By on May 12, 2010

Cadillac’s new ad campaign, with the tag line “The Mark of Leadership”, has received mixed reviews. Some have questioned the use of the word “mark” because it may evoke a model name long used by luxury competitor Lincoln. Others have said that the mark itself is in question, the Cadillac wreath and crest logo, is itself tainted by association with tacky blinged out Escalades of questionable aesthetic taste. Those points may be valid, but I think that there’s a more troubling problem with the slogan and that has to do with Cadillac’s heritage.

Today it’s easy to regard Cadillac’s long used “Standard of the World” advertising slogan as an ironic comment on the company’s fall from the pinnacle of consumer desire. That slogan, ad-man hype though it was, was actually based on Cadillac’s history and tied to Cadillac’s founder, Henry Leland. Leland was a precision machinist who saw an opportunity in the nascent auto industry. He realized that standardized parts, made to close tolerances, meant not only easier mass production but also consistently higher quality automobiles that could be more easily repaired when they did break. Leland’s machine shop supplied Ransom E. Olds with engines for his early automobiles.

Then, in 1902, when Henry Ford’s financial backers decided that liquidating the first Ford car company was less troublesome than dealing with Henry, Leland was brought in as a consultant to appraise the value of the assets. Leland completed the appraisal but also suggested to those financiers that it made more business sense to build a new car based on a new engine design he had hoped to sell to Oldsmobile. To give the car some aristocratic cachet the new company was renamed Cadillac after the French explorer who founded Detroit. From the beginning, Cadillac was all about leading edge engineering, with Leland introducing modern manufacturing techniques based on his experience working for toolmaker Brown & Sharpe and gunmaker Colt. The technique most mentioned in connection with Leland is interchangeable parts. Most early cars were literally one of a kind, with parts fabricated and machined as need, often with considerable hand fitting. Cadillac changed that, with the use of mass produced standardized components.

To achieve uniformity, and standardized parts, though, first you need standards. In 1908, Henry Leland was Carl Johansson’s first American customer. Johansson, an important Swedish inventor who is little known today, created what became known as “Jo-blocks”, precision machined gauge blocks that could be used as standards for calibrating tooling and fixtures. For it’s use of interchangeable parts, in 1909, Cadillac won the 1908 Dewar Trophy, awarded by the Royal Automotive Club. To win the award, three production models were stripped and disassembled. Some parts considered to be precision parts were discarded and replaced with replacement parts from the Cadillac dealer. Cadillac mechanics had to assemble the cars, using only simple tools, and get them running reliably. All three cars passed the tests with flying colors and Cadillac’s reputation was established. Not long after its Dewar award, Cadillac started using the slogan “The Standard of the World”.

So great was that reputation that Cadillac received considerable indirect publicity when non-automotive products would be called “the Cadillac of this” or “the Cadillac of that”. That impression on the public mind as Cadillac being a measure of supreme quality remains, maybe as a dim shadow but it nonetheless remains, when politicians speak of “Cadillac health plans”.

Early on, Cadillac was indeed a technological leader. Charles Kettering, at Leland’s urging, invented the first electric self starter (as an aside, this was a sociological development as well because it meant that women could drive themselves and not need a strong man to crank over the engine by hand). Leland also introduced electrically powered headlamps, much safer and brighter than the gas lamps previously used.

Cadillac’s leadership also extended to marketing. In early 1915, an advertisement appeared in the Satuday Evening Post. Crafted by pioneering ad-man Theodore F. MacManus, it’s still considered one of the best pieces of advertising copy ever written. There’s not a single image of an automobile, just a page long essay titled, The Penalty of Leadership. The essay never even mentions automobiles, or selling them, or even uses the word Cadillac, it just talks about the obstacles, naysayers, slings and arrows that true leaders overcome. It brilliantly evokes, in the readers mind, the image of two leaders, Cadillac and himself.

Since 1915, Cadillac marketers have returned, time and again, to the image of Cadillac, and its customers, as leaders. Perhaps because “The Standard of the World” was so well known (it’s right there in Cadillac’s logo at the top of Penalty of Leadership), people aren’t familiar with just how frequently Cadillac marketing has referenced “leadership” over the past century. So frequently that it seems to me that the current use of “Mark of Leadership” is a deliberate reference to that leitmotif of Cadillac marketing. Fortunately, people collect old advertisements, so a few minutes searching on eBay demonstrates how frequently Cadillac has touted leadership.

