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 cadillaceurope.com 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 askpatty.com
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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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