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Afterthoughts: Cadillac ATS & The Perception Game


William Maley
Editor/Reporter - CheersandGears.com
February 24, 2012

A few weeks ago, Cadillac debuted their ad for the 2012 Super Bowl. The ad features the new ATS sedan and some footage of it undergoing testing at the Nurburgring. The ad ends with this line,

“So if anyone tells you that Cadillac can’t beat the world’s best, just tell them to go to green hell and see for themselves.”

The ad also calls out one of the ‘world’s best’, the BMW 3-Series.

A bit audacious to call out the best selling compact luxury car in your ads. But on paper, the ATS makes a good case; three different engine choices (2.5L, 2.0T, 3.6L DI V6), two transmissions, a low curb weight, the list goes on. But there is one item that isn’t talked about. One item that the ‘world’s best’ (i.e. the Germans) have that Cadillac doesn’t; perception.

Ask someone what they think about the German automakers and the response is pretty high. The person thinks of the Germans as building high quality vehicles, fun to drive, and great experience to buy and own. Ask for their thoughts on Cadillac and it’s a complete 180. The person thinks of Cadillac as building so-so quality vehicles, a floaty ride that would grandparents love, and a meager experience to buy and own.

GM has been hard at work trying to change the perception and position Cadillac as a world beater since 2003, when the CTS, SRX, and XLR were introduced. Cadillac has gone more drastic with their designs, worked on improving the quality of their vehicles, tuned the driving dynamics, introduced a performance sub-brand, made the dealer experience better, and so on.

But GM has been at this for only a bit. The Germans have been working on this for a long time. Look at the history of the German luxury compact sedan class; the BMW 3-Series has 33 years, while the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class both have 18 years. The ATS is coming right of the gate and its predecessor, the CTS stands at 9 years.

GM is on the right track with Cadillac of rebuilding and positioning, but now isn’t the time to start calling out your competitors in ads. The ATS might look good on paper and in the ads, but will it mean people will go out and try the Cadillac? Possibly, but only in a minuscule amount.

Right now, Cadillac is on its third step of rebuilding/repositioning with the new ATS, upcoming XTS, and redesigned CTS in the works. What Cadillac should be do is stop talking about the completion. Instead start talking about what makes a Cadillac a Cadillac. Talk about CUE, Magnetic Ride Control, the 2.0L Turbo, the engineering that went into it, so on and so forth. But also, keep working on those improvements.

And before you know it, you can say we can take on the world’s best, and no one would bat an eye at it.
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14 Comments

I work with a lot of people in Princeton (NJ) that own/lease BMWs and Mercedes and they aren't all 100% happy with their current German cars (some have abandoned their German car for either Japanese luxury or *gosh* a Cadillac).

But of course perception is right. Many will look at BMW, Mercedes or Audi as the "God touched this car with his finger" quality and will balk at anything less than German engineering. I may be a GM Kool-Aide drinker, but it is Cadillac only for me (if I ever achieve the financial status to afford one, that is! :lol: )
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I understand the point being made in your writting but have to disagree with you, Cadillac needs to keep pushing the quality/engineering line with their auto's but they also need to be calling out the competition and making people think about it. With their driving clinics to compare cadillac to other luxury brands, I see allot of conquests that will continue as people realize America can and does build world class products, they just need to be shown the path. I think Cadillac is doing this right to call out the competition and make people think about it. Not everyone will but many who are not happy with their German driving machines due to defects and much higher cost of ownership will look at American and Asian auto's based on a commercial like this.

Proud owner of a 2004 CTS, 2004 SRX, 2006 Escalade ESV and 2008 Trailblazer SS on top of my 94 suburban. :P
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I understand the point being made in your writting but have to disagree with you, Cadillac needs to keep pushing the quality/engineering line with their auto's but they also need to be calling out the competition and making people think about it. With their driving clinics to compare cadillac to other luxury brands, I see allot of conquests that will continue as people realize America can and does build world class products, they just need to be shown the path. I think Cadillac is doing this right to call out the competition and make people think about it. Not everyone will but many who are not happy with their German driving machines due to defects and much higher cost of ownership will look at American and Asian auto's based on a commercial like this.

Proud owner of a 2004 CTS, 2004 SRX, 2006 Escalade ESV and 2008 Trailblazer SS on top of my 94 suburban. :P


You beat me to it.

Calling out the competition is precisely what Cadillac should be doing. Making your case and proving it beats the hell out of whining about perception.
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Save that for stunts like the Lutz race in the CTS-V. At least wait till the car has been in production a few months... they aren't even rolling ATSes down the line yet. Get the car into the hands of a few journalists. Do some ride-n-drives with the ATS up against the 3-er, C, and A4.

But don't make claims that no one can even go check on because the car isn't in the dealerships yet.
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I see this as setting the stage for a summer drive event with ATS at various trim levels going up aginst BMW and AMG in the same equal trim levels.

Let the drive do the talking and I still think this is a perfect start for a vehicle that has high expectations. It will DRIVE the Engineers and Manufacturing to make sure they launch this one right!
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Maybe I'll get invited to a drive event for the ATS....I went to one in '07 for the '08 CTS and one for the Merc C-class...
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I don't appreciate smugness in commercials. Probably why I don't buy Apple products either. The corporate identity rubs me the wrong way. I don't think it's classy. In a consumer driven world where the things we buy and choices we make do to some extent define us I could not endorse Cadillac's advertising. I prefer how they are promoting Buick with their unexpected pleasures commercial. Undersell and over deliver for a few more years. The word does get around. Ask Hyundai.
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>>"Look at the history of the German luxury compact sedan class; the BMW 3-Series has 33 years"<<

The 3-series was in NO WAY a "luxury car" when it debuted, and still wasn't decades later. Some would still argue that point today, tho it's made forward strides there. But "luxury" in the '70s or 80s?? The only aspect that would qualify there would maybe be price. It also was not perceived as luxury in those decades.

Perception is usually built upon product delivery. If the ATS performs & is built comparatively, the perception will follow.
Look at Cadillac's entry-level perception pre-CTS... and now.
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Agree with crash...because if it is up to snuff, it is easy to crash and burn...


And it will be ingrained in your head like the Aztec.
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I am not a fan of calling out others or comparing one attribute of Car A to one attrbute of Car B in commercials. I prefer promoting your own product attrbutes and brand identity. I think Mercedes does this better than anyone, because their ads focus on engineering, safety, heritage and new products. I would rather see Cadillac talk about what makes them Cadillac, not compare themselves to BMW one day, Lexus the next, Lincoln the next, etc.

The 3-series is unique because it is the best car in the segment and has the highest perception. So Cadillac has to win on two fronts, vehicle and public opinion. And let's not forget a 328i gets 36 mpg and does 0-60 in 5.7 seconds, quicker than a CTS 3.6 DI, with fuel economy like a Malibu Eco, so the ATS has to post some impressive numbers to beat the 3-series.
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If Cadillac doesn't make some waves and rattle a few cages, then they are sunk.

Bold is called for here.
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Public opinion is made over time, not via this year's marketing.
The 2002/3-series had NO market success here until decades after it debuted.

Bold IS called for, look at the OP- Cadillac hasn't been a 'floaty ride' for many years, yet for too many, the uniformed perception lingers.
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It is not enough for Cadillac to get this car right. What Cadillac needs is a commitment to persistently get it right for a decade.
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If Cadillac doesn't make some waves and rattle a few cages, then they are sunk.

Bold is called for here.


Fine, but actually have the car to be bold with. The ATS doesn't start rolling down the production line for another 4 months at least.
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