Contemplating The Cadillac Future

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
contemplating the cadillac future

I had the opportunity to visit with the Cadillac folks at a Pre-New York Auto Show Reception in West Village. It was a tasty cocktail gig with a trio of V-series models (CTS Sedan, Wagon and Coupe) available for closer inspection. Though nobody actually sat in them. But that’s not the point: marketing and re-branding the product was the topic of conversation.

Cadillac’s making a push to promote the V-series and Platinum groups as sub-brands, like AMG and Designo (look it up) in the realm of Mercedes-Benz. And the V-series has acres of credibility with significant improvements to the respectable CTS, the awful STS and forgettable XLR. But the Platinum Caddys leave much to be desired. Even by Cadillac’s own (indirect) admission, recent Platinum editions are a far cry from Germany’s best efforts, or the Fleetwood Sixty Specials and Broughams of yesteryear.

That’s because chrome wheels, deck lid badging and chocolate covered seats/floor mats (not carpets) do not a special edition make. Clock the Platinum edition DTS for proof, there’s plenty of low hanging fruit to grab. According to GM Design guru Ed Welburn, the forthcoming XTS Platinum will be far superior to previous efforts.

While Ed’s an old school hot rodder at heart, he publically made his penchant for Platinum luxury combined with V-series performance known. As commentators on my CTS Sport Wagon review know, that’s where an LS4-style power train swap comes into play. Over 300 liquid smooth ponies with effortless torque in a cheap to make power train? You can’t do that with a V6. Plus, that engine family already lives in the V-series. Others listened, but Mr. Welburn unceremoniously walked over to Bob Lutz when I mentioned “LS-X swap” like I would on a TTAC Piston Slap. Oops, that’s my bad.

That’s not to say GM isn’t listening to an outsider’s perspective. Far from it: Cadillac engineers, designers and PR flacks want to blend Cadillac’s past with its down market, platform engineered future. I’m sure they recognize the disconnect. Just how far can a Platinum spec’d Caddy sell for, given the brand’s descent into mid-level luxury? And what exactly are you telling the market with a forthcoming flagship based on the tall and tipsy Buick Lacrosse with no V8, or even an EcoBoost-ish V6 option?

I reckon it’ll be a tough sell. And history is on my side. With every word from well-intentioned Cadillac staffers, the legacy of my 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Seventy-Five continually haunted my thoughts. Sure, it’s a terrible car: a front wheel drive platform with 1980’s GM cookie cutter styling and a truly awful HT4100 engine. But the fact there were two long wheelbase Caddys (Sixty and Seventy-Five Series) with a torque rich V8 and famous names means that today’s Cadillac has a long way to go before the Platinum name is more than a marketing term that resonates within the RenCen.

Unless everyone loves the Puff Daddy era of Hip Hop, the “Platinum” name will take years to get traction with the general public. And with a name like “Sajeev Mehta”, I certainly understand the implications of what you call yourself. Names like “Fleetwood” have obvious baggage, but instant recognition of a luxury orientation isn’t a problem. Why not say that Fleetwood is the new definition of Cadillac luxury in modern times? Sounds like an easy spin.

Then again, we have the very impressive V-series. And it’s a completely different direction for Cadillac as a brand. Plus, the GM staffers gave the same message: pointing to the CTS V-Wagon as a low-volume Halo Car to prove the Wreath and Crest can run with the likes of BMW and Mercedes. Considering the last generation of the E55 AMG Wagon sold less than 70 units every year in the USA, Cadillac’s V-Wagon has a weak business case. But that’s the North American perspective; perhaps the wagon will bring about international recognition? Clock the sales of the Euro-only Cadillac BTS for a little more perspective on that. Point is, people buy Cadillacs that look and feel like a Caddy. And you don’t need to get hit by a Fleetwood to get it.

But the shining star in tonight’s lineup is the CTS Coupe, shown here in V-series livery. The thrilling return of the two-portal Cadillac is reason for applause, and becomes a Halo car in the spirit of the Infiniti G-coupe. Fair enough, though the CTS coupe’s design from the A-pillar back looks like the Batmobile had one night of passion with an AMC AMX.