Cadillac’s slogan for 1933 was “Leadership Rests On Achievement”, achievement being another frequent refrain in Cadillac advertising. After all, leaders who drive Cadillacs have achieved their status.

Leaders like Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, whose aristocratic image figures prominently on the cover of this promotional package.

Inside, the text reads “and leaders are made by deeds!”

Magazine ads for 1933 also featured Antoine, and stressed Cadillac’s technical leadership in the development of 90 degree V engines, including the V12 installed in the Convertible Coupe (though I believe now 60 degrees is considered ideal for a 12 cylinder V).

Advertisements for 1958 featured the Eldorado Brougham, perhaps the most luxurious car built in its day, and definitely one of the most expensive at almost $14,000. At the top of the ad is a single word, Leadership, above a photo of the Eldo, w/ an elegantly dressed couple. In the ad copy the tagline is “From Great Achievements… An Inspiring Tradition”.

Another elegant couple appears in a 1962 Sedan de Ville advertisement titled simply “Cadillac leadership”

The completely restyled 1971 Cadillacs were promoted with “The New Look of Leadership” in both sales brochures

and print ads.

The print ads mention leadership in both the tagline and the ad copy, stressing Cadillac’s technical innovation and tying it to the Standard of the World slogan.

The most recent ad that I could find that hyped Cadillac’s leadership was from 1973, just as GM and the other Detroit automakers began their long decline. The ’73s, which were only slightly restyled for that year, were promoted with “Encore! Nothing Says More About Cadillac Leadership”. Perhaps that decline can be seen in the advertisement, a recycled tagline, for a recycled car.

Once again Cadillac is using leadership as a marketing slogan. So what’s wrong with the Mark of Leadership? The campaign gives the viewer no clue as to the historical significance of “leadership” to Cadillac. It’s almost as though someone went through old ads and said, “Yeah, lets talk about leadership”, without actually talking about what’s made and what makes Cadillac a leader.

About ten years ago, Cadillac began to rebuild its brand. As part of that strategy, they ran an ad called “Moments” that introduced the very modern looking styling language now familiar as “Art & Science”. What is appealing about Moments is that it puts Cadillac’s contemporary style and technology in the context of the company’s history. Rather than run away from the big old Caddys of yore, Moments embraced them, while clearly showing that Art & Science is a long way from Dagmar bumpers.

Marketers like to use the word “aspirational” to describe desirable higher priced consumer goods. Time was, Cadillac was once the standard of the world for all things aspirational. I would say that until GM’s decline, Cadillac was even beyond aspirational. Aspirational products are desired by people who can’t yet afford them. Cadillacs were driven by those who already had arrived.

The “Moments” ad recognized that historical reality.

With “Mark of Leadership” Cadillac has the opportunity to do something similar and reclaim the marketing prowess that the brand once had. Unfortunately, the first commercial from Cadillac’s new agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, doesn’t achieve anything near that. Detroit has spent too long running away from its heritage, fearful that it will remind people of unreliable land yachts. Cadillac and Lincoln have both treated storied nameplates, De Ville and Continental, like they were plagues.

If Cadillac wants “Mark of Leadership” to succeed, they’re going to have to embrace Cadillac’s heritage as a leader. Mercedes-Benz introduced the new E Class with commercials showing every generation of the car. Audi is currently running ads that are also very historical, going back to the company’s origins and showing the Silver Arrow racers despite potential PR dangers of discussing German autosports in the 1930s. If Audi and Mercedes-Benz can be proud of their histories, I think Cadillac can be as well.

Maybe a good start would be a 60 second commercial that has a voiceover reciting a slightly updated Penalty of Leadership over a video montage of Cadillac innovation and leadership going back to Henry Leland and his Jo-blocks and forward to the CTS-V variants and the upcoming XTS. Cadillac needs to show contemporary consumers that Standard of the World was not always an ironic joke. Like those old ads said, leadership rests on achievement.

