By on March 10, 2010

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.

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41 Comments on “Cadillac: What Is This GM You Speak Of?...”

  • avatar

    The three nearest dealers that sell Cadillacs are all combined with another (or all) GM brands.

    How is this new strategy going to work with those type of places?

  • avatar

    There was a time when GM and Cadillac were both among the best brands in the world. How far the mighty have fallen.

    I think if Cadillac made knockout cars, equaling or exceeding the best that Lexus could show, customers wouldn’t care if there was a GM badge on the fender or not.


    • 0 avatar

      I agree completely. If they produced “world-class” product like Lexus/Acura/Infinity consistently it wouldn’t matter if they associated themselves with GM or not.

      Adding or removing lipstick from the pig will not change potential customer’s perceptions of Cadillac. Try sticking to a brand message, build both highly regarded & reliable cars while upgrading your dealer network and you might have something.

    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t call any of the Japanese luxury brands “world-class”.

      Lexus doesn’t sell well outside of the US, even at home in Japan. Acura makes an entire lineup of immensely ugly vehicles with FWD and no V8 luxury flagship that also doesn’t matter outside of the US. Finally Infiniti lives or dies by one car line, the G. Everything else they make sells in piddling numbers.

      World class would be German luxury that has a global and true luxury appeal. Everything else is second-tier, third-tier and near luxury. The Japanese are in the second-tier, Cadillac is barely in the third-tier and that probably won’t change, no matter if GM leaves their own brand name off the products or not.

    • 0 avatar

      TriShield, Lexus/Acura/Infinity only do well in the US, because … guess what … they are created for the U.S.

      The Lexus brand was introduced to the U.S. in 1989. But it wasn’t introduced to Japan until 2005.

      It’s OK that Lexus don’t sell too many cars elsewhere, because the US is still the largest luxury market and most MB sales are fleet sales anyway.

      IMO, the lowest model defines the class. The lowest Lexus would be an IS250. The lowest MB where I live would be a B200. Lexus > MB period.

  • avatar

    equaling or exceeding the best that Lexus could show

    The LS 400 beat the 300E and 530i because it was much better at a much lower price. Caddy can’t gain market share by “equaling or exceeding” it needs to offer vehicles that are significantly better and at a much lower price point than the competition.

    • 0 avatar

      Cadillac won’t do this, at least under the current management. While this may be hard to believe, the insular thinking and culture that drove GM into the ground is alive and well. Nothing short of a leadership graft (or a real bankruptcy) will change this.

    • 0 avatar

      I certainly agree that Lexus ate Cadillac and Lincoln for lunch, but I think their affect on the Germans has been rather less. At least here in the admittedly snooty North East, BMW and Mercedes operate on a different plain than Lexus/Infinity in the public’s mind. I certainly know many MB and BMW buyers (and have owned both marques myself) none of them would even think of cross-shopping the Japanese brands. The only Lexus that is even remotely common around here is the RX3xx, and I can’t remember the last time I saw an Infinity of any variety. Meanwhile MB, BMW, and Audi (along with VW Saab and Volvo for the poor(er) folks) are everywhere.

      When I do see a Lexus, they are inevitable being driven by the sort of folks you would expect to see in a Cadillac or Lincoln, i.e. older than the hills. I don’t even know where the nearest Cadillac dealer is, I assume the big GM place in town sells them though. I do see a fair number of CTS running around.

    • 0 avatar

      krhodes1, sorry but it seems your area is not affluent enough.

  • avatar

    I still crave Cadillac, although I have a sneaking suspicion it would leave a nasty taste in my mouth. (Especially since I can only afford used.)

    In my town the GM dealers are a Chevrolet/Cadillac dealer and a Buick/GMC dealer (now that Pontiac is dead and gone.) I honestly think the two ought to be combined into one superstore, then they could offer the entire GM line from top to bottom.

    • 0 avatar

      As I have said many times, the public perception of certain Cadillacs has the effect of creating some screamingly good bargains in the used market. The ridiculously small amount of money I paid for my certified STS V8 combined with the CPO warranty have made me a very happy owner. And, yes, I know lots of people disparage the STS, but with the sport package and the Northstar, it’s a very satisfying drive. Did I mention that it was cheaper than a Hyundai Sonata?

