How GM Could Save The Cadillac ATS From Its Otherwise Inevitable Fate Of Complete Marketplace Failure
An Open Letter To The People Who Make Decisions At Cadillac
Dear Cadillac Decision-Making People,
I hate you. Yes, you. You’ve stolen something from me. More specifically, you’ve stolen Cadillac from me. As a child, I was driven around in perhaps the last unapologetically great Caddy — the 1979 Eldorado — and I dreamed of the day when I would be able to buy a Cadillac of my own. While I was dreaming, and working, and anticipating that day, you, and people like you, shit all over the greatest brand in America in every way possible. You built and sold cars that were too poorly conceived and built to even earn the title of “garbage”. Every few years you would bring out some deformed-looking crapwagon, your bought-and-paid for press lackeys would drool all over it, and the name “Cadillac” would be further degraded in public like a heroin-addicted actress caught turning a trick outside a K-Mart by a giant movie-premiere spotlight.
Since the last real Eldorado died in 1985, you’ve built spacious cars, fast cars, plastichrome Tahoes, economical cars, and even somewhat reliable cars. You just haven’t bothered to build any Cadillacs. What is a Cadillac? It is, simply, a vehicle that is exemplary and desirable.
Now we have the ATS. Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? Do you really think anybody wants this car? Do you really think anybody is willing to pay more for it than they would for an equivalently-powered BMW? Is this vehicle exemplary and desirable? The answer to these questions: Of course not. This car, along with every other vehicle you sell, should be summarily discontinued and replaced with actual Cadillacs. You’d be better off buying the tooling for the 2003 LS430, welding fins on said LS430, and selling that. It would be closer to the idea of “Cadillac” than anything you have now.
It’s too late to fix all your mistakes, but I can fix this ATS thing right now, at minimal cost, and it will save the car from the sales scrapheap of history. It is not too late to save Cadillac. I’m not doing it for you, or for GM, or even for the poor American taxpayer who financed this whole boondoggle. I’m doing it for me, because I want my Cadillacs back.
We need to start by discarding the idea that you can beat the Germans by imitating them and charging more for the imitation than the original costs. The path to victory for Cadillac isn’t a racetrack in the Black Forest. What’s next: putting free boxes of Pocky in the glove compartment of the XTS to win over Infiniti M56 intenders? Stop imitating. Stop being fake. Do something authentically American with the product.
You may believe that nobody wants to pay good money for American stuff. You’re wrong. There are dozens of companies, from Alden to Gibson to Oxxford, that charge top dollar for genuinely American luxury goods. Go look at an Alden shoe. It isn’t a copy of a German shoe, or even of an English one. It’s an American shoe. Go look at a Gibson Les Paul. It isn’t an Ibanez rip-off sold for a higher sticker than the Ibanez then back-door comped with mail-in rebates.
Don’t get me wrong. Cadillac doesn’t have a tenth of the credibility that Alden or Oxxford have. Thirty years of dumping sewage on your customers have seen to that. Still, there’s romance and magic in the Cadillac name despite your best efforts, despite the XTS, despite the children-and-luggage-only backseat of the STS, despite the entire interior of every product you sold for at least two decades. Cadillac still means something to some people.
One of those things Cadillac means is simply understood: it means V-8 power.
As we speak, BMW is busy infuriating its loyal audience by putting four-cylinder engines back in their volume models and naming the resulting embarrassments after the outgoing six-cylinder cars. It’s a betrayal of the first order. What are you doing to capture the people who have been disaffected by BMW’s decisions? What’s that? You’re putting four-cylinder engines in the ATS? In the name of G-d, why? Do you really think that imitating BMW’s idiocy is a good idea? Hell, your base car doesn’t even have a turbo. Gosh, what would I rather have: a turbo BMW or a Cadillac with the same engine as a fuckin’ Equinox?
This is what you need to do, so listen up: It’s time to make the ATS a real Cadillac. That means V-8 power. Standard. Call up GM Powertrain and tell them, and I am being specific here: “We need a bunch of LS4, or LR4, or some sort of V-8 in the five-liter range here, and we need them right away.” Then put those V-8s in the ATS. Every single ATS should have a V-8. Every one of them. No fuel-economy specials, no loss-leaders, no rental-only exceptions. If an American man or woman on the street sees an ATS, he or she should understand that there is a V-8 engine beneath the hood of that vehicle.
Having done that, I want you to make this advertisement. Again, I’m being fairly specific. I will provide a script for the TV spot.