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32 Comments on “Cadillac And The Mark of Leadership...”

  • avatar

    Detroit has spent too long running away from its heritage, fearful that it will remind people of unreliable land yachts.

    Really? I can think of nearly a hundred of heritage-based ads and vehicles produced by Detroit over the last decade.

  • avatar

    Cadillac’s problem, that no amount of flashy advertising will solve:

    Many high-worth consumers with pulses would only be caught dead, literally, in a DTS. Most of them wouldn’t believe that car is still being made. Fewer still would believe Cadillac plans to introduce yet another antiquated FWD land barge in the XTS, that is neither distinctive enough to stand apart nor true enough to bank on Cadillac’s past heritage.

    Many high-worth consumers who appreciate BMWs and Benzes are humored by the audacity of the CTS, but not particularly enamored with the car itself. Not one of them would actually buy one. That essentially leaves the car as an aspirational vehicle for those currently driving Cobalts and Malibus.

    Many high-worth consumers with class stay far, far away from the Escalade. Enough said… certainly enough said about those who drive them.

    Many high-worth consumers in the market for a small CUV realize there are innumerable — and far, far, far better — choices than the Equinox-retread SRX.

    And finally:

    Many high-worth consumers, particularly those who have toiled to reach a point of success in business, will not patronize a company dependent on government handouts.

  • avatar

    I must say that I was amazed to see Cadillac attracting younger buyers for its CTS. When I saw the sedan featured in “The Matrix,” I thought that it was a bold stroke for GM to position the car for a younger audience in that movie. But I never thought of Cadillac as a PERFORMANCE brand; since I’m older, I remember all the crappy Cadillacs from years gone by (Curbside Classics has shown us a few of those ugly things–hunks of iron). But the mark of leadership is surely more accurately associated with BMW and Mercedes (although not lately)and possibly Toyota (if the Taliban uses Toyota, it’s good enough for me). I will agree that Chevy makes or made great consumer grade trucks, same for Ford. But cars? Never GM. Never Ford, except for the Model T. All the American cars and trucks today are so cost reduced that they just don’t last the lifetime of the loan. VW is not far behind. I don’t trust GM, I admit, based on ownership experience.

    • 0 avatar

      “…All the American cars and trucks today are so cost reduced that they just don’t last the lifetime of the loan…”

      Funny, now that I drive to work, I see an awful lot of older domestic cars (imported ones too) on the road. I guess loans with 10 or 14 year terms are kind of common. I never knew…man the interest must be a killer…

  • avatar

    1908 may have set the tone, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

    Relative to Lincoln, Cadillac looks pretty good. Relative to Audi and BMW, well……….

    Still it’s America’s premium brand. I hope those 30 somethings and 40 somethings you all are talking about buy a ton of them.

  • avatar

    Advertising is not Cadillac’s main problem. Audi’s (or anyone else’s) isn’t exactly destined for the “classics” file either. No, Cadillac’s problem is its monumental historical success. Cadillac constantly lives in the shadow of the great V-16s, huge tailfins, and just plain sedan bigness of the past. Attempting anything else makes Cadillac look like it’s not genuine. That it’s playing European sport sedan dress-up even though it’s not sold in Europe. Trouble is, no one wants what Cadillac once was. Or enough buyers anyway. But why buy a CTS with 1950s Cadillac design cues when you can buy any number of real German sedans and not have to apologize for them? Then there’s the dealership experience. Sometimes good, sometimes not. Cadillac is just marking time and picking up margin where it can for GM but not really gaining traction. To save Cadillac someone needs to figure out a way to turn the clock back to 1955. Unfortunately, not even GM’s new marketing whiz kid can do that.

  • avatar

    The Cadillac brand might become a cherished but little used part of the American psyche. Think of the deep cultural resonance that brands like Bell, Winston, and Winchester invoke.
    Such feelings don’t translate into a current day, growing demand for products bearing those marques.

    • 0 avatar

      Winchester had that James Stewart movie, but Colt won the west. Winston is cigarettes? I’d have said Marlboro for “deep cultural resonance”. Bell? The helicopter company? Sorry. Just not following that one, I guess.