  • avatar

    When I think of GM I think Chevy, and when I think of Cadillac I think tarted-up Chevy. Might not be fair, but I’ll never forget the Cimarron. I think this is a good move, 20 or 30 years too late.

    Thanks for the Docherty quote, always entertaining.

    • 0 avatar

      Elderly couple down the street has a Cimarron. If it ever comes up for sale, I’ll buy it just for the sheer kitchyness of it. And if I ever need mechanical parts, well that’s what Cavaliers are for.

    • 0 avatar

      If you remember the Cimarron, then Cimarron II will be the Converj, based upon the upcoming Chevy Volt. I don’t think people will want a $60k economy car.

      The Allante was another blemish on Cadillac.

      There is an important distinction between the image of Cadillac and that of Lexus. Lexus started with a clean sheet of paper in 1989, even though it shares many components with its parent Toyota. Toyota had a pretty good reputation in 1989. Cadillac has been part of GM for 101 years. They won’t separate easily, and the internal effort to do so indicates just how bad things are over there.

    • 0 avatar

      gslippy: that will be Cimarron III. Cimarron II is the Escalade…..

    • 0 avatar

      Dan, that sounds like a keeper!

  • avatar

    Cadillac just isn’t cool in the minds of the BMW/MB/Audi/Lexus set. Right now, they have some good products that should instead be in Buick showrooms (SRX), have traditional but limited appeal (Escalade, DTS), or that are awkward tweener-size Euro imitators (CTS). Unless GM can afford to separate Cadillac as an organization with its own engines, engineers and designers, and then sell them aggressively around the world what’s the point of going Euro? What you have left is GM’s fancy division, something Buick has (mostly) well-covered. On the other hand, perhaps the strategy should be to combine Buick and Cadillac as a single lineup/dealer body, much like Lincoln-Mercury, and take what sales you can get?

  • avatar

    JMO, RELTON and SHAB, you can’t have it both ways. Either they should build better cars for the same price, or similar quality cars for a better price. Actually, scratch that. Cadillac already built a better car for a better price. The CTS–Motor Trend Car of the Year for a reason.

    I do agree that distancing themselves from GM (in the public eye, anyways) is a futile exercise.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    When I think Cadillac I am reminded of steel head bolts pulling out of the aluminum Northstar engine block, failing head gaskets, severe oil consumption and leakage issues, defective instrument clusters, poor customer care and sky-high repair costs. Quality lapses that are almost unknown to Acura, Infiniti and Lexus owners.

    It’s why buyers are lined up none-deep for new Cadillacs and used ones are cheap with few takers.

  • avatar

    Stupidist thing ever. Could call it the Crapmobile TRD, TLT or PSSR and if it was knock-out good looking, comfortable, tech-loaded, safe, solid, quiet and competitively prices with a good dealer experience … then it would sell … heck, if it was all of this, they could even call it the GM LDHL (Lux Div High Line) … and it would likely sell…

    I love good logos and branding, but GM wasting time like this fooling around with logos shows me how lost they are … and is the surest sign of Titanic Deck Chairs Diversion game…

    if GM could just earn a return, and pay back ALL the government loans, people would beat a path to the door…

    Could it be that GM are preemptively pulling the “Mark of Excellence” (this is the official name of the logo, even if GM did remove those words from it as excellence ceased to be GM’s focus) from the vehicles and dealers because they are anticipating how pissed people are going to be when they learn how much GM ended-up stiffing the country for by repaying only small amounts of the loans (and sorry GM, even if the govt forgives some of these loans, it is still the same as your not repaying it) ?? If this is their objective (and in any case just wasting time on this) then they must really think they have dumb and unaware customers….

    btw, wasn’t it Max Bob who pushed the GM logo onto all those cars and then pulled it off again?

  • avatar

    I think the best business model would be to sell Buick along side Chevy for the point of up selling customers into something a little nicer.

