposed to be the Cadillac to appeal to those not on Social Security. So the advertising had to be young, kicky, etc.
The Catera was always a great mystery to me. First, it made no presumption to look like a Cadillac. Rather, it looked more like a Chevy Lumina, bland, lumpish, and unassuming. Note that smooth lines don’t have to be bland; I always loved the 1995 Buick Rivera which looks very much to me like the XP-2000. I think a sister-car Eldorado of that Rivera might have done better for GM than the Catera.
The name was off too; as bland and unassuming as the shape especially considering Caddy’s usual fair for names -Eldorado, Fleetwood, Deville, even Cimmaron was a good name and then suddenly we get Clunk! Catera? In my case, the name wasn’t help by me initially confusing it with “catarrh” – unpleasant nasal congestion with a build-up of mucus, usually in the nose, throat, ears or chest.
Then, of course, the whimsical ad campaign for a car that was anything but whimsical. What the sweet duck was going on there? The Catera looked more like a car for a slog to the airport Avis parking lot than an autumn drive in the mountains.
Finally, the quality problems were puzzling. I’d thought that Opel had had the car in production for some years, giving GM ample time to debug the car. In any case, isn’t it one of the fundamental rules that when you are trying to move your customer away from what they’ve traditionally bought from you the quality has to be better than your old product or they’ll reject it? I mean, Hello! Even bars of soap always advertise “New and Improved!, right?
The whole project just seemed to reek of very “phoned it in” indifference. I sometimes wonder what Bill Mitchell would have thought of the Catera….
“The name was off too”. Catera sounds like a scouring powder or the name of a drug that they advertise on TV. Yawn!
It didn’t help that the refresh of the rear end seemed like a direct theft of the Toyota Tercel, either.
Totally agree that Catera was a terrible name. A rare case where some random alphanumeric would have been better.
Bill Mitchell would have been utterly disgusted by the Catera.
Hey, don’t knock the name; it gave us Dr. Lisa Catera . . . .
The car that “ZIGS”! Please!
The new Buick Regal Hatchback is a loser too.
make that Opel Regal Hatchback
What the H is that meaningless line that dips down and ends an unrelated-to-anything spot just behind the front fender.
Works as well as the random hairpin on 63 and 64 Plymouth Valiants
Styling feature to avoid having a giant plain slab of sheetmetal
What’s with that stupid, random front fender line that ends at the back of the front wheel well ?
Looks as out of nowhere as the “hairpin” on a 63-64 Valiant
Even before the XP-2000, Buick had been playing around with concepts based on international RWD platforms. The Sceptre concept from 1992 reportedly was on a 111″ RWD platform (which would have matched the dimensions of the Holden Commodore at the time). To my eyes, the “cab forward” styling is more expressive than the XP-2000, and it would have been done under styling chief Chuck Jordan (the XP was a Wayne Cherry-era creation). The look did trickle down to a degree, as some elements of the Sceptre finally emerged on the 1997 Buick Century.
An appropriately sized RWD sedan would have made sense for GM at the time. It’s too bad they executed it in the worst possible way for their flagship division–yet another nail in the coffin for Cadillac.
Interesting to see that, some of the side window shape looks similar to the Commodore, as well as the overall proportions of the body (less the front & rear treatment).
XP-2000 was shaped in Australia by Mike Simcoe’s team. Simcoe is currently GM VP – Global Design.
Looks like halfway between GM and Chrysler sedans of that time.
So much disappointment here. GM product planning at its worst.
If the 3800 was discussed as an option as nlpnt points out above and from the article “The 3.8 V6 was too coarse….” Yes the 3.8 was too coarse for a Cadillac. But what was to stop GM from introducing the VT or Opel with the 3.8 and 3.8 SC as a replacement for the Lumina, Grand Am, Cutlass Supreme, or as a Saturn? All of these models were either axed or receiving updates around this time anyway.
Instead they hang a Cadillac badge on the grille, lure young people (GEN-X) into the Caddy showrooms and the cars grenade on Cadillac’s future customer base. But this alone didn’t doom Cadillac, it is the combination of the 4-6-8, 80’s Diesel, HT-4100, Northstar Head Gaskets, and the Catera Head Gaskets that conspired together to kill Cadillac.
Also I would like to point out that GM’s concept car to launch process was and continues to be laughable. The XP-2000 looks a lot like the first gen Buick Lacrosse. The problem is that a full ten years had elapsed between the 1995 Detroit Auto Show and the car being launched in Buick showrooms as a 2005 model. By then the design is stale and the customers had already moved on.
I have a couple of deadly sin suggestions for Paul while we are on the topic of GM today…
1. The Corvette. Specifically the edict that no car from GM be marketed or designed to have performance that matches this car. I believe this is the deadliest sin that has not been discussed. This edict has caused the death or the compromised principle of the Fiero, Montana Thunder, Grand National/GNX, Allante, XLR, Oldsmobile F-88, Pontiac Banshee, GTO, SS, on and on. I am sure I omitted at least a few more. This decision combined with the “Corporate Engines” decision in the mid-70’s sewed the seeds of GM’s bankruptcy and will ultimately lead to its death whenever the next recession hits. They are so flat-footed with regards to their car line-up today that it won’t be worth bailing them out next time.