      Speaking of deep cultural resonance, I kinda thought Cadillac and Elvis kinda mirrored each other a lot.

    • 0 avatar

      Bell = AT&T before the breakup

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I think they ought to call “Thae American Tragedy”.

  • avatar

    nice ad anyway.

  • avatar

    While not exactly mentioning directly Cadillac’s history of leadership, and instead going for a more subtle approach – simply showing the vehicles themselves – the 2007-era “Roll – Past to Present” ad by Modernista is probably my favorite car commercial of the past 5 years (Infiniti’s excellent “Where are the cars we were promised?” campaign from the ’02 Q45 launch being the previous favorite). It uses stop-motion animation perfectly, utilizes some of the Cadillac range-toppers (though the inclusion of the slantback Seville and Allante, and exclusion of the Eldo Brougham, ’92 Seville, and any Escalade are notable) to provide the viewer with an in-depth history of the brand, includes a classically-American landscape, a great song (“Punkrocker” by Teddybears STHLM feat. Iggy Pop), and I didn’t even mind the short-lived “Life. Liberty. And the Pursuit.” tagline. It connects on an emotional level that I think works, makes you feel like you’ve been part of something epic simply by knowing about Cadillac’s existence over the past century.

    “Moments” seems like a rehash of the Infiniti campaign I mentioned earlier, though utilizing exclusively Cadillac vehicles (Infiniti couldn’t do this since they had almost no history, and little of Nissan’s history is particularly innovative in the American market).

  • avatar
    Tommy Boy

    Ads touting their early history when they were making “aspirational” vehicles, say 1909 through 1959, would resonate IF the current vehicles were upgraded to being “aspirational.”

    Problem is, everyone who hasn’t had a lobotomy knows that Cadillac is GM. Besides the Government Motors albatross (as it should be), peddling pimped-up Chevrolets with “Cadillac” badges hardly makes the heart flutter, much less entices to “aspiration.”

    A shame in a way. BMW has lost it with the bangled styling, and Mercedes blew its reputation for quality (European brands in general are scary in this regard), Lexus is boring, and Infiniti questionable from a quality standpoint due to the (ultimately) French ownership, so there’s a real opening there. An opening the Ford via Lincoln doesn’t seem inclined to fill either.

  • avatar

    I remember the GM ads of the 60’s and 70’s with jingle “GM…mark of excellence.” So this isn’t the first time GM has used the term “mark.”

    Regardless, GM won’t be the leader anytime soon until it can get rid of the solid black dots
    in Consumer Reports reliability survey.

  • avatar

    Excellent writing and a good source of Cadillac history. Bits any recent Cadillac marketing material.
    Cadillac’s slogan for 1933 “Leadership Rests On Achievement” says it all. You have to have achievements to be a leader. Today’s line of vehicles is very far from that. Escalade’s “bling” scares away many potential customers, also it’s the wrong car at the wrong time. STS and DTS are old and not competitive. The CTS is a me-too vehicle trying to offer the performance and price of a 3-series in a 5-series size. The SRX is a very good product but doesn’t excel in its crowded segment (personally I like the Saab’s exterior much better)
    Also there is no connection between models in the line-up with the exception of the last two. Escalade could be a different brand, which actually is as Chevy/GMC.
    Even the model names are “me-too”.
    Coming up with the tag line “Mark Of Leadership” in this situation, the Cadillac marketing sounds more like a park bench orator than a true leader to be followed. Not a good strategy when GM wants to rebuild its image. Let’s hope GM will find its way and will give Cadillac an all American original image instead of following German dreams. Cadillac is here in the middle of its potential customers and they should know the best what an original American design is.

  • avatar


    Just curious – did you write up this post before or after Peter posted this on Autoextremist:

    Your 9th grade English teacher read both and noted a few similarities ;<)

    IMHO It's really a shame how much credit we give Henry Ford – certainly he's due his share, but it's nice to read about the many other great ones that literally put the wheels onto the American automobile industry and pointed it in the right direction. Interchangeable parts and measurement standards made it possible for Ford to do what he did, but Ford can't take credit for these innovations.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, you don’t look like Mrs. Zivian (who, btw, went back to school, became a lawyer and then got back at me when my ex-wife hired her).

