Cadillac: What Is This GM You Speak Of?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

In 1989, Toyota launched a new luxury brand that would go on to largely replace Cadillac as a vernacular term for excellence in luxury. Known as Lexus, this brand has spent the last 20 years making headway in the US market without ever publicly associating itself with its parent brand. Could this strategy have contained a lesson for the brand managers at GM who have spent the same 20 years fretting (or not) about declining Cadillac sales? Apparently so, as BusinessWeek reports that Cadillac is distancing itself from the corporate mothership in hopes of improving Cadillac’s aspirational appeal. And yet, strangely, it’s still not clear that the lesson has actually been learned.

BW spoke with Cadillac Communications boss Nick Twork, who explained that Cadillac’s new independence movement means that:

Cadillac is erasing the GM name from its marketing and dealerships, changing e-mail addresses to from and exiting companywide promotions such as the Red Tag Event

But, it turns out, these first tentative steps away from the GM umbrella were not directly motivated by the relative success of luxury newcomers like Lexus and Infiniti, which were built from the ground-up without reference to their mass-market parent brands. According to Twork, the move was “absolutely” driven by GM’s restructuring. In short, the problem isn’t that Cadillac’s exclusivity is hurt by being perceived as a division of a huge, less-than-universally-admired automaker. Rather, the Government Motors stain likely plays extremely poorly with Cadillac’s core demographics.

BW plays along with the justification, burying any reference to the Lexus counterexample until the last two paragraphs. And not before Susan Docherty weighs in with some patented off-message cluelesness:

Consumers, in their minds, can separate out the corporation versus the brands. They can separate “Hey, I can still fall in love with a CTS coupe, but I may not necessarily be happy with the fact that General Motors had to go through bankruptcy.”

Or, apparently, not. Meanwhile, Docherty isn’t the only soldier in the Cadillac Army that’s marching out of step with the new drumbeat. The very last vehicle GM will ever sell with the “Mark of Excellence” GM logo attached is, get this, the brand-new Cadillac SRX. Will the slightly more-subtle chiclet fall victim to a mid-cycle refresh? Will it be replaced with new fender flair in honor of Cadillac’s newfound independence? Or will it continue on until a replacement comes out sometime in the next three to six years? Instead of answers, our emails to Cadillac have yielded only an invitation to:

Please join Cadillac the evening of March 30, 2010 for a reception at [get your own damn invite]. Hors d’oeuvres, product news and a glimpse at Cadillac’s new marketing efforts will be served.

But then, consumers have had 20 years to associate Cadillac with GM while a seemingly independent Lexus ate its lunch at the dealerships. Perhaps we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out if Cadillac’s new independence extends as far as the badging on its vehicles.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

More by Edward Niedermeyer

Join the conversation
3 of 41 comments
  • Celebrity208 Celebrity208 on Mar 11, 2010

    I "understand" the analogy of ToyotaLexus and GMCadillac but I don't buy it. There is no GM brand vehicle. There are Chevys, Buicks, etc but no 2010 GM models. Off hand I can't think of another company that is like GM in this fashion. Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai. Maybe Subaru as they are part of Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI?) but FHI doesn't have other auto brands. So to demonize GM for doing something for which there is no successful OR unsuccessful precedent is unfair (?). Thoughts?

    • DweezilSFV DweezilSFV on Mar 11, 2010

      GM itself is responsible for that confusion with their Xs, Ns, As, GM10s,Js and other brand whoring. They created the lack of identity. They squandered their core [and uncore] brand's equity in the minds of the consumer. GM as the parent did that Their "attempt at "doing something" that has no successful or unsuccessful precendent" IS the point. They fail at branding. Period.Trying to market all your brands under one umbrella brand such as GM was a foolish, expensive, brand diluting waste.Yet another clueless move. So yes: it's perfectly fair to demonize GM for yet another blunder: it's the product that makes the brand not corporate dictate and marketing. GM attempting to "define" itself as a brand was just another indicator of their cluelessness. They couldn't define Olds, Chevy, Buick Cadillac Pontiac Saab Hummer or Saturn. What made them think in all their wisdom , that making GM the "brand" could be done effectively is amazing it it's numb headedness. Wonder how much of the cost of those idiotic chiclets could have gone to pay for a decent frigging ignition switch or reliable intermediate steering shafts on their "marques of excellence". GM ? Big "F" all the way around.

  • Nevets248 Nevets248 on Mar 11, 2010

    I'd bet that Ron Zarella would bve willing to work with at same level of pay as "harder..Faster..Henderson" earns at $60K/month.

  • Slavuta So, Trump was hyperbolic... big deal.
  • Slavuta The question was, "does it make sense for Elon...?" I don't know why people jumped into conclusions in this comment section. My answer is this - if he does it, it makes sense to him. He knows better than any of us here. May be with his donations he can become an ambassador to an important state or secretary of energy, or chief of NASA. This is how America works. Donate $1m - ambassador to Poland, $3m - japan, $5M - Germany, etc. $20,000 could buy you Kenya or something
  • CanadaCraig We should be able to give comments a 'dislike' or 'thumbs down'. We're not 6 years old. I'm sure we cope if someone doesn't 'like' our comment.
  • Dartdude He knows that a Trump economy is a great opportunity to sell more cars (EV,ICE). Compare both terms and Trumps is the winner by a long shot.
  • Michael S6 Somewhat shocking that Tesla has maintained its sky high stock valuation. The faithful continue to have unshakeable faith in Musk. Tesla models are in dire need of redesign to be competitive although the model 3 recently got a refresh. I test drove a model S six months ago and it's was very nice driving car. However, the interior was very underwhelming in quality of materials and design. There is absence of physical controls such as a turning stalk, and the rear seat was uncomfortable. Tesla would have been in much better shape if they redesigned its current models to face the competition, rather than spending so much money creating a Cybertruck.