Cadillac Flunks History. Again.

Justin Berkowitz
by Justin Berkowitz
cadillac flunks history again

Cadillac is something of a comeback kid. The first time the brand was on the ropes, its divisional president interrupted a GM board meeting with a winning proposal: sell Caddies to America’s burgeoning black population. In the ‘90’s, America’s African-American community once again rescued the struggling brand; their passion for a rebadged Yukon infused the ailing automaker with fresh marketing momentum and a pile of cash. Now that the Escalade’s a bomb instead of da bomb, and Caddy’s passenger cars can’t cut the transplanted and/or imported mustard, Cadillac has a new plan. I call it The Beginning of the End.

Of course that’s not strictly true. Caddy’s been on a downward slope since the aforementioned Depression-era board meeting. While catering to America’s neglected African-American population saved Cadillac from oblivion, it moved the marque drastically down market. Caddy used the same “get out of jail by cheapening the product” card in the ‘70’s. And here we go again, with a new, even lower-priced Caddy. But first, the good news: Cadillac’s killing the DTS.

The DTS is a fat, ugly, front-wheel-drive pile of crap. The model only appeals to people old enough to remember when Cadillac was the Cadillac of cars– and never drove an imported automobile. The DTS is not nearly as good as the cheaper CTS, which is now a lot better than before and almost as large as the DTS. Although GM's erstwhile luxury division [somehow] sold 33,386 DTS year-to-date, and they only cost GM $1.99 a pop, the DTS was always destined to follow its owners into the grave. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

And now the bad news: Cadillac is also dumping the STS. On one hand, yes, of course. STS sales have been playing a game of “how low can you go” since ever (13,156 sales year-to-date). Robert Farago’s review of the model left little doubt that the current STS lacks that certain… anything to make it a suitable alternative to a European or Japanese luxobarge. But that doesn't mean GM should spike the STS and walk. It means they should make the right-sized (i.e. big) STS better.

They could start by upgrading the powertrain. The STS’ V6 stumps-up 302 horsepower, which helps it keeps up with the Lexi of this world– and nothing more. Caddy should make the optional 320 horsepower Northstar V8 standard. Power junkies could still opt for the STS-V's 469 horsepower supercharged Northstar engine. What about mileage? What about it? If a Caddy doesn’t have enough torque to luxuriate down the road, it might as well be/is a gussied-up Buick (i.e. a DTS).

More to the point, a Cadillac should make drivers and passengers feel like millionaires sipping Moet at the Ritz. The STS makes its passengers feel like alcoholics sharing a nip bottle of generic whiskey in a Holiday Inn Express. If Cadillac’s CTS can get a superb interior upgrade, why not the STS? Even without some seriously sharp sheetmetal changes– or better yet with some better creases– a truly sumptuous STS would make the model a viable choice for those who value style above all.

Instead, GM’s decided to build a new $40k to $50k DTS/STS replacement. While engineers and marketers love a clean sheet and a fresh start, the costs of engineering a brand new STS equivalent would be FAR better spent upgrading the STS. The STS doesn’t need class-leading fuel economy or Nürburgring-fettled handling or 500hp (although…). It needs one thing sur tout: pizzazz.

While it might sound like I’m suggesting Caddy craft some spizzarkle on the cheap, I’m not. Above all, a Caddy must offer high class spizzarkle. And that’s why the decision to offer an “entry level” Caddy (below the CTS) will kill the brand faster than chugging Clorox. Even if the new pocket Caddy is a peach, even if it matches the German and Japanese low-end models, it’s an unconscionable miscalculation. Do Caddy’s keepers really fail to understand that “small” is to Cadillac what “slow” is to Porsche? Have they forgotten the multi-decade mess initiated by the execrable Cimarron?

I don’t even want to talk about the forthcoming, hecho-en-Mexico Cadillac CUV. More than any other new model, the wannabe X3 shows that Caddy follows (not leads) competitors into market segments– regardless of the impact on the brand’s image or profits.

Despite the hoopla, the European-styled and tuned CTS was not the most successful Cadillac model in recent times. It was the Escalade SUV. But of course it was. The ‘Sclade is immense and intimidating. It’s expensive ($55k just to get in the door). It’s dripping in chrome. It has a pronounceable name and a gargantuan engine with prodigious thrust that says “Rich people don’t care about the price of gas.” Despite its shortcomings, the Escalade is the only “real” Cadillac left. And I reckon it'll be the last.

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  • Mrcknievel Mrcknievel on Sep 21, 2007

    Cadillac is definitely delusional about it's status. There's nothing wrong with competing with Infiniti and Acura for the second tier mass luxury crowd and they are more likely to find success in attacking those two brands. Lexus is, IMO, out of reach for Cadillac at the moment..that brand is competing at levels that Cadillac doesn't get mentioned at.

  • MX5bob MX5bob on Sep 23, 2007

    The first Escalade had no styling of its own. It was a purely badge-engineered, tarted-up Tahoe. It didn't sell either. The next one had the sharp edges and has sold reasonably well, or more accurately, leased in reasonable numbers. I've driven the new CTS, and it's very good car in many respects. The question is whether it will sell in the numbers that Cadillac projects. The other question is whether those projections are realistic.

  • SCE to AUX From the SAE: Level 3: "When the feature requests, you must drive."The timing of that request will be the subject of lawsuits. Too little warning, and this is just a Level 2 system wearing nicer clothes.Pretty car, though.
  • Analoggrotto So, who has the digital Tourettes?
  • Analoggrotto Mercedes can try but will NEVER match the superlative engineering of TESLA. The #1 Choice for the #1 members of society. The lower class can stay on earth and drive Mercedes.
  • Dukeisduke The "fix" is not a fix - it just assures that when the o-ring breaks down and leaks brake fluid onto the board, the fuse will blow and the car won't burn to the ground. The HECU ("Hydraulic Unit Assembly" in H/K parlance) will still be dead, and you'll have no ABS or ESC. So the car won't burn to the ground, but you'll be looking at an expensive repair. I priced the HECU (Kia p/n 58920-1M640) for the 2012 Forte Koup - the MSRP is $2,325.79, and I can get one from the online seller I buy from for $1646.65. It's not much labor to replace, but then you have to bleed the brakes, or preferably flush the system, since the car's 11 years old and could use a flush. Folks relying on a dealer will be out $3k or more for repairs.I went to the NHTSA site and filed a defect report (the only way I could find to comment on the recall) to tell them that they should force H/K to replace the HECUs on all the affected vehicles, instead of allowing them to just do the minimum.
  • SCE to AUX All right Hyundai - enough of this.These are all older cars, and I believe H/K issued a recall for the same thing before. My former 09 Sedona was recalled for an ABS fire risk. The solution was some sort of extra ground wire from the battery down to the ABS unit or something - I didn't trace it.H/K has a habit of issuing partial solutions with limited scope (saving face), then later expanding the recall greatly. They did this with the 2.4 engine debacle, corroding control arms, and now this ABS thing.As for the EV vs ICE fire debate, no need to stir that pot here. EVs use hydraulic ABS brakes as well, but they don't appear to be covered in this recall (yet... and it would only be the early Ioniq 1 EV, if any).Looking into my crystal ball, they'll probably have to recall the Ioniq 5/6 and Genesis GV60 for an ongoing charging issue, where the charging port heats up and limits the charging rate on an AC plug (at home).Following their usual pattern, a software fix was issued first, greatly slowing the charge rate. Owners are irate, and I think Hyundai is simply delaying the day when they have to replace the wiring harness and charge port on all their new EVs, at great expense.Sorry Hyundai - can't defend you on this one.