By on April 19, 2018

Johan De Nysschen Cadillac CT6, Image: Cadillac

Controversial decisions that ruffled the feathers of dealers and brand faithful alike defined the Johan de Nysschen era at Cadillac. Project Pinnacle left the brand’s dealers in revolt, forcing changes and delays in the streamlining, brand-boosting strategy. Meanwhile, many still feel Cadillac is not a marque for Manhattan — the brand’s new home — and that a keeping-up-with-the-Germans product strategy takes the division too far away from its heritage. GM executives may not share those sentiments.

For de Nysschen, the decision to place GM Canada head Steve Carlisle in charge of Cadillac is purely a business decision. He admits he didn’t fulfill the requirements laid out by his superiors.

Speaking quite candidly to Automotive News, de Nysschen described his departure in a no-nonsense manner, albeit one tinged with regret.

“I greatly admire and respect the GM top leadership but, in the end, I would conclude that in their opinion, I did not challenge hard enough,” he told the publication in an email. “Accordingly, they exercised their prerogative to change leadership.”

“It happens,” he added. “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

Under de Nysschen’s stewardship, the Cadillac brand made major inroads in the massive Chinese luxury car market, even as American interest cooled off. (Sales over the first quarter of 2018 are up 8.1 percent, though.) Despite his background at BMW, Audi, and Infiniti, the executive’s brand overhaul has not yet translated into a clear sales turnaround. And, while the midsized XT5 crossover is the brand’s top seller, the big, bold, body-on-frame Escalade runs a close second, and remains a nameplate (and style) people most closely associate with the name “Cadillac.” Interestingly, the front-drive XTS sedan enjoys greater sales than that of its edgier, more modern sedan stablemates.

2018 Cadillac XT5 - Image: Cadillac

Saying he “loved the brand, the company and my job,” de Nysschen admitted “GM is a very complex organization to navigate. I saw my role to act as a change agent to challenge the status quo, in the reasoning that more of the same would not lead to a different outcome. I suppose in the process, I did not endear myself to everyone.”

Two sources with knowledge of GM’s decision to punt the Cadillac boss claim company brass felt the brand’s products weren’t keeping up with domestic market conditions. The compact 2019 XT4 crossover only debuted at this year’s New York auto show, long after rival models. Newer crossover models will have to wait. Simply, the brand turnaround wasn’t occuring as fast as GM would have liked.

Writing in Road & Track, perpetually outspoken industry titan Bob Lutz was sympathetic to some elements of de Nysschen’s plight — GM can be overly cautious in its product planning, and the need to pivot Cadillac’s image from that of a heavily discounted, fleet-heavy second-tier brand was long overdue — but he questions many of de Nysschen’s marketing decisions.

“Bold new marketing thrusts such as Book by Cadillac (pay a monthly fee, then order up any Cadillac model as needed) never got traction,” Lutz writes. “Expensive advertising campaigns showing emaciated, scraggly-bearded, tight-jacketed metrosexuals posed in rain-drenched back alleys, urging the viewer to Dare Greatly—at what?—flopped miserably. Moving the brand headquarters to New York City, always a bit of a mystery to me, was of little reputational value, but served to distance the Cadillac marketing people from GM’s powerful Detroit-based planning and product development groups.”

Lutz compares de Nysschen and GM to a “bad marriage” that, for a number of smaller reasons, had to end.

“Perhaps [GM] trusted their experience, data and instincts more than they trusted a bunch of effete East Coast marketing genii. Outgunned by the bulletproof reputations of the Germans, the onslaught of competitor crossovers, the relative failure of the new Cadillac sedans, the lack of traction of marketing initiatives and the steadily-sinking profitability of the brand, circumstances conspired to lead everyone concerned to one conclusion—let’s end it.”

And so it ends, with Carlisle now sitting in a chair that could heat up at any moment.

[Images: General Motors]

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52 Comments on “Turfed Cadillac Boss Weighs in on Decision (and So Does Lutz)...”