      Actually, I wrote this while in the middle of reading Peter’s column. No shame in acknowledging influences. I tried to take a different approach than Delorenzo, who mentioned the original Penalty of Leadership ad. When I searched to find that ad, I found out about all the other times Cadillac has used “leadership” and started to riff off of that.

      When I submitted the piece, I anticipated that Ed might reject it because of treading over some of the same ground as Autoextremist, but like I said, I was going in a different direction.

      I just think that if you’re going to reach into the bag and pull out a vintage slogan, you get more bang for the buck if you use all the provenance of that slogan that you can.

      It’s not a great analogy, but it’s a bit like all those dead celebrities and performers who still make millions annually for their estate [“makin’ money you can’t spend ain’t what bein’ dead’s about” – Drive By Truckers]. A while back, I think there was an ad that used CGI to have Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner. They didn’t just use his name or his photo, they showed what his brand was, dancing.

      Who knows? I’m the kind of guy who likes substantial advertisements. Tell me the product’s features and why it’s superior. Sell me the steak, not the sizzle. If you are going to sell me the sizzle, I better be able to see and hear it, not just read the word “sizzle”.

  • avatar


    Cadillac hasn’t been a standard of anything- save for mass middle-class merchandising since the 50s.

    If you knew your ass from a hole in the ground, you bought a Benz starting with the 300SL.

    Cadillac has been a mass-market piece of aspirational-dope-dealer-wanna-be-pimp crap since the 70s.

    Caddy lost it’s cred as any ‘standard of anything’ before most of us were born, and I’m in my mid-forties. Bury this decomposing pile of crap now.


    • 0 avatar

      The Mercedes 300SL was a pure sports car, and didn’t compete directly with Cadillacs of its time. It was great for what it did, but carrying four people and their luggage in comfort wasn’t one of them (in the days when people took long trips by car, instead of flying).

      For that, you bought an air-conditioned Cadillac, which, until about 1970 or so, was more reliable and better suited to American driving conditions than any Mercedes.

      Mercedes handled better, and had better structural rigidity. But the air conditioning/heating/ventilation system was a joke (Cadillac’s was best in the world at that time), the automatic transmissions were far inferior to GM’s Hydramatic and TurboHydramatic (luxury car drivers don’t shift for themselves), and its power assists were primitive at best compared to those in a Cadillac.

      The engines were also fussier and less reliable than the bulletproof V-8s in a Cadillac. (And in those days, a Cadillac used an engine made by CADILLAC.) And they weren’t really all that much more economical than the Cadillac engines, unless you bought one of the diesels, which were aggravatingly slow.

  • avatar

    I agree with the nay-sayers of the new ads.

    The idea of Cadillac getting back to its roots and being the “standard of the world” is good. There actually is room for that, if Cadillac is up to it from an engineer standpoint, since both Mercedes and now BMW have kicked their engineering credentials to the curve in the pursuit of niche products.

    Problem is, the actual ad almost seems ashamed of its slogan. It hits us with a bunch of confetti and flash, a few very bland features / press awards, and then, at the VERY end, VERY briefly, in VERY low contrast print and VERY small font, it says “Mark of Leadership.”

    Its almost like they’re afraid to really say it for fear they might fail. Which is possible of course, but you have to at least try, damnit, you can’t expect consumers to take you seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously!

    Not to mention the ad itself is terrible. Whoever thought putting music that sounds like its from an iPod commercial into a caddy ad was a good idea must of come in to work drunk that morning.

  • avatar

    I think the problem with Cadillac is that it is part of GM. GM’s reputation is just trash IMO. GM has misled the american consumer for so many years that their credibility is just gone. Even Whitacre has continued the charade by proclaiming that GM paid back its’ loans early. With guys like this calling the shots at GM, only a real dufus would think that GM/Cadillac still has any cred’s left in the automotive world.

  • avatar

    The basic problem here is that what we (and Cadillac) are focusing on is still the sizzle and not the steak, or worse in this case – just talking about the sizzle.

