By on February 11, 2015
Full gallery here

2016 Cadillac CTS-V. Full gallery here

I don’t know if it will help them sell cars are not, but Cadillac’s decision to move it’s business headquarters to the trendy Soho district of New York City has certainly gotten some attention as have Cadillac marketing maven Melody Lee’s comments related to the move and the potential customers they hope to reach by making Cadillac into a more general luxury brand, not just a car company. When I saw that Lee’s boss, Jim Vurpillat, Global Marketing Director for Cadillac was going to be participating in a press event for the 2015 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, because Cadillac has factory based teams running racing versions of the ATS in the Pirelli World Challenge, it seemed like a good opportunity to ask him how racing and the high performance V cars in Cadillac’s portfolio fit in with appealing to New York’s trendy set, a group not known for their love or horsepower or what they see as environmentally questionable motorsports.

Q. Where do motorsports and performance fit into Cadillac marketing? The people to whom you’re appealing by moving Cadillac HQ to Soho in NYC are not the same people who are drawn to high performance V cars and Motorsports.

A. The move realy isn’t about that. How we look at performance is that racing proves the performance credentials of the V series and the V series provides performance credentials to the overall Cadillac brand. So they’re intrinsically linked together.

Q. So you don’t see a conflict between that and making Cadillac into a fashionable luxury brand?

A. No because luxury by it’s definition is pretty broad. When you look at the luxury landscape you’ve got performance series like [BMW’s] M, [Mercedes-Benz’s] AMG, [Cadillac’s] and V series and you have a group of audience for that. You have things like alternative propulsion, electrification, so there are things like our ELR, [BMW’s] i cars, hybrids. You have to be very diverse and your portfolio has to be diverse.

The key though is that when you do a car, that it has to have really a sense of no compromise. So, with our V cars, especially the new ones that we’re releasing, they’re a great daily driver as a luxury car but then they’re certainly a track capable machine.

What we’ve seen since we’ve gotten back into racing in the last four years is that we’ve grown the enthusiasm for the V brand, not just among our owners, and dealers but there’s more and more people…

Q. Back in the early 1950s after Cadillac introduced the first modern OHV V8, Cadillac was all about performance and competed in the Panamerica races in Mexico.

A. That’s still the case today.

Q. Getting back to the New York move, don’t you think that motorsports and performance might turn off the crowd that’s attracted to the plug in hybrid ELR? Enthusiasts have the impression that New York is not a car friendly city.

A. No, I don’t think so. New York is the single largest market for luxury cars in the United States, it’s also the largest performance market. You have to remember that the greater metropolitan area includes Connecticut, Westchester County, northern New Jersey, down into mid Jersey and Pennsylvania, Long Island, so it’s huge. When you’re there and you drive around you see luxury cars everywhere, so I don’t think there’s a risk at all. With luxury buyers, one of the pillars of building a strong luxury brand is a strong performance element and it’s been an element that we’ve been lacking a little bit, trailing BMW and Mercedes and Audi.

So racing supports that, we’ve seen that enthusiasm. We like to use the V cars… When we did the first generation, when we did the first CTS-V, it shocked people. Then when we did the next generation CTS, people asked, “are you going to do a V?” Now, with the third generation CTS and the ATS, people are like, “Where are the Vs?” We said they’re going to come and now they’re here.

We’ve seen that progression of V and I think directly, racing, especially this last four years with the Pirelli World Challenge, we’ve seen that interest.

Q. What’s the return on investment? Does Cadillac track sales results from motorsports?

A. We measure all of our events so when we’re at a track, and we activate, like at the Detroit Grand Prix, and we ask for people’s names and information, we track who signs up at the booth and then we measure that in sales. I can tell you that it has a huge ROI. Racing is very strong. We oversell Vs as a percentage to racing fans but the number one vehicle that we sell to people who come to a racetrack is the SRX [crossover], which is our number one selling car in general.

Q. Crossovers are one area where Cadillac’s portfolio is weak.

A. We’re going to see an expansion of that. At the end of the day we see what racing is doing is showcasing to people Cadillac and Cadillac performance and then they’re going into a showroom and picking a Cadillac. And they walk away with something like an SRX or ATS, which is exactly what we want.

Q. Is there going to be a V version of the upcoming CT-6?

A. We’re discussing that. It won’t be a V series. We’re still building a brand, we think that at the core we have to be very tight with what what gets badged a V series. Some of our competitors are far more.. they’re expanding their AMG offerings at Benz. We think that as we build the brand we have to be very focused on what a V is. If the car or the vehicle can’t deliver that.. we get asked all the time “Why can’t we have a V series Escalade?”