2. The Oldsmoblie Profile Concept looks exactly the same as the Tesla Model X and could have been the car to launch Crossovers within GM and compete with the Lexus RX. Instead GM kills Oldsmobile and launches the Pontiac Aztek and Buick Rendezvous twins. As a result, GM doesn’t get taken seriously as a Crossover manufacturer until the Lambada’s launch a full seven years later. And no Lambada was ever cross shopped with a Lexus.
3. Cadillac concept cars. Why bother if they are never produced or launch and look as if they were run though a Xerox with recycled toner at 75% scale?
It irks me to post this because my family was a diehard GM family. I used to cheer for that Black GM Goodwrench car every Sunday.
Furthermore, I don’t enjoy watching the failure of what was once a great US Business Story that did so much to help the world become mobile and helped the USA and its allies win WWII. In fact is makes me sad to see this happen in my lifetime.
Ah, the sins of the Corvette…so many, and so bad. Not that the Corvette is a bad car, but if any other car dictated so much bad policy, I have not heard of it.
The fact that GM does have the edict that nothing is to outperform the Corvette is rational by itself. If that only applied to Chevrolets, it would make sense. But not for the overall brands, per se. If you had a Cadillac, at a higher price point, that outperformed the Corvette, it would be prudent and reasonable to build it and sell it at a much higher price point. Instead, they brought out the XLR, detuned it from the Vette, and replaced the body with plastic panels, badly styled. The other divisions have created possible cars that would have given the Vette a run for its money, but they could not show up the Vette and still be produced (yes, they could build detuned and watered down cars like the Fiero as built, or the GNX), but keep it UNDER what the Vette did. Imagine the XLR got the ZR1 package and not the Vette, and all the glory went to Cadillac instead of Chevy. Suddenly, a Cadillac halo car! Instead, it is as if the Porsche 911 is to be marketed as a VW, and sold by VW dealers, and totally unlike anything else VW sells, and all because Porsche came about as an extension of VW.
Ah, GM, you always amaze us. Not for good reasons, but you amaze us.
The 3.8 originally used in Commodores in the VN model was quite coarse but by the time the VT came out it was smoother, Ive been driving some 3.8 Holdens lately and they go ok better than the later Alloytech version I just got home in 800kms by road and a interisland ferry trip later, at least the old Buick mill has some torque the later engine just produces noise and no action until its revving quite hard, we have Opel Vauxhall and Holden versions of this car here but Ive never seen a Catera in the metal
Catera was Cadillac trying to say “look we have an import too” or trying to get younger buyers with half baked afterthoughts. “Bait and switch”, like the Cimarron.
But, in a twist of fate, a year later, fall 1998, the Escalade comes out and ultimately is now Caddy’s signature vehicle.
I may get this wrong, but isn’t the perception in Europe that Opel is more of a low end brand compared to the other German companies? I was under the impression that in Europe, Opel is more like the German Chevrolet, a lower end brand that’s affordable to anyone but isn’t necessarily on the same level as BMW. While I am aware of Opel’s reputation for quality in the 70s, I don’t know how they were perceived in the 90s, but the current reputation they’ve had is what I’ve heard.
Which brings me to my next point, if Cadillac was serious about wanting to compete with BMW by importing the Catera, why didn’t they just make the Fourth Gen Seville RWD? Considering that the Seville had the STS model, which was more or less meant to be an obvious rival to the M5, you can tell GM wanted Cadillac to compete with BMW on some level. But the biggest dynamic flaw for the Seville was the FWD architecture, if they were serious about building a serious sports sedan, the last thing they should’ve done was make it FWD. If the Seville, and especially the STS was RWD, then you would’ve had a Cadillac with a contemporary yet distinct look, a powerful V8 engine that offered high performance as well as relaxed city driving, handling and driving dynamics similar to the BMW, and all for less than the contemporary BMW M5. But no, we got the Catera, and all the problems with that. Also, when you make a car that how somehow has worse reliability than the Northstar Cadillacs, you’ve done something wrong.
I actually work with a team from Germany, and the only comment that they had about Opel was that it was nicknamed the “booger” car based on how it sounds similar to that word in German, Popel. If PSA bought it, it certainly is going to go down in status, as they are not known as luxury brands (well, DS is trying….). Yeah, one can always say that Mercedes are used as Taxis over there (and in Asia) but that is a case of the well built car decontented to meet a lower price point, not a cheap car built up into a luxury model. GM and Cadillac just don’t get that, and neither does Ford, but Ford does not try to pass off mostly unchanged Euro models as the new Lincoln.
Concerning Opel’s brand image, you’re right on the mark. Its most direct domestic competitor in branding and pricing is Ford (which is considered sort of German, but only to a degree), and their EU lineup is much the same as NA, bar the trucks. To provide some perspective. Both Ford and Opel improved substantially since the early ’90s.