It’s a jarring design that will please some, but somebody forgot to sweat the OCD details: the tailfin-like taillights and CHMSL-cum-spoiler are just begging to turn chalky after a few errant runs with an orbital buffer at a car wash. And even now they look…downright cheap. While the styling details aren’t there yet, expect all of the V-series to kick butt on the track. And maybe the Platinum editions will live up to their name too, if Cadillac reaches their goals in the near future.

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  • DetroitsaRiot DetroitsaRiot on Apr 24, 2010

    Caddy should be killed as a brand, or, Buick. Thats OK though, as the GM downsizing continues it will finally become apparent.

  • Phil Ressler Phil Ressler on May 13, 2010

    It's true that by 1973, anyone paying attention could see that the cachet Cadillac had accumulated in America during the 1950s and 1960s was spent, and in just two or three years. The 1968 Eldorado still had swagger and street cred yet shortly after, the entire line became a joke overnight as car dimensions ballooned, and engineering declined as the economy petered out after 1971. The Arab Oil Embargo in the fall of 1973 and Detroit's and D.C's responses to it kicked the teeth from what was left of the Cadillac brand. It's been nothing but false starts ever since. The "Last Convertible" 1976 Eldorado had the look of a Caddy but nothing else and that pretty much booted Cadillac from the imaginations of Boomers who went on to mistake Mercedes, BMW, Audi and later Lexus for luxury. I'm a Boomer too. Truth is, generationally we don't know a thing about luxury. This is the Me generation for whom a silver German car became the same expression of "massed individualism" as blue jeans and long hair were for millions who thought rebellion was anything not embraced by The Man, no matter how mass-market their rebellion went. All of which is not to say Cadillac hasn't conjured some excellent, interesting cars lately. As the driver of three V-Series Cadillacs over the past four+ years and considering another premium model for special purposes, I appreciate these cars for delivering an experience not available from any other maker. But they aren't really Cadillacs by any measure of the brand Cadillac used to be. Toyota has its prosaic brand and then Lexus, with nothing in the middle, but that doesn't mean Cadillac should make a V6 CTS. At least not the V6 CTS it makes today. The SRX Turbo is great for what it is, and I might even buy one but Cadillac shouldn't even make such a thing. I love each of the V Series cars, even the one I didn't buy, the STS-V. I far prefer the XLR-V to a Mercedes SL for reasons I've written elsewhere here in the past. It's even visually dramatic enough to be a Cadillac. But it's too small for the brand. It won my purchase for being the car that it is, not for being a Cadillac. Our 1st-gen CTS-V was not luxurious in any true sense, but it was a hell of a car in every way. Even it's slight rawness was a plus, compared to the overbuffed M5. But it was more like a modern Grand National/GNX that didn't rattle than a true Cadillac. We enjoyed it immensely nevertheless. Our 2010 CTS-V so seriously ups the ante that it is perhaps the first real-brand Cadillac I've been able to buy. It looks sensational. The interior is gorgeous and well executed. The seats are sensational. And its performance is non-pareil. It's too small to be the top of the line. It should be the bottom. Cadillacs should be akin to American Maseratis. Relatively scarce, beautiful and visually dramatic, with interiors a cut above the mass market CFO faux luxury of Merc, BMW, Audi and Lexus. The drive trains should be anvil reliable but distinctive. Maseratis aren't the most powerful cars in their class, but the Ferrari V8 within infuses the cars with personality unattainable elsewhere. Cadillac should have long-wheelbase cars that sacrifice some handling sharpness for greater composure in return. GM's excellent magnetic ride control gives designers options in proportioning a car yet retaining handling cred. GM should make Cadillac's something to work for and bulk up Buick with brand-relevant choices: pretty cars with options to sharpen performance. That brand has a rich history with six-pot engines, exterior beauty, rolling comfort, and a little factory hot-rodding. I'd be happy if Cadillacs were a little harder to get. Corvette is a low-productioon car that is persistently profitable for GM. There's no reason exclusivity must have any deleterious consequence for Cadillac. Phil

  • Analoggrotto Does it include a date with Mary Barra?
  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
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  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.