Q. Cadillac has had some concept car hits with the Ciel and Elmiraj, and a brand can’t really be considered a luxury marque if it doesn’t compete with the big boys, the S-Class and 7 Series cars. If Cadillac really wanted to assert itself in the luxury field, why not build them? What could they cost, $125,000?

A. As you build a portfolio, you have to have a long term vision and you can’t stretch too far. You can always use this example: When we did the first generation CTS, everyone was like, oh my, a small, little Cadillac. Then five years later, when we introduced the next CTS we got, “When are you going to do a car smaller than the CTS?” and we brought out the ATS. If we had first come out with a car the size of the ATS it would have been too far.

You have to build out from the middle, then to [consider to] do a vehicle like the Elmiraj, to do a vehicle the four door [convertible] Ciel, but is it too far up here? Fill in your main segments first.

It’s no joke, between now and 2020, we’re spending $12 billion on Cadillac, our portfolio will be extremely added to in that time.

Q. You said we will not see an Escalade V, but there are credibly performing luxury SUVs and crossovers like the SRT Grand Cherokee, Audi AQ5, as well as the Porsche Cayenne and Macan. There’s clearly a market subsegment there. Since a lot of the growth in crossover sales are the result of the changing attitudes of female consumers who drive (no pun intended) about 80% of consumer purchases in general, is offering a performance crossover one way of appealing to men.

A. Performance cars are decidedly, when we look at Ms and Vs and AMGs you know it’s 90% male. When we get into the higher performance cars, like the M5, it’s about 98%. Women like the performance when they have it, it’s just different where they put the emphasis.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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63 Comments on “Trend Setters and Trackday Drivers, How Cadillac Tries to Appeal to Diverse Customers, An Interview With Cadillac’s Marketing Chief...”

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    Don’t start yet, I gotta go get more popcorn, again.

  • avatar

    I’d really like to see a real number of how many Cadillacs actually ever see a track. Even with SRT EXPERIENCE you couldn’t drive your own car. Cars were supplied. what’s the real percentage of people pushing Cadillac’s to their performance envelopes.

    • 0 avatar

      Probably not many, but that’s most likely true with many performance sedans regardless of marque. What this does is give Cadillac racing/performance credibility for those potential customers to whom that matters.

      That cred transfers unto their street vehicles. It’s a niche market for sure but potentially very influential.

  • avatar

    Q. How is Cadillac still breathing?

    A. We have a life support system CALLED THE ESCALADE.

  • avatar

    Even if he is wrong, this gentleman sounds like a coherent adult. Why is Mr. Vurpillat not in charge?

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar

      I expected to hear a lot of marketing-speak but I found Vurpillat to be pretty straightforward. I’m glad that I decided to not directly mention Melody Lee. That might have made the interview more adversarial than it needed to be.

      Though you usually hear the “I can’t speak about future product” boilerplate, he was open about what cars won’t have a V badge and though he didn’t explicitly say they won’t be making a S Class competitor anytime real soon, he did say that they have to be careful about going “too far”.

      Much as we enthusiasts would like to see true flagships at Cadillac and Lincoln, there are a lot more CLA and 3 Series cars sold than S Class and 7 Series cars.

      Still, I couldn’t help but think that much of what he told me were the same things that the racing and performance car teams inside the company use to justify their existence to upper management.

      • 0 avatar

        >>”It’s no joke, between now and 2020, we’re spending $12 billion on Cadillac, our portfolio will be extremely added to in that time.”<<

        Except to shareholders. Cadillac used to be wildly profitable. I understand building a "brand" costs money but GM spending so much when the people heading the effort seem so clueless is questionable at best.

        Melody Lee:

        “I don’t buy products, I buy brands,” explained Lee. “I don’t use Apple computers because they are the best computers, I use them because Apple is cool. We need to show drivers what the Cadillac lifestyle is all about.”

        Good luck w/ that brand thing. I'm sure the Germans are scared.

      • 0 avatar

        They may think they have all the performance cred in the world with their V-Series—and I won’t argue that point—but without a true flagship, they lack serious LUXURY CRED.

        You can roll out all the Vs and gorgeous concepts you want. Unless you PROVE you can field a Cadillac that is the equal or better of the S/7/A8, you’re still playing in the luxury minor leagues.