    The fundamental question always comes down to this: Why buy a Cadillac?
    I can answer that for other brands:
    BMW – the driving experience
    Mercedes – bank vault quality (that’s still the answer,even if it’s not true anymore)
    Lexus – quiet, coddled quality
    Hyundai (God help us) – The same luxury experience for a whole lot less bucks
    Jaguar – Legacy – The once and future king of pace, grace, and space.
    But Cadillac:
    They don’t lead in performance, quality, luxury, or price and they’ve squandered their legacy.
    So why?

    ‘Cause Rap stars think they’re cool?
    ‘Cause they’re better than they used to be?

    If I try to do the old ‘word association’ game with Cadillac I get three quick mental images.
    1. The DTS is for very-old-guys-in-white-shoes crowd. Never ever.
    2. The CTS is ugly if a nice try and I don’t trust the quality. I feel like they’re still saving too much money on the parts. It’ll break in 3 years.
    3. The Escalade is for the “see how much I can pile on my plate at the buffet!” crowd. Nothing classy about it. Just wretched excess. The Hummer, I understand. It’s excessive but powerful looking. The Escalade is just a tarted up SUV with chrome bits glued to it.

    My Cadillac line up would be longer, lower, wider, with only V8’s with a minimum of 400 HP. My advertising campaign would be “The Executive Express – when you’re late for the board meeting – take the Cadillac.

  • avatar

    The sad fact is it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. As was mentioned in numerous responses Cadillac doesn’t have any aspirational cars/SUVs. Until they build cars that are truly aspirational again it doesn’t matter what approach their advertising agency takes. It’s the vehicles that sell themselves not the advertising. The advertising can make prospective buyers aware of the vehicles but if the vehicles themselves aren’t what buyers want the vehicles won’t sell.

    Cadillac could have a line up that competed head on with MB/BMW/Lexus etc. but until or if they do the advertising won’t make any difference.

  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    When you’ve taken the kind of fall Cadillac did from 1973 to roughly 2003, it takes more than a decade to come back. It is shocking how little of the auto industry’s institutional memory about how to connect emotionally with car buyers remains intact, and it’s not just GM. As I tap this out, there’s an Audi ad on my TV draping the R8 V10 in an Iron Man wrapper. How am I supposed to take that seriously? Audi advertising makes me run from the brand. Lexus too. As someone who has been a creative generator of advertising, I am hard-pressed to think of any automotive advertising in the American market that is effective evidence of advertising craft and market-moving motivation. But back to Cadillac.

    GM and Cadillac within it have to rebuild their institutional memory of skills once routine, but then willfully atrophied. In healthier, more progressive industries I am surprised how little courage there is for being distinctive, different. An elemental error in business strategy is not knowing your existential argument. And worse not to know you don’t have one. Yet even in progressive industries like software, digital media, life sciences and games, most companies find comfort in familiarity, reinforcement in accepted methods, like-mindedness and limited personality range in their professional communities. For an industry as hidebound even today as the automobile business, there’s no hope of fixing Cadillac in one fell swoop. Not even to complete the job in a decade. So the question becomes: I s the trend positive and is momentum increasing?

    For Cadillac, yes.

    Beginning with the introduction of the CTS, Cadillac gave us reason to notice, consider and buy their cars, for the cars they were and not strictly for the brand. If you were running Cadillac and trying to fix it all at once, then the CTS had no place in a Cadillac line. But the brand had to start moving the perceptual needle somehow so CTS was a start. The reviled-at-TTAC STS was better than judged here and was appreciated by its buyers for not being a BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Lexus. Say what you will about Escalade but even in Los Angeles, blue-shirted white guys with graying temples driving them easily outnumber every other cultural type owning them. In fact, on average, the Escalade crowd doesn’t look any different from Range Rover drivers where I live. The XLR didn’t survive GM’s ADD nor outsell the SL, but its owners have been widely pleased and specifically chose their car over the accepted competition. The SRX buyer has generally made an active and informed choice to buy it over its branded but flawed competition. It doesn’t matter that for the most part Cadillacs bought new since 2003 were not bought for being Cadillacs but instead for being preferred over competitors as individual cars for any number of reasons. Winning sales on the merits of the cars is precursor to winning sales on brand preference alone. Are the quality, distinctiveness and competitiveness of vehicles on Cadillac dealer lots better today than five years ago? Absolutely.

