Will Cadillac ever build an American luxury car?
As reported earlier on this website, Cadillac has announced the prices for the all new 2008 CTS: $32,245 for the manual V-6 and $32,545 for the automatic version.
The CTS is the car Bob Lutz used as a teaser last year, when he lifted the car cover enough to show off part of the front fender, the automotive equivalent of a stripper showing a little leg. The clear implication was that the CTS would be different, a world class car, a car that would put Cadillac in the thick of competition with Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
But those companies weren’t idle. Mercedes-Benz has just announced the new C Class, which is well equipped and starts at about the same sticker price as the CTS. The 3 Series BMW is a strong seller and Nissan is competing in this market, too. Unless the CTS has something to offer that these cars do not, it will end up having to be sold on price, a self-defeating strategy which cheapens the product’s reputation and destroys its resale value.
It is too early to tell for sure, but the preliminary indications are that Cadillac has not leapfrogged the competition, but merely maintained its status a step behind them.
If so, Cadillac has squandered another opportunity. They won’t have many more of them.
Cadillac cannot succeed by copying the product line-up of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. The C Class and 3 Series are certainly big sellers, but that doesn’t mean Cadillac should be building a direct competitor. The truth is that the buyer who wants a C Class is unlikely to set foot in a Cadillac showroom. There is simply no way that Cadillac is going to build a better Mercedes than does Daimler-Benz.
So, they shouldn’t try to.
The tradition of Cadillac is that of being America’s most prominent luxury car, synonymous with luxury and status in a uniquely American way. There always was a distinctive element of excess to Cadillacs, which was one of the reasons people wanted them.
And there was one Cadillac model, year in and year out, that captured the essence of the brand.
The car that Cadillac now has chosen to abandon, not merely in name, but in nurture.
Today’s Cadillac DTS, what originally was called the DeVille, was introduced in 2000. It is not scheduled to be replaced until 2010, when rumor says a new rear wheel drive model will be introduced.
That’s ten years of producing the same car.
In that time period, Cadillac has introduced two entirely new CTSs, an entirely new STS, and a crossover, the SRX, as well as the two seat XLR. Sales of the STS, which doesn’t look much different than the first generation CTS, have been dismal. The original CTS didn’t hit the youthful market at which it was aimed and compared poorly with its competitors. The XLR was introduced overpriced and underpowered (the exact same mistake Cadillac made in the nineties with the Allante), a type of car for which there will never be a market. While Cadillac was pouring money into developing new models that ultimate wouldn’t sell, they propped up sales by grafting gaudy trim onto Chevrolet trucks and becoming truck dealers.
What Cadillac should have done is build a new and better DeVille.
Instead, they’ve eliminated the name.
The new CTS is not the essential American luxury car. The essence of the American luxury car is opulence, sybaritic comfort, and more than a touch of ostentation.
Cadillac still knows how to do this. They did it perfectly in the Cadillac Sixteen show car, a car which Mr. Lutz recently said Cadillac will not build. The Sixteen, however, has everything that a real Cadillac ought to have. It should have been the inspiration for a new deVille.
Instead, the 2010 DTS replacement will probably be another car pulled from the Zeta platform developed by Holden.
It’s just as well they won’t call it a DeVille.