Cadillac's European Vacation From Reality

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
cadillac s european vacation from reality

Cadillac relaunched [release in PDF format here] its perennially disappointing European effort last week, revealing that a new sales and import firm, Cadillac Europe, had been formed. Why would Cadillac double down on a market that it until recently blighted with its ill-advised Opel Vectra-based BLS (which bizarrely still appears at the website)? Caddy boss Brian Nesbitt explains:

Europe is an important market for Cadillac. Re-establishing distribution of our premium offerings is good news for those who seek import exclusiveness

Except that Europe and America are fundamentally different markets, with different tastes in luxury. Unless the Cadillac boffins have some kind of alternate explanation for why Lexus sells like hotcakes in the US, but can barely move the needle in Europe and is resorting to Euro-specific models to make headway. But apparently success in the US luxury market is just a few European sales away. Really.

After all, GM understands Europe, and how to sell US brands there. Just ask GM’s marketing boss Susan Docherty, who spent four years overseeing the unabashed mediocrity that is the Cadillac/Chevrolet marketing effort in Europe. As Docherty once explained to

One of the things we had to do to make Chevrolet and Cadillac more relevant in Europe was to go back to the history of who this person ‘Cadillac’ was, and who this person ‘Chevrolet’ was, because both of those individuals were Europeans who came to America. The moment the European consumer began to understand that those two brands had owners who had heritage that was European-based, it began to click.

Except that this may be the thinnest slice of marketing bullshit ever to emerge from the divine Ms D. For a more authentic insight into the mind of the European consumer, let’s check in with Automotive News Europe‘s Luca Ciferri, who previews the return of Cadillac with a few choice metaphors illustrating the challenges facing the Standard Of The World brand.

It’s kind of silly, really — like taking your own beer to the Oktoberfest in Munich or asking for a loaf of Wonder Bread in a Paris bakery.

I have covered the European auto industry for more than 20 years, and I have lost track of how many times — and in how many ways — GM has said it finally has found the way to make Cadillac a success story here.

Of course, as a proud Oregonian beer snob, it’s tempting to poke holes in at least one of Ciferri’s stereotype-laden jabs, but then, when it comes to selling luxury cars, perception really is reality. And I’d feel uncomfortable comparing the Escalade to a pint of Ninkasi Tricerahops. Besides, you can argue with Ciferri’s national caricatures, but his numbers don’t lie: “GM sold 3,029 Cadillacs in Europe in 2007, 2,701 in 2008 and only 1,218 last year… In the last 30 years, annual Cadillac sales in Europe have never totaled more than about 5,000.”

Ciferri’s advice: forget Europe and try harder to sell Cadillacs to the Russians. Certainly GM’s experience with Chevrolet has been that US brands sell better in Russian than Europe. Part of the problem is certainly the issue of taste, although the ongoing Opel chaos hasn’t exactly endeared GM to the European market either.

With Chevy also set to give back recent cash-for-clunker-fueled gains in the next year, GM’s overall European outlook is not rosy. Spending resources on a European Cadillac comeback doesn’t seem like the kind of move that will make much of a difference in that market, nor will it lend the brand any more of an aura in the US. So why spend the money? Because GM has tens of billions in the bank (courtesy of you, the American taxpayer), and dammit, Cadillac’s supposed to be a global brand. And that means selling it even in markets that aren’t interested. Meanwhile, the Opel restructuring is still dangling, unfunded. What to do?

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2 of 29 comments
  • Accs Accs on Mar 10, 2010

    Maybe its the massive chrome painted wheels that would bother a European customer.. Or maybe it s the glue marks left over from the Saab parts inside and out... Is that why this POS wont sell?

  • Phil Ressler Phil Ressler on May 14, 2010

    Cadillacs are for continental countries: US, Canada, China, Russia, perhaps Brazil. That's it. The EU remains a spilled jigsaw puzzle, its component entities too small to foster the swaggering psychology common to continental expanse. They wouldn't understand. Leave Europe to the short-haul cars and the ever-delicate weeniemobiles. Phil

  • Chris P Bacon Vinfast made a splash with their release here? I guess a thud can create a splash...
  • Svenmeier I want to drive the car, not be driven.
  • Ajla It'll be hilarious if everyone adopts the Tesla charger except Nissan.
  • SCE to AUX This is not a race worth winning.
  • JMII These would sell better if they came with a service to drop it off (with new tires and brakes) at which ever track you decided to visit per weekend. While its small it still doesn't fit on a private jet and there aren't many tracks close to where your yacht can be docked. 1st world problems here.