        Defending the existence of the expensive, low-volume V-series while shrugging off the non-existence of an expensive, low-volume flagship is hypocrisy, plain and simple.

      • 0 avatar

        “he did say that they have to be careful about going “too far”.

        How about just pushing the envelope a little, like the tailfins of 1948? Some thought Cadillac had gone “too far” They then proceeded to dominate the luxury car market for the next 25 years

      • 0 avatar

        I suspect he wanted to focus on the positives with you Ronnie, which is wise. I’m sure he’s well aware of the train wreck the brand has become likely internally and externally but he’s not going to go into any detail with the press of course.

        “there are a lot more CLA and 3 Series cars sold than S Class and 7 Series cars”

        True, but Mercedes and BMW are full line brands whereas Cadillac is supposed to be the luxury division of a larger company. Whats the margin on a C-class, is it more or less than an S-class? I would imagine less. Mercedes probably makes more money on its higher volume C-class sales than it does its lower volume S-class sales, but probably profits more per unit on the S-class. Does Cadillac profit at all on its equivalent C-class after all offers? Cadillac is in the uncomfortable position of selling low(er) volumes of a high volume product while accepting the lower profit structure designed for a volume model. If the brand never sells considerable volume again (and I doubt it ever will) it might make more sense to just accept it and focus on low volume intended high priced cars which will actually sell without [too many] incentives.

  • avatar

    Anyone else hoping that Bruce Gender will do for the Escalade what OJ did for the Bronco?

    • 0 avatar

      Bruce may not even be paying for his Escalade. Did you know that Wolfgang Puck has gotten comped Escalades for years? At least the “long term test” cars given to autojournos generate some benefit to the car companies. Comping celebrities with free cars seems to me to be more about company folks getting to hang with celebrities than about selling product – but then I feel the same way about most “endorsements”. The best endorsement anyone, particularly a professional, can make about something is to buy it with their own money and use it.

      There’s a Paul Westerberg signature First Act guitar. It came about because the company found out that Westerberg was in a Walmart buying shaving supplies, saw another First Act guitar on sale and bought it as a gag. He played it, though, during the sound check and liked it enough to go on to regularly use it while performing. Now which model guitar has more credibility, the one that Paul Westerberg bought or the one that they pay him to put his name on it?

    • 0 avatar

      Didn’t the Bronco get discontinued after a thirty year run about two years after the O.J. incident?

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, many say the OJ slow ride seen ’round the world had a lot to do with it. To this day if someone says it’s a “OJ Bronco” everyone knows immediately what it is

    • 0 avatar


      You won the internet today…

    • 0 avatar

      I had no idea what you were talking about and just happened to stumble across this tabloid site that had a video…

      If anything that should increase escalade sales 10 fold.

      Still doesn’t solve the mystery of who Bruce Jenner is? I’m guessing someone famous.
      Ahh NVM Olympic Gold metal recipient.

  • avatar

    Dear TTAC:

    In the future when you’re going to:

    1) Share an amsuing BTSR rant about the Charger Hellcat the same day you post a Tesla story and then

    2) Share a UR Turn ATS review AND an interview with Cadillac’s marketing chief

    Let us know in advance so I know to have huge buckets of popcorn, the day off, and a 12 pack of ice cold ones.

  • avatar

    danio’s gonna have a heart attack

    I’m all out of popcorn

  • avatar

    I’m skeptical of those “New York is the biggest market” claims; at the very least the clarifying explanation of the NY market being most of the populated northeast makes me curious about how a market area is defined.

    I’d assume that Southern California and/or the SF Bay Area would be bigger markets based on car ownership rates and population.

    • 0 avatar

      I would believe that NY is their biggest market if you include all the Escalades (and a few other models) that private car services are using to replace their fleet of dying Town Cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Looks like NY’s metro area is larger than LA and SF’s combined:

      New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 19,949,502
      Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 13,131,431
      San Francisco–Oakland–Hayward, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area: 4,516,276

      I’d suspect relatively proportional advantages when it comes to the auto market.

  • avatar

    How about SRX-V series! What the world really needs is a spec CUV racing league.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure that SoHo can accurately be classified as “trendy” anymore. All the interesting people have been priced out long ago and these days it would be more accurate to call it an open-air mall for tourists.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s ok, Cadillac doesn’t appear to be very “trendy” either, so maybe it’s a good fit

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t disagree on SoHo, but for most Americans that have never visited NYC, SoHo has an aura to it. I always find it interesting that they want to say “SoHo” instead of NYC Not sure it registers to anyone unless they are fans of the Kardashians. Of course, maybe that is the demographic they want.

