Cadillac Exec: "No Petrolheads Need Apply"

Steve Lynch
by Steve Lynch

It is not our intention to pile on poor Cadillac after our recent discussion, but comments made last week by the automaker’s marketing manager Ewe Ellinghaus must be noted. Speaking to Advertising Age, he repeated the new company mantra about the carmaker becoming a “the first luxury brand that happens to make cars,” and then added:

“When I recruit new people, I don’t need petrolheads. We have more than enough petrolheads and we will still. I need people with experiences in other industries, but with luxury brands.”

We must assume that Ellinghaus, most recently with Montblanc pens and formerly with BMW, was using the European term equivalent to what we call a “car guy” or “car gal.” If so, Cadillac’s future is as bleak as the B&B thinks it is, and not just because of products.Ellinghaus and new Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen are assembling a team of perfectly-diverse and social-media savvy managers from non-automotive luxury companies who probably know all the right restaurants in their new home in New York City. That is fine but choosing not to hire proven car industry folks is just plain dumb. A car guy or gal is someone who has succeeded because they understand that sales only comes from great cars, great marketing and great dealers. Bob Lutz is a car guy. Soichiro Honda was a car guy. Lee Iaccoca was a car guy. Ellinghaus says Cadillac has cars guys on staff but we can’t think of any; either way he insulted them all by saying, “we have more than enough petrolheads.”

Ford Motor Company has a true car guy on the rise by the name of Henry Ford III. The great-great grandson of the company’s founder actually spent a summer at Galpin Ford in Los Angeles selling cars to better understand the retail side of the business. We doubt you will ever see de Nysschen or Melody Lee, their “Director of Brand and Reputation Strategy” talking to Cadillac shoppers on a showroom floor, let alone ever setting foot in one of their retailers. Speaking of dealers, Cadillac needs a major overhaul of their dealer body, one that is lagging behind other luxury brands in customer handling. Whoever will be in charge of dealer relations needs to be a major car person, not Amber from Tiffany’s.

One issue not discussed by our commentariat in our last Caddy story was the impending move of their sales and marketing team from Detroit to Manhattan. One good thing about being in New York is the chance to hire managers away from the US headquarters of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru in northern New Jersey. (Oh, wait, they are not hiring petrolheads.) Separating themselves geographically from the rest of GM might be a good idea, but they went the wrong direction: they should have gone west to car-crazy Los Angeles. Lee recently said that people in New York City are a “little bit ahead of everyone else,” another insult to GM’s Michigan workforce. That may be, but people in Los Angeles are ten steps ahead when it comes to knowing great cars.

At least Ford was visionary enough to open an Orange County, CA office in 1999 as headquarters for its former “Premier Auto Group” brands, Range Rover, Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Lincoln. Cadillac should have done the same. Ford was thus smack in the middle of the market where import luxury brands sell upwards of 20% of their cars and where Mercedes-Benz sells 50% of its AMG hot rods. Automotive trends start in Los Angeles, not New York.

Ford’s former LA luxury brand building; Cadillac should have moved to SoCal rather than SoHo

Ford execs could walk downstairs on a Saturday morning and meet hundreds of knowledgeable car folks at the premiere “Cars and Coffee” gathering in the country. When the Caddy crew walks out of their Soho high-rise, what car folks will they be able to meet and greet other than limo and taxi drivers?

Cadillac has massive product issues and their sales are tanking this year. Industry insiders wonder how long de Nysschen and his crew will last at Caddy. We think his next move should be to Acura so he can say he worked for the trifecta of Muddled Brand Image, Nutty Nomenclature Automakers: Infiniti, Cadillac and Acura. At least he will be in Southern California, surrounded by petrolheads.

Steve Lynch
Steve Lynch

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  • Johnster Johnster on Dec 11, 2014

    I rather like the current Cadillac lineup. They're all a bit off, but not bad. They all seem to need a better CUE infotainment systems and better 4-cylinder engines. The line really does need a flagship and the upcoming CT6 sounds promising, even if it has a stupid name. However, the latest news from Cadillac sounds disturbingly similar to the last days of Oldsmobile, where they hired a bunch of market geniuses from Procter and Gamble. Although the marketing team could be called successful in that the average Oldsmobile buyer became the kind of upper-middle class consumer they sought, they lost the admittedly shrinking number of brand-loyal buyers, and there just were not enough of the new demographic they sought to make up the difference. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself.

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    • Buickman Buickman on Dec 11, 2014

      @Buickman seems anytime I mention a certain restaurant it kicks me out. weird.

  • Jimbob457 Jimbob457 on Dec 15, 2014

    Caddy has already made its market niche - luxury based on 20th century engineering for 10 or 15 grand less than the Germans. It actually may make more sense to try to peddle this package in the Big Apple than anywhere else. They sure won't get very far with the gearheads.

  • M B When the NorthStar happened, it was a part of GM's "rebuilding" of the Cadillac brand. Money to finance it was shuffled from Oldsmobile, which resulted in Olds having to only facelift its products, which BEGAN its slide down the mountain. Olds stagnated in product and appearances.First time I looked at the GM Parts illustration of a NorthStar V-8, I was impressed AND immediately saw the many things that were expensive, costly to produce, and could have been done less expensively. I saw it as an expensive disaster getting ready to happen. Way too much over-kill for the typical Cadillac owner of the time.Even so, there were a few areas where cost-cutting seemed to exist. The production gasket/seal between the main bearing plate and the block was not substantial enough to prevent seeps. At the time, about $1500.00 to fix.In many ways, the NS engine was designed to make far more power than it did. I ran across an article on a man who was building kits to put the NS in Chevy S-10 pickups. With his home-built 4bbl intake and a 600cfm Holley 4bbl, suddenly . . . 400 horsepower resulted. Seems the low hood line resulted in manifolding compromises which decreased the production power levels.GM was seeking to out-do its foreign competitors with the NS design and execution. In many ways they did, just that FEW people noticed.
  • Redapple2 Do Hybrids and be done with it.
  • Redapple2 Panamera = road porn.
  • Akear What an absurd strategy. They are basically giving up after all these years. When a company drinks the EV hemlock failure is just around the corner.
  • Graham The answer to a question that shouldn't have been asked LOL