    I may be an exception, going from never having previously purchased a new GM vehicle to buying for the car, to defaulting to the brand in less than five years, but I’m not alone. My bank account has funded three new Cadillacs since 2006 and I might spring for a fourth. So far all Vs, each is beautiful, highly-distinctive, admired and earlier risk has been rewarded by opportunity to own the current CTS-V. Seriously, if you want a car of that footprint, in sedan configuration, and prioritize performance and continent-eating comfort, you needn’t bother looking for anything else. From paint to dynamics to interior to materials to reliability to power, where’s the compromise? I know most readers here haven’t driven one. Perhaps you should. It’s a no-excuses car. But Cadillac has completely failed to use the power of the most emotional marketing medium – television – to communicate the visceral reality of owning a today’s CTS, V or otherwise. The cars are making headway. The service experiences are rocketing ahead. It’s time to get serious about reconstructing the brand.

    What does it mean to own a Cadillac? As much as we think of big, comfortable, powerful, advanced cars, the world changes. Cadillacs are dramatic without the drama. Visually arresting and routinely sharp. Every CTS variant stylistically blows its competitors into the weeds, not least the coming V Coupe. Best-in-class technology integration and enough power that having more is moot to your prestige or satisfaction. Do I care if the next iteration of the BMW M5 gets around the ‘Ring three-quarters of a second quicker? No, not in the least. Because I know my CTS-V will be more visually dramatic and more artful than the next two versions of the M5, and at some point this horsepower war will splinter into something else entirely. In less than a decade, cultural perceptions of Cadillac have progressed from vulgar irrelevance to recognition that owning one is a declaration of difference. The default question when you bring home a new one has progressed from, “What is that?” to “How do you like your Cadillac?” From…”Hmmm,” to “Can we take a ride?”

    Mark of Leadership isn’t brilliance but the marketing has to run ahead of the reality. Marketing’s job is to shape perceptions and to move the market to a targeted point-of-view more quickly than improving products can drive alone. The marketing has a job to do inside the company as well. Creating or reviving a brand for aspiration includes shaping a psychology of aspirational behavior within a company as well. If the leadership claim takes hold inside, we might see more creative ideas for a big sedan than what’s coming.

    Say what you will about Ford not taking bailout money. Lincoln has nothing competitive with the CTS, STS, DTS or SRX in any form. Nothing as good as GM’s magneto-rheological damping. Nothing as good for what it is as the Escalade. No powerplant as magnificent as the supercharged small block in the V. Lincoln doesn’t even have any car with steering as honed as what’s routine for Cadillac. Notwithstanding subjective preferences, Infiniti, Lexus, BMW, Audi and Mercedes fail to trump equivalent CTS variants. The quality of Cadillacs on today’s dealer lots was unimaginable even five years ago. “The Mark of Leadership” is Cadillac’s challenge to itself. You’re right, if they take this route, they should ante up show us brick-by-brick how they’re making good – and will make good – on the promise. By 2020, the mission can be accomplished.


  • avatar

    Never owned a Caddy and never will. But I always used to notice them and certainly knew one when I saw it. Now, they seem to blend into the background, with all their homogeneous rivals. My wife saw one on a store parking lot the other day and asked me what it was. I had to spot the badge on the trunk to tell for sure. I never would have had to look that hard 30 years ago.

  • avatar

    Phil has an interesting analysis. But I think his opinion of Cadillac, the cars, is off, in some cases quite a bit.

    In 2007, what did Cadillac have to compete with a BMW 335i coupe?

    It’s 2010, and Cad stilldoesn’t have a competitor. Maybe next year, maybe not.

    A good friend who has had a lot of Cads over the years bought a BMW740 a few years ago. Yesterday he told me that he test drove the DTS. He’s ordering another 750.

    The new Audi A5 convertible looks like a potential choice t replace the BMW. What does Cadillac offer?

    All the new models may have gotten people to look at Cadillac, but their sales and market share continues to drop.