As such, the Omega had neither the badging nor the pretense of being a premium car. A bigger car by Euro standards, spacious, comfy and none too sophisticated, much like a larger Ford or Chevy really. Very common as a taxi for a long time. Rebadging it as a Caddy seems somewhat laughable in that respect. With the previous Insignia Opel unsuccessfully attempted to set up an aspirational image. That pretense has been purposely dropped for the new one, instead marketing it as the alternative for premium.
In addition to its other flaws, the Catera resembled a Grand Am or Malibu at a glance. Not exactly the most upscale look.
I thought I was the only one who noticed the similarities between the Malibu, the Grand Am, and the Catera. To make matters worse for GM, all 3 also had 6 cylinder engines.
The idea that Buick was Cadillac’s entry level car was something I had not really thought of, but was apparently ignored by GM. ironically, the Catera looked a lot like a Buick.
As the Catera hit the used car auctions, they were one “run away, run away fast” from car among others. More than once I watch a Catera seemingly in good condition receive no bids by dealers as the auctioneer harangued away. Poor reliability and high repair cost made dealers avoid these like the plague. The only guys who would take a chance were the “Buy Here, Pay Here” operators, whose clientele were so desperate for a car, they’d sign on the line for anything, even one of these.
The XP2000 concept actually looked better than the Opel Omega, although I always liked that car as well. But to me it was never convincing as a Cadillac. The XP2000 would not have translated well as a Cadillac either, as it definitely looks more like a Buick or the Oldsmobile Aurora. It seems as though Cadillac finally got it right with the CTS when it came to entry level models. The Omega, as some of the fellow commenters said, was a top of the line car from a mainstream manufacturer, like the old Ford Granada, Peugeot 605 and the like, and by the time it came out, fleet and private buyers were more likely to buy entry level BMWs, Audis and Mercedes than cars like the Omega. As for the Japanese rivals (Toyota Camry, Nissan Maxima, Honda Legend) in Europe, forget about it!
My memory may be clouded here, but didn’t the Catera get a slightly toned down Cadillac badge compared to the rest of the lineup? I vaguely remember something about how either one or all of the ducks faced the oppisite direction to highlight how “This isn’t your typical Cadillac”?
I know the commercials played that up, but talk about a huge branding misstep. Hey look, it’s a Cadillac that isn’t really a Cadillac *Wink Wink*. This failed with the Cimmaron by Cadillac, and it failed here. No doubt the execution of these were better, but the whole concept of a brand, in my eyes, is unified attributes. To attempt to separate the two just alienates both sides of the coin.
I worked at a call center for GM service departments in the late 90’s-early 2000s. The Cadillac was regularly referred to as the Caterrible…..
One wonders why they didn’t stuff a LS block V8 into the Catera and call it a day? It might have flown. In other news, Lincoln was selling 100K Town Cars/yr while Cadillac kept trying to reinvent itself.
Putting an LS series engine into a Catera is, or was considered as a quick way to build a sleeper. I would imagine there are more than 1 or 2 How To Articles and/or videos on the internet detailing how to do the swap.
But as I understand it, many of the Catera’s problems were in the electrical system.
The Catera was just plain ugly. Didn’t GM use the same body, but in 2 doors, for the Pontiac GTO? To me these cars look exactly the same.
Also, I remember picking up a brochure for the Catera and thinking it had a subliminal quality to make you want to buy this car. On every page, there was a repeated hidden theme of 4 squares, a circle, and another square. I recall one page showed a guy on a bicycle and the fork of the. bicycle had the square circle square. One page showed the Golden Gate Bridge, with the square circle square thing on the column of the bridge. Another phot showed the ugly Catera parked on a driveway with the square circle square theme… it was truly bizarre and I guess it had to do with the whole Caddy that zigged theme. Or maybe about how one of the ducks left the crest.
No the GTO was from Australia in the southern hemisphere. The Catera was made in Germany. Two different automakers, Opel in the Northern Hemisphere, Holden in the South.
The GTO is based on the Holden Commodore, a stretched/widened/restyled/reengineered version of the Opel Omega.
The most expensive changes to a car’s bodyshell involve the doors therefore because the rear door is longer on the Commodore the shape of the rear door window is different. Also the trunk lid looks to be a different shape – most likely the Commodore’s extra width is either side of the lid.
One bit of trivia is that the Commodore had a problem with collecting rain water in the trunk lid, and when it was opened the water would fall into the trunk. This was not discovered until the car was launched because the camouflage covering prevented the water getting in!
I think the GTO was based on the Holden Monaro coupe. The Commodore was used for the Pontiac G8 sedan. Then, when Pontiac was shuttered, the Commodore was used for the Chevy SS.
The Australian Commodore came to Brazil as “Chevy” Omega but only for a couple of years.
I had completely forgotten about them.
No matter how competent the Omega was, slapping a Cadillac badge on the car of choice for taxi operators seems cynical at best.
What I didn’t notice before though was an even more downmarket detail on the Cadillac LSE Concept: the doorhandles, which came straight off the old Omega, as well as the Corsa, Astra, Vectra and the outgoing Holden Commodore. Don’t think those were even on concept versions of the Omega. While only obsessive car geeks that populate car forums will spot where it came from, such details make the car look even more ho-hum even to casual observers. Tacky.