  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    Lord Have Mercy, Lutz, tell us what you really think.

  • avatar

    Also has anyone ever seen Bob Lutz and DeadWeights in the same place?

  • avatar
    kenwood

    I preferred the Life, Liberty & Pursuit ad campaign from a while back. The Dare Greatly ads were terrible.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Cardinal Lutz weighs in and drops some truth bombs.

    Dal you were right, and this is why:

    ““I greatly admire and respect the GM top leadership but, in the end, I would conclude that in their opinion, I did not challenge hard enough,” he told the publication in an email. “Accordingly, they exercised their prerogative to change leadership.””

    That’s right its Sgt Schultz’s fault your product cycle developed prior to him sucks out loud and has to be sold in an period of economic stagflation. Stockholm Syndrome much Johann?

    “Simply, the brand turnaround wasn’t occuring [sic] as fast as GM would have liked.”

    Right Rencen, after you drove it into a ditch several times over thirty years, its JdN’s fault for not resurrecting Lazarus fast enough.

    Honey its your fault I pushed you down the stairs to miscarry!

    Even with the correct product, I don’t think this sucker can be saved. Too little too late in a nation of truly brain damaged people with bad jobs and no futures. Christ on a bike proles think KIA is a real automotive brand and bikelanes are cool. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

    Dare greatly to tell it like it is or fold.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Hand to the Heavens I’d rather have an XTS V-sport than any other current Cadillac. The Escalade sells (and needs to be in the lineup) and god bless the folks who buy one but I personally have no use for it.

    To echo one of yesterday’s commenters: “How hard would it be to plop the CT6 onto a modified truck chassis and offer V8 ONLY?”

    Oh and I’d like to see factory limos again. Not those tacky stretch monstrosities we have now but something like the Fleetwood 75. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      Varezhka

      “How hard would it be to plop the CT6 onto a modified truck chassis and offer V8 ONLY?”

      Isn’t that what the next Presidential limo would be, a CT6 design on a truck chassis? The same for the current one, a DTS/Escalade design on a Kodiak platform.

      It would probably be a lot cheaper to design than the current sedan lineup, and will at least stand out from the German and Japanese brands. As is, the Escalade is the only current Cadillac that actually has any kind of international recognition.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      I’m not sure we’re where the market is, PrincipalDan, but I agree with you on the XTS V-Sport. Make mine a pre-refresh one; the old taillights were better.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Cadillac corporate headquarters does not belong in NYC; never did. The division needs to go back to its traditional home and that home needs to exude Cadillac as it was as little as 30 years ago. Far better if it could go back to Cadillac’s beginning and revive the brand as a competitor to Rolls Royce rather than Mercedes. Buick is supposed to be the Mercedes competitor.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      There was no “Cadillac” being exuded from the mid-late 80’s Cadillacs. They were all massively downsized, and sold so poorly that GM did a quick styling update to make them look longer. You have to go back 40+ years to get back to the massive Cadillacs everyone thinks of when they think of the brand.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “There was no “Cadillac” being exuded from the mid-late 80’s Cadillacs. They were all massively downsized”

        This is not correct.

        youtube.com/watch?v=RGPF7KpDp4s

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Headquartering Cadillac in New York City is as logical and productive as headquartering a yacht company in Albuquerque.

  • avatar

    freakin’ idiot that’s what this guy is. good riddance!

  • avatar

    self driving, as in right into the ground

    this clown alienated customers and dealers.

    LOSER!

  • avatar

    I could bring GM 5 points of market share within months while reducing the spend.

    then again, I know what I’m doing.

    Buickman
    Founder
    GeneralWatch.com

  • avatar
    Mr. K

    The XTS sells because limo companies use it. With the demise of the real Town Car they have the XTS or the MKT, and now the overwrought electric door latch Continential to choose from.

    If Toyota would make a livery LWB ES350 at a reduced price they would tap into a huge market.