    Caddy and GMC should then shack up to cover the upper level high end. Caddy selling cars and CUVs, GMC focusing on JUST high end SUVs and trucks with leather n’ such. The kind of person that (GM hopes) would buy a Caddy is looking for the red carpet treatment and that just cannot happen if they are sold along side anything less that what it is trying to be.

  • avatar

    Paul, on your DeVille CC, if you look at the push-button release in the center of the seat-belt latch, isn’t there a GM logo there (w/MoE text)? don’t the kick-plates at the bottom of the door opening display the Body by Fisher plate (w/Div. of General Motors text)? (Don’t know if Caddy had these very-standard GM call-outs or something less “GM” than the other divisions …)

  • avatar

    I disagree with the implication that Lexus has been seemingly independent from Toyota. In fact, I suspect much of the appeal (at least until very recently) is that they are built by Toyota.

  • avatar

    The vast majority of people think Toyota when they hear Lexus and Nissan when they hear Infiniti. Neither brand is even as separate from its parent as Audi is from VW. Neither would have succeeded as well as it has without its parent’s reputation to build on.

    It just doesn’t matter. If the product and the buying experience are clearly different than Chevrolet’s, then people will think of Cadillac as different. If they’re not, people won’t.

    None of the changes described above are significant.

  • avatar

    GM probably spent millions in wasted managerial time and resources in board rooms discussing the effects of this change in depth, and will spend millions more in various methods and wasted efforts to complete the change.

    And it won’t make one more sale.

  • avatar

    I agree with Rendon & Shabatzki. Emphasis is on “consistently”, however.

    If a brand is down you can resurrect/reinvent it (c.f.BMW, Audi).

    But it needs long-term dedication plus money. Being just a single division of a moribund conglomerate does not make things easier. Besides, it was easier for BMW and Audi then as for Cadillac now as the competition was not that stiff as it is now.

  • avatar

    Should’ve ditched the GM square/ “Mark of Excellence” long ago anyway. Stamp your parent company’s logo on parts just like everyone else.

  • avatar

    Why not just have Cadillac emblems and script on Cadillacs. I am pretty sure the new CTS doesn’t even say Cadillac on it. I remember our Cadillacs from the 70’s and ’80’s were proud to be Cadillacs. They had the Cadillac script on the grilles, trunklids, and dashboards. They had hood ornaments, emblems on the sail panels, on the tail lights, Cornering lamps, the sides of the two front seats, and embroidered wreaths on all of the seats. Todays Cadillacs hardly even say Cadillac on them.. The DTS on the lower left side of the chrome trim on the trunk is only one that says Cadillac on it as far as I can remember.

    I think my 1971 Cadillac that said “Sedan De Ville” on the 1 foot long area between the front wheel and the front door was way cooler than some GM chicklet tacked on the a sliver of metal fender thats identical to something that would be on a Cobalt.

    To appease the old timers who dislike the GM bailout they should advertise with the tagline: “Cadillac – it’s been around before The General Motors Corporation existed, and after it.”

  • avatar

    You all know that this “radical reworking” will change once again when they do another shuffle. It’s a joke but nobody’s laughing.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    GM distancing Cadillac from the fold is a great thing. Especially when GM needs to sell another failing brand.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    deck Chairs Titanic

    Wake me up When the announce an E level RWD Sedan.

  • avatar

    This new direction seems to fly in the face of GM’s ridiculous Cadillac CTS competition several months back that was about “showing that GM could make a car that competes with the best in the world.” Nevermind the fact that, as was obvious at that time and still remains obvious, is that one (or two or three) great car doesn’t mean much when you had grown so bloated that you were selling badge-engineered crap boxes under 8 different nameplates (domestically….several more abroad as well).

    Also of note, a collective GM chest-puff over the CTS-V Challenge was pretty ridiculous, when you realize that they were showing their prowess in the tiniest of market segments. And with the Cruze and the new hideous Aveo, it’s quite apparent that GM still doesn’t understand what it’s bread-and-butter should be as a mass-volume car conglomerate.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    GM has spent countless hours and dollars dithering back and forth over the question of how much to push the GM “brand” vs. the “car brands”.

    Enough already. Stop changing your minds. None of it matters.

  • avatar

    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 (?).


    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar

    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.

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