Congress Drags Cadillac's Name Through the Mud. Or Not.

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

This is a tough call. But first, let’s play connect the dots . . . Twice upon a time, I touched upon the fact that the expression “The Cadillac of . . .” had all but disappeared from the popular lexicon. Joe Blow was no longer associating otherwise unrelated product excellence with GM’s luxury brand. A few weeks later, one of our Best and Brightest sent us a screen cap of a Google ad for the new Cadillac SRX, which claimed the vehicle was the “Cadillac of Crossovers.”(Someone at RenCen was paying attention.) And now, suddenly, Cadillac as metaphor has re-entered the mainstream. The debate over a proposed federal tax on health care premiums above $8k (private) or $21k (families) refers to said policies as “Cadillac health care plans.” Here’s the lede from today’s New York Times: “A proposed tax on high-cost, or ‘Cadillac,’ health insurance plans has touched off a fierce clash between the Senate and the House as they wrestle over how to pay for legislation that would provide health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans.” The Times, which never met a tax it didn’t like, feels obliged to put the GM brand in quotes. Why’s that then?

Correct me if I’m wrong (perish the thought), but I reckon the Times understands that people who actually pay big-ass health care premiums are not comfortable with Democrats trying to paint those protection plans as a “luxury.” And yet there it is: class warfare.

The traditional Cadillac meme—quality—isn’t really the point here. In this application, the tax’s supporters are deploying the term to imply that high-priced health care plans are somehow excess to requirements. In a word, selfish. Bought by people who can easily afford to pay taxes on it to help those who can’t afford to buy the Aveo of health care plans (perish the thought II). Oh wait; not Aveo. Minivan.

Critics, including House members and labor unions, say the tax would quickly spiral out of control and hit middle-class workers, people more closely associated with minivans than Cadillacs.

So minivans are the new PC “people’s” transportation—not the high-mileage eco-friendly small cars that Congress is ramming down consumers’ throats encouraging through EPA tailpipe and mpg regulations, and subsidizing through tens of billions of tax dollars. Who knew?

Anyway, automotively speaking, this new political shorthand should serve as a Red Alert for Cadillac’s brand masters. There’s life in the old brand yet! Warning! Danger! As we’ve said countless times, any attempt to take/keep Cadillac downmarket is doomed to failure. You can’t fight City Hall. Or Congress.

Meanwhile, here’s a perfect opportunity for Cadillac to capitalize on the debate with tens of millions of dollars in free publicity. Something clever, like “Luxury is a necessity.” GM’s ex-ad agency Modernista would have grasped that nettle in a heartbeat. The new/old guys, led by failed Car Czar Bob Lutz, not so much.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Join the conversation
2 of 34 comments
  • 50merc 50merc on Oct 13, 2009

    Boff: "Canada does not “dictate” its lower drug prices. The lower prices are the result of the single payer buying in bulk." Nope. They use a formula for a "blended" price. Many countries set prices through negotiation, which can provide a reasonable return to suppliers although the meaning of "reasonable" is always at risk of being politicized. Like "fair."

  • Nick Nick on Oct 13, 2009

    50merc I have worked for the pharmaceutical industry in Canada and the US. You are painfully misinformed. In any event, the fact that the expression does still have some currency shows how great a brand they were and could be again with the right repairs. I think they are on the right track but they need one nice big sedan.

  • 28-Cars-Later Seville - LS400Bhp 295 250Ft-tq 280 260Reliable No Yes
  • 28-Cars-Later No, and none of you should be either.
  • Arthur Dailey No.
  • Arthur Dailey My father had multiple Northstar equipped vehicles. He got one of the first Northstar equipped STS's in Canada and continually drove STS's on one year leases for nearly a decade. One of them did 'crap out' on him. It went into 'limp' mode and he drove it to the nearest GM dealer. The vehicle was about half way through its lease, and he was in cottage country (Muskoka). GM arranged to have it flatbedded back to Toronto. He rented a vehicle, drove it home and then took delivery of a new STS within about 4 days. There were no negotiations regarding repairs, etc. The vehicle was simply replaced. Overall he was pleased with the performance of these vehicles and their engines. We also found them a pleasant environment to be in, with more than enough power.
  • Bd2 If they let me and the boyz roll around naked in their dealership I'll buy a Chinese car.