    Caddy is a fine brand that is starting to work on moving their product back into their historical slot.

    “The standard of the world”

    Was fighting the last, car based war the right call or is the new SUV/CUV based war the new reality?

    Time will tell.

    Ford is eating into 20K a piece profit Escalade sales with the Navigator, it’s time for action now.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    “…brass felt the brand’s products weren’t keeping up with domestic market conditions. The compact 2019 XT4 crossover only debuted at this year’s New York auto show, long after rival models. Newer crossover models will have to wait. Simply, the brand turnaround wasn’t occuring as fast as GM would have liked.”

    Note there’s nothing about a V8 RWD Eldorado in there. How profitable could they be selling such an anachronism in today’s market?

    Cadillac’s future is crossovers. Reincarnation of RWD V8 land yachts from the 60s is as passe as the tactile RWD 3 & 5-series beaters that are also not selling. How you take the gravitas and prestige of Cadillac’s golden years and incorporate that into market-palatable AWD blob is beyond me. I don’t envy de Nysschen’s replacement. Wait, yes I do. Millions in pay and millions in parachute. Sign me up.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “Note there’s nothing about a V8 RWD Eldorado in there.”

      Of course. That’s because Eldorados are almost always FWD.

      I still contend that selling a V8/RWD throwback would have done *no worse* on the sales charts than the ATS/CTS that they spent a zillion dollars on. Even if a modern Fleetwood failed in this market it would have been glorious last stand for the brand. Instead Cadillac cars will die as a bunch of wannabe Bavarian doofuses.

      Anyway, going forward it is possible to make crossovers that aren’t hella lame. I think. Maybe.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        No, its really not.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        They were RWD until 1967. When they lost the fins they lost the proper drive wheels.

        I’d like to see a crossover that isn’t a featureless egg. The Grand Cherokee looks good without a ladder frame, and the Aviator teaser shows some signs of life, so perhaps it can be done.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Ironic, as it was the top brass which delayed the XT4, XT6 and other new Cadillac models.

      The top brass and GM’s board wouldn’t fund new products for Cadillac until JdN came out with higher sales projections (than what just the NA market could offer) – which is why he moved so aggressively in China.

      Also, JdN gets all the heat for moving the HQ to NYC – when that decision predated JdN (made by Uwe Ellinghaus) and if anything, it was a good thing to get Cadillac away from Ren Cen (and their cost-cutting, doing things on the cheap ways).

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Expensive advertising campaigns showing emaciated, scraggly-bearded, tight-jacketed metrosexuals posed in rain-drenched back alleys, urging the viewer to Dare Greatly—at what?”

    “a bunch of effete East Coast marketing genii.”

    I enjoy these opinions very much.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    I cannot believe the CT6 launched with anonymous styling, and the ATS and CTS have received few identifiable updates since their introductions. Either way, all three of those cars are forgettable and a tough sell against the competition. Would it cost Caddy *that much* to make a sexy sedan akin to the Escala concept? I mean…if you are going to offer a sedan in a tanking sedan market, shouldn’t it be stunning to see? Shouldn’t it look special? With that rant out of the way, lets sit back and see what product offerings Caddy brings in the next 24-30 months. This is not a time for very good. It must be excellent, at a very good price.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    The lux trim truck has got the redneck luxury buck. The Germans have the effete liberal luxury buck. Cadillac is in a bit of a bind if it just gyrates around trying to find an audience when it seems to have some contempt for both the audiences it doesn’t have and the geriatric platoon of still loyal buyers.