(Our scene begins at the bottom of a long, steep road around a mountain. A BMW 328i and MERCEDES C-CLASS are visibly struggling to climb the hill.)
VOICEOVER: BMW and Mercedes have made gutless four-cylinders engines mandatory. It’s time for Cadillac to once again show them what it means to be THE STANDARD OF THE WORLD.
(There is the sound of a NASCAR V-8 being revved. A GIANT EAGLE appears in the sky. It flies down, lands behind the BMW and pins it with its talons. The camera cuts away to the rock face of the mountain and we are made to understand, through shadows, that the GIANT EAGLE is RAPING the BMW. Every twenty-fourth frame of this scene contains a subliminal image of the B-24 LIBERATOR.)
VOICEOVER: Cadillac has made the V-8 standard again. How’s fuel economy? It’s just fine, thanks for asking.
(The EAGLE is now landing on the MERCEDES, where a similar scene takes place. This time, the subliminal frame is of JOE LOUIS winning a boxing match.)
VOICEOVER: The Cadillac ATS costs $29,995. No rebates, no sales, no bull. Come get a real car for the price of a toy.
(The screen fades to black, the Cadillac script logo appears, and we once again hear a V-8 revving.)
I apologize for that part with the eagle, I was just getting excited there for a minute. At this point, some of you have some objections. I will now answer those objections.
- What about CAFE? What about it? Pay the government the fine. That’s what the Germans do. Don’t you want to be like them? Man the F up, already. Or get Obama to waive it for you. Either way.
- What about sales volume? With a standard V-8, sales will go up. Trust me. People want V-8 Cadillacs. That doesn’t mean they want V-Series Cadillacs. They want a car with eight cylinders and no excuses. Your competition offers one of these. It is called the 300C. It is a success. Learn from it.
- How are we supposed to make money selling a V-8 at $29,995? By cutting out the rebates and dealer kickbacks. Try selling an honest product at a fair price. It’s the only thing you haven’t tried. It might work.
- What about the CTS and XTS, which don’t offer a V-8? Doesn’t this destroy our brand hierarchy? It’s too late to worry about crap like that. It’s go time. The CTS can and should also get a standard V-8. Every existing XTS should be burned to the ground then dropped into the Marianas Trench. The people who designed and approved it should also be dropped into the Marianas Trench, as a warning to the others.
- It doesn’t fit. You sound like my high school girlfriend when you say that. Make it fit, the same way she did: with an engine hoist and a plasma torch.
- But, but, but, the 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 offers similar power with greater…More numbers crap, boys. Nobody cares about your numbers. Nobody cared when the 1986 Seville Touring Sedan had more skidpad “g” than the BMW 528e. The only number that matters is 8. That’s the number of cylinders a Cadillac should have, assuming you have no V-16 available at the moment.
What’s the worst that could happen? I will tell you. The car could completely flop. It could clog up dealer lots, appear in rental fleets, and be the subject of some humiliating $399/month lease. Guess what? That’s all going to happen to the four-cylinder brick of manure you’re about to start selling anyway. With a V-8 engine in the car, you’d at least have some pride in your product. Pride goes a long way. It holds forts, inspires heroism, straightens backs, generates “Like” clicks on Facebook. Trust me on this.
We all know that nothing like what I have suggested is going to happen. The ATS will be released to glowing reviews in Motor Trend and polite indifference elsewhere. It won’t sell at the intro price. $5,000 rebates will appear. Eventually the car will be competing with the Buick Verano, dollar for dollar. The people who did bother to buy the early ones will hate you for giving the later ones away. The people who got the cheapies later will look forward to owning a real luxury car, like a four-cylinder, vinyl-seat BMW, the next time they lease. The Cadillac name will be worse off as a result. Thirty years from now, my son will speak the sentence “those two great compact Cadillac failures, the ATS and Cimarron” in a holographic, super-neuro-cortical-interactive version of TTAC. The people visiting said site will mostly have been born after the Cadillac brand was shut down for low sales and non-existent brand equity. That’s the future. It sucks. Avoid it, please.
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Cadillac lost its way when it went all FWD and V6. Would you do that to the Corvette? F no, and I wouldn't own either one. No RWD V8, no sale.
Cadillac (and by extension, GM) cannot ever do enough to please everyone. If they make it big and V8, that's not good enough. Small, sporty cars? Wrong. It really comes down to the fact that so many can't ever get over GM's past failures. They'll never, ever change the doom-and-gloom tune.