  • avatar

    Copy editor! Need a copy editor over here! C-o-o-o-p-p-p-y e-e-d-d-i-t-o-o-o-r!

    “…Cadillac’s decision to move it’s business headquarters…”

    “…Jim Vurpillat, Global Marketing Director for Cadillac was going to be participating…”

    “…The move realy isn’t about that…”

    “…luxury by it’s definition is pretty broad…”

  • avatar

    It’s a GM car with a pushrod V8, so I’m not going to complain.

  • avatar

    All I ask for is a simple V8. I’m at a point where I’m seriously considering a luxury car, and Cadillacs have the right look, custom tailored for my likes. Thumbs up, all around. Except I can’t get past the cheesy, wheezy engines. The V? Yeah, not what I asked for. I’m not wanting to set the Nurburgerkingring on fire.

    It’s like offering the GT500 Mustang, but no GT? How? What? why???

  • avatar

    This man seems very competent and based in reality. Why can’t HE be in charge at Cadillac?

    Seriously though, Cadillac needs to get 2 more cross-overs out ASAP and refresh the SRX…Perhaps the ARX and the CRX? (see what I did there?)

    Crossovers are the volume movers, not the sports sedans and not the flagship models either. The ATS has many shortcomings starting with the NA 2.5L, which should be dropped from the lineup and ending with the gauge cluster. An ATS refresh can’t come soon enough!

  • avatar

    Given how many Benz G-Classes are AMGs, an Escalade-V kind of makes sense. I mean, better for GM they get that extra money than Hennessey, right?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t see GM spending the cash on upgrading the Escalade chassis to make it stop, steer, and “go” like an AMG. Hennessey can turbocharge and add sticky tires and bigger brakes all they want, but they aren’t building an OEM product that has factory and dealer support.

      Does GM void your warranty if you race?

  • avatar

    I’ve been to Belle Isle a number of times back when I was running an Indycar sponsor program. Even did a few laps in a 2-seater indy car (awesome!). I’ve seen Cadillac’s presence and activation space. Cute blonds handing out t-shirts if you give them your name and email and lots of old men looking at the V models. I got a “Cadilalc Racing” t-shirt with a bad phone number and email. I’ve worked these programs. To say the ROI was huge is an exaggeration, but it sure sounds good in an interview.

  • avatar

    This Vurpillat character is all about baffling us with market-speak and pouring smoke up someone’s tailpipe.

    Cadillac doesn’t have a dollar. Or a dream. Or a clue.

  • avatar

    “they’re a great daily driver as a luxury car but then they’re certainly a track capable machine”

    No, those things don’t mix. The only vehicle to come close has been the M5. Nobody else can manage, and certainly not any Cadillac vehicles presently.

  • avatar

    You should aks him about Melody Lee ‘strategy’, because she is sensational:) .. and we want to hear about her ‘brand-new-creative-virbant-NYstyle -ideas’ as much as possible ..:)

    Knowing how things are played today, I bet she will replace this guy pretty soon..

    For Cadillac the only way is to stop ‘chasing Germans’ and built unique, extravagant, opulent, good quality vehicles(hire Bob Lutz again..:), with A&S design ques from XLR and previous gen.CTS(especially coupe).
    New CTS and ATS ‘design language’ is ‘messy ’ (not ‘sharp’ enough – hese cars ‘body-lines are going nowhere’..).

    That’s why ‘paradoxaly’ Escalade is only one ‘true Cadillac’ in the lineup today..

    V-series don’t need expensive and sophisticated engines..
    ‘Pumped up’ and ‘polished’ Vette engines(big displacement american V8 + Supercharger) is a ‘cheap way’ but efficient, original and exciting enough..

    “there are a lot more CLA and 3 Series cars sold than S Class and 7 Series cars” – that’s true ->
    If ‘nouveau-riche poseurs’ would not buy FWD hipstermobiles with ‘premium price-sticker’ just for ‘premium badge’ sake,
    Buick could take care of them .. , and Cadillac could focus on developement of ‘real cars’ ..

    I prefer the ‘old-order’: when brands represented some plan and vision: Cadillac – über-class, Buick – good quality for ‘oldies’, Pontiac – sporty , Olds – innovative .. etc.. , not the ‘new ‘messy’ order’:
    every brand chasing every-segment and every trend .. (premium is watering down, plebeian brands want to be premium..).

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