    I don’t think it matters too much which audience they pick, but pick it, stay with it, and don’t secretly think they’re a bunch of jerkoffs. Is that too much to ask?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    It might be too late for Cadillac and even Lincoln. I don’t think a rear wheel drive V-8 powered luxury barge is enough to rescue either of them. Maybe both would be better just offering upscale suvs and crossovers and forget about cars. Having a luxury brand full size, midsize, compact and subcompact crossover is more profitable. Don’t try to compete with Mercedes and BMW sedans let them have that market which even they are selling more suvs and crossovers. Let Buick continue with the LaCross with nicer trims. Also Cadillac should do away with the alphabetic nomenclature and use real names. Start with naming one of those crossovers with the Calais name.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    It’s too late now. The moment the Alpha platform and ATS were announced, I called this failure from my comfy armchair. It’s amazing that so many experts STILL fail to see how big of a mistake that was. Meanwhile, Caddy missed out on half a decade of compact & 2.5 row crossover sales, committing to them just in time for the market to be saturated and cooling. Amazing.

  • avatar
    RHD

    When Cadillac was big, there wasn’t much competition. Now luxury car buyers can go to BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Infiniti, Lexus, Lincoln, Buick, even Hyundai. A gussied up Nissan or Honda would have practically all the goodies that a Cadillac would have.
    What makes Cadillac special any more? Hmmm… NBA players can fit in an Escalade. And Oldsmobile buyers are now having to look elsewhere.
    For Cadillac money, there are too many other choices, and competing brands have dealerships within a few miles of most car buyers.
    Until Cadillac can out-Lexus Lexus with their quality, and create a better driving experience and range of products than Audi and Mercedes, and compete with Hyundai on price (not too difficult any more), they’re going to continue with a tiny share of the market. Having MORE dealerships would help – not having a dealership within 100 miles pretty much takes a brand out of a consumer’s consideration.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    The failure of product planning at Cadillac is absolutely staggering. They were late to recognize the market that the RX/ML/X5 created, but they got there eventually with the SRX. Then…..crickets. X3 and GLK launch. No response. Q7 launches. No response. Volvo jumps in with the XC60. Still nothing. Clueless Lexus finally realizes that there’s a market below the RX for them to tap. STILL NOTHING. Nobody has failed at recognizing the shift to crossovers harder than Cadillac.

    Lincoln is actually prepared, and with the Navigator and Aviator are showing what they can really do with some genuine effort. A fully redesigned Nautilus instead of the hold-over current car and whatever the replacement for the MKC is called could put them in a prime position to challenge the market leaders. Cadillac meanwhile created E90 and E60 rivals just as BMW decided to abandon that sort of “performance first, the rest…ehh” thinking. Way to go team.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    “Expensive advertising campaigns showing emaciated, scraggly-bearded, tight-jacketed metrosexuals posed in rain-drenched back alleys, urging the viewer to Dare Greatly—at what?—flopped miserably”

    Thank you for pointing this out, I don’t care if they actually did have a great lineup (and let’s be honest a bunch of lawnmower engines in tiny cars is awful). But again, even if they did have a good line of products who wants to be associated with that stigma? Kia still has a stigma of cheap crap regardless of how much effort they have put into their products over the last 20 years. Trying to make Cadillacs core buyers look effeminate, look to have poor taste, and look to be employed at the Waffle House is not a good way to build a brand. Brash, overwhelming, and non apologetic would have gotten Cadillac a whole lot further.

  • avatar
    Aron9000

    I think Cadillac had been reading too much Car and Driver in the late 90’s thru the late 00’s and not focusing on real market trends(crossover SUV’s, I mean how many of those damn RX things has Lexus sold since 1998 or so??)

    Still I lay it all at the product planners feet as to why Cadillac hasn’t suceeded. 4 sedans, 3 of which completely overlap in price(CTS, XTS, and CT6). One crossover wagon type thing on sale at this moment(the XT5). BMW has the X1, X2, X3, X4, X5, X6 not to mention a whole range of 5 door liftback(aka Gran Coupe) cars that are way more useful than traditional sedans but look swoopier/sportier.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Just to pile on, JdN’s one-trick pony of renaming everything with incomprehensible alphanumeric codes doesn’t work for Infiniti and works less for Cadillac. I’m a car nut, I own 4 cars, read about cars, work in the business, have car-related friends, and if I get confused about which models are which by their names, then how are my parents (and similar Cadillac potential customers) supposed to understand them?