    And, claiming to be “better than Lincoln” isn’t much of a draw either. Heck, they’re better than Chrysler, too, but I’m not buying another Lincoln, nor a Chrysler.

    The car business is full of people with brand-specific myopia, and GM, and Cadillac, are full of them.


  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    >>In 2007, what did Cadillac have to compete with a BMW 335i coupe?

    It’s 2010, and Cad still doesn’t have a competitor. Maybe next year, maybe not.<<

    My point wasn't that Cadillac is comprehensively competitive. The 3 Series coupe competitor won't arrive until this summer. If you want an A5 droptop, Cadillac has nothing equivalent. There are gaps in the brand's product line, but the cars it does have are well-executed and real, no-apologies alternatives. The DTS' only similarity to a 750 is in the number of people it can accommodate. The DTS arguably accommodates them better, but the driver's experiences will be vastly different. DTS and 750 aren't competing for the same owner dollars.

    Right now, Cadillac plays well in only three face-offs: 1/ If you want a *large* luxury SUV, the Escalade is squarely in the game; 2/ in world-class intermediate RWD sedans, all the CTS variants are worthy contenders and the V is arguably best of its type; 3/ in luxury crossovers, the SRX (especially Turbo) brings a specific desirable mix of attributes that make it differentiated from established choices. But there are serious gaps rendering the brand an incomplete purveyor of luxury vehicles, lacking a large RWD sedan, convertible or personal GT. Lots more to do, but declining share in their current areas of presence isn't due to the egregious product lapses that plagued Cadillac in the past. Here in Southern California, CTS, SRX and Escalade street presence continues to be strong. It's what's missing that truncates success.


    • 0 avatar

      Caddy has done a few things with the CTS.. and the V series that I just DONT GET.

      In styling the first gen CTS.. its a lot of hard angular lines.


      They restyled it for the 2nd gen.. with the V series looking like the regular cars did before the restyle, which I don’t get.

      They put out a competitor against the RX and MDX type.. right along side the CTS wagon.. but make the WAGON the expensive model (38g) while the CUV stickers in at 34g. Doesn’t make much sense.

      Almost like the wagon is being pushed away cause it costs too much.

      Jeez, GM not liking Caddy wagon v SRX competition?

      And yet GM has the Tahoe / Yukon for Caddy in all of its obese forms leaving a major gap in between the Slade and the SRX?

      Caddy tried to take the Vette and make it their halo.. but it failed miserably.. due to the old GM rules of power hierarchy.

      As far as coupes go
      The 3, CLK and A5 have that locked up.. with the CTS coupe going half assed. They are just now figuring out how to make more than 1 variation on a sedan (without a CUV).

  • avatar
    SanFrancisco Bay Area

    You know in my opinion , Cadillac has forever made the #1 best looking cars and best executed interior of any other luxury automobiles ever. My Dad own a newer S class Benz and it’s very nice, but it gets old and boring to sit in, real quick, unlike any Cadillacs. I would rather have the Cadillac’s shield than the Upside down ” Y “.

    These high end Foreigner luxury cars just don’t have the leg room or classic in them that Cadillac’s do (excluding all cts rear seats ). Audi ? don’t get me started. Audi is like a tightly compacted rent-a-car with VERY basic and plain interior on ALL models with an exception of the A8 being high quality and well done. ALL other Audi’s are absolute rent-a-car JUNK on the inside. Looks like a god damn nicer VW, all them Audi’s. BMW i like though inside and out is well done, same with benz. But Cadillac is so much better.

    Also the new 2009 ctsV out-performs ALL BMW’s, ALL Mercedes-Benz cars (excluding SLSamg coupe), and ALL audi’s (excluding the NEW R8). It’s Faster, Better handling and has a higher top speed than the best from ” M ” and ” AMG “…and it’s a Cadillac ! even better ! Check 2010 JD Power and Associates kid, most reliable auto source in the world….Cadillac’s reliability rating surpasses Mercedes with flying colors…meaning Cadillac is built better with better parts still to this day !!! HAH !!!

    I’m doing some research on this new Caddy and so far…I think i’m going to buy it. 98% sure. it IS the ” fastest production sedan in the world ” . But I can’t find any new CTS’s for under $50,000

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