I had the opportunity to visit with the Cadillac folks at a Pre-New York Auto Show Reception in West Village. It was a tasty cocktail gig with a trio of V-series models (CTS Sedan, Wagon and Coupe) available for closer inspection. Though nobody actually sat in them. But that’s not the point: marketing and re-branding the product was the topic of conversation.
Cadillac’s making a push to promote the V-series and Platinum groups as sub-brands, like AMG and Designo (look it up) in the realm of Mercedes-Benz. And the V-series has acres of credibility with significant improvements to the respectable CTS, the awful STS and forgettable XLR. But the Platinum Caddys leave much to be desired. Even by Cadillac’s own (indirect) admission, recent Platinum editions are a far cry from Germany’s best efforts, or the Fleetwood Sixty Specials and Broughams of yesteryear.
That’s because chrome wheels, deck lid badging and chocolate covered seats/floor mats (not carpets) do not a special edition make. Clock the Platinum edition DTS for proof, there’s plenty of low hanging fruit to grab. According to GM Design guru Ed Welburn, the forthcoming XTS Platinum will be far superior to previous efforts.
While Ed’s an old school hot rodder at heart, he publically made his penchant for Platinum luxury combined with V-series performance known. As commentators on my CTS Sport Wagon review know, that’s where an LS4-style power train swap comes into play. Over 300 liquid smooth ponies with effortless torque in a cheap to make power train? You can’t do that with a V6. Plus, that engine family already lives in the V-series. Others listened, but Mr. Welburn unceremoniously walked over to Bob Lutz when I mentioned “LS-X swap” like I would on a TTAC Piston Slap. Oops, that’s my bad.
That’s not to say GM isn’t listening to an outsider’s perspective. Far from it: Cadillac engineers, designers and PR flacks want to blend Cadillac’s past with its down market, platform engineered future. I’m sure they recognize the disconnect. Just how far can a Platinum spec’d Caddy sell for, given the brand’s descent into mid-level luxury? And what exactly are you telling the market with a forthcoming flagship based on the tall and tipsy Buick Lacrosse with no V8, or even an EcoBoost-ish V6 option?
I reckon it’ll be a tough sell. And history is on my side. With every word from well-intentioned Cadillac staffers, the legacy of my 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Seventy-Five continually haunted my thoughts. Sure, it’s a terrible car: a front wheel drive platform with 1980’s GM cookie cutter styling and a truly awful HT4100 engine. But the fact there were two long wheelbase Caddys (Sixty and Seventy-Five Series) with a torque rich V8 and famous names means that today’s Cadillac has a long way to go before the Platinum name is more than a marketing term that resonates within the RenCen.
Unless everyone loves the Puff Daddy era of Hip Hop, the “Platinum” name will take years to get traction with the general public. And with a name like “Sajeev Mehta”, I certainly understand the implications of what you call yourself. Names like “Fleetwood” have obvious baggage, but instant recognition of a luxury orientation isn’t a problem. Why not say that Fleetwood is the new definition of Cadillac luxury in modern times? Sounds like an easy spin.
Then again, we have the very impressive V-series. And it’s a completely different direction for Cadillac as a brand. Plus, the GM staffers gave the same message: pointing to the CTS V-Wagon as a low-volume Halo Car to prove the Wreath and Crest can run with the likes of BMW and Mercedes. Considering the last generation of the E55 AMG Wagon sold less than 70 units every year in the USA, Cadillac’s V-Wagon has a weak business case. But that’s the North American perspective; perhaps the wagon will bring about international recognition? Clock the sales of the Euro-only Cadillac BTS for a little more perspective on that. Point is, people buy Cadillacs that look and feel like a Caddy. And you don’t need to get hit by a Fleetwood to get it.
But the shining star in tonight’s lineup is the CTS Coupe, shown here in V-series livery. The thrilling return of the two-portal Cadillac is reason for applause, and becomes a Halo car in the spirit of the Infiniti G-coupe. Fair enough, though the CTS coupe’s design from the A-pillar back looks like the Batmobile had one night of passion with an AMC AMX.
It’s a jarring design that will please some, but somebody forgot to sweat the OCD details: the tailfin-like taillights and CHMSL-cum-spoiler are just begging to turn chalky after a few errant runs with an orbital buffer at a car wash. And even now they look…downright cheap. While the styling details aren’t there yet, expect all of the V-series to kick butt on the track. And maybe the Platinum editions will live up to their name too, if Cadillac reaches their goals in the near future.