    As for the NY move, perhaps it was more of an attempt to get away from the entrenched GM bureaucracy in Detroit than an attempt to get New Yorkers to drive cars they have nowhere to park? On one hand I can understand that desire. On the other, it must have cost a fortune (relocations, real estate, extra travel, etc.) Furthermore, at GM, being seen and having access to said decision makers is likely a large part of getting s**t done. Acting like you aren’t “one of them” isn’t a great way to garner support from the countless bean counters one needs on your side.

    I worked at Saturn in the 1990s. There were a lot of bright, dedicated, energetic, and innovative people there. But everything from the location in TN, the casual dress code, the “we’re different” advertising, and even the cooperative union agreement literally made us all outsiders at GM. By the time the brand HQ was moved to Detroit it was too late and the starvation product diet had taken its toll.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Johan was paid 10 million US dollars *per year* (plus other forms of compensation big and small) during his stint at Clackilack…

    …SO IT’S NOT LIKE HE WAS OVER-COMPENSATED, OR, THAT *HE WAS NOT* PAID BASED ON HIS PERFORMANCE, BY THE INCREDIBLE GENIUSES RUNNING GENERAL MOTORS!

    So, there’s at least that.

    500,000 Cadillac sold annually within 19 months now…mark your calendars.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    Cue sucks now, it sucked worse a few years ago.
    Theres still cheapo plastic trim on their cars.
    The styling is forgettable.
    The handlign is good at the expense of ride.
    You would want to own one of their cars, why?

    Theres some great engineering hidden behind cheap crap, the whole thing is a con.

    The forgot about he SUV boom. The XT5 is Ok, and I’m being generous, cheap indicator stalks from the 80s, wow.

    if cadillac wnats to win it needs to build a complete product.

    they can make cars too, bu those need panache styling emotive appeal.
    Electronictrickery does not sell cars, no matter how much manufactuers would like to dream it so.

    Big cadillac dealerships need to be like lexus or whoever else does it right. But abandoning small town dealerships is like saying comunity banks dont make sense. Stupid is as stupid does.

    And yeah lincoln has abandoned cars and gone all in with some great SUVs theyre going to clean up, cadillac missed the boat.

    Also a suv is the vehicle that best adresses what cadillac used to be.

    Johan may have been good at marketing, but its all about the product stupid.

    Or as Carlos Ghosen once famously said, there is no ill at a car company that good product cant fix.

    Johan did well at audi because they delivered great product and he knew how to sell it and improve their image.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I expect that a “FOR LEASE” will go up at the NYC headquarters soon, as the headquarters moves back to Detroit. The notion that millenials would flock to Cadillac is ludicrous.

    Stop chasing Audi and the rest of the Germans, and follow your own path. Luxury with some swagger. Dump the ATS and the CTS, and bring out a flagship sedan and coupe (Sedan de Ville, and Eldorado), and think up some real names for the CT6 and XT5.

    Cadillac has built some stunning concepts, like the Ciel, the Elmiraj, and the Escala, but hasn’t followed up on them with stunning production cars.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Calais would make a much better name for a compact to subcompact crossover. Many of those who would buy them were either not born or too young to remember the Calais name for a stripped Cadillac or a compact Olds. Calais is not a bad name it would be better used on a cross over. There are only so many names a manufacturer can come up with and copyright.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree that the GMC Professional Grade is good marketing. Maybe Cadillac should follow a similar strategy. Skip the cars and offer a crossover/suv in every size all fully loaded with few options. Make Cadillac the Mark of Luxury and a brand to aspire to. Don’t cheapen the interiors but make them distinctive and above the mark for luxury vehicles. Make the ride quality and handling better than the competition. Leave the autobahn cruisers to the Germans.


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