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Cadillac Renaissance: Miracle or Mirage?

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As Cadillac's renaissance enters Phase Two, can its products really compete against the best from BMW, AMG Mercedes and Lexus?

By DAN CARNEY Email

Date posted: 05-11-2006

Since the launch of Cadillac's revitalized models such as the Escalade and the CTS, the company has promised to return to its one-time benchmark, "The Standard of the World." Today, that means beating competition from BMW (including the company's M performance division), Mercedes-Benz (likewise AMG) and Lexus.

The thinking at GM goes like this: If the company can take on the likes of the BMW M5, Mercedes' SL65 AMG and Lexus' LX 470 SUV, then surely the company's other brands can beat their respective competitors.

There is significant validity to this thesis. Cadillac sales have increased 37 percent since 2001 and the company outsold Mercedes-Benz in the U.S. in 2005. The cars are smarter-looking and more rewarding to drive than ever. Cadillac's success is in stark contrast to its rapidly fading crosstown rival Lincoln, which sold barely more than half as many cars as Cadillac last year.

The problem with Cadillac, GM and domestic manufacturers in general, however, is the unfortunate tendency to benchmark against one's own previous products, rather than against the latest and future BMW M3, Mercedes CLK63 AMG and Lexus GS 450h. Those are the cars that must be defeated in the showrooms for the company to succeed.

Admit it: You've asked yourself this question

With the launch of the new 2007 Escalade, Cadillac has announced the beginning of Phase Two of its renaissance. But the question that can rightly be posed regarding Phase One is whether it was truly the miracle Cadillac claims, or just a mirage that is apt to dissipate in the face of increasingly fierce foreign competition.

The question is not asked out of some pro-import bias, but out of the belief that only by topping the competition, feature for feature and dollar for dollar, can Cadillac reclaim its stake as the "Standard of the World." The company is reaching for that banner now, but some product shortcomings may suggest that the reach is still premature.

Today's Cadillac lineup is excellent, with the popular Escalade, zoomy XLR and sporty CTS. GM is justifiably proud of the achievements since the dim days of the Eldorado, Fleetwood and Catera.

"It is hard to remember now, but six years ago Cadillac was still literally on the ropes," recalled Detroit gadfly and publisher of the Autoextremist.com blog, Peter DeLorenzo. "Their vehicles were out of touch," he said. "Cadillac was strictly a deteriorating country club brand. But now they have street presence."

Phase Two oversights

That is true enough, but "better than ever" doesn't always equate to "best in class" in the American luxury market. "In round two we have to come out with no-excuses products," proclaimed Cadillac General Manager Jim Taylor. "In this round, if we miss something we have to take our lumps and stand tall."

Cadillac knows, for example, that it must stand tall in the face of some hiccups in the all-new Renaissance Phase Two-era Escalade.

The power windows have no one-touch express-up function, like those you'd find, for example, on every Volkswagen Jetta, for all four windows. The steering wheel tilt is not only manual rather than power adjustable, it adjusts in the huge, clunky increments one might associate with some commercial truck.

The key has no built-in remote control functions, like those you'd find on, say, a Toyota Yaris economy car. Instead, the Phase Two Escalade's key ring includes a key and old-fashioned separate fob with the remote functions.

The good news here is that the antiquated key fob isn't present as the result of some negligent oversight. Cadillac will replace the keys in all its models with ones that incorporate remote functions, but because of the differing engineering schedules for each model, those keys won't be available until summer, explained Taylor.

Such is the case with all of the product details that Cadillac realizes are needed, but absent. "It isn't generally something that is missed," Taylor said. "There is usually a story around it." That means that there is some production capacity, engineering commonality or corporate intrigue sort of obstacle that prevented Cadillac from executing on that particular detail.

So Cadillac folks aren't blind to the competition, or stupid, or careless; they are bogged down by GM's bureaucracy. "But consumers don't care" about the source of the shortcomings, acknowledges Taylor.

Fulfilling present expectations

At the same time, the "overall integrity and design" of the Escalade are so strong that customers will forgive these oversights, asserts DeLorenzo. But the company might not find luxury sedan buyers as forgiving as SUV buyers. Certainly, at the prices of the high-performance "V" models, Cadillac buyers have the right to be extremely discerning, and some expectations have yet to be fulfilled.

Take the new STS-V, for example. It has the same horsepower rating as the mighty Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, but it doesn't deliver the same visceral thrill that taunts the driver into misbehaving. The Mercedes-Benz E55, BMW M5 and M3, and Caddy's own CTS-V snarl and snap, reminding the driver of the potential under his right foot.

The STS-V seems to doze off, like a Pompano Beach retiree in his La-Z-Boy — still sharp as ever, just taking a little rest. Once roused, the STS-V can deliver the goods, but it is far too easy to draw the wrong conclusion from its quiet cruising attitude.

Defining a future direction

One way that Cadillac can truly take the fight to Europe's Old World prestige powers is to compete in their markets. The company has taken that step with the development of the Saab-derived BLS, a compact front-drive sedan that gives European Cadillac dealers the four-cylinder and diesel engines they need to attract customers in the volume to justify selling the brand. Meanwhile, they will be able to show off CTS and STS models that a few of those shoppers might consider.

At home, Cadillac will soon roll out a higher-performance CTS-V, followed by a new CTS that will reinforce the current model's many strengths, while correcting its obvious weaknesses, such as the cheap-looking interior. Perhaps that car will be the first, true no-excuses example of Cadillac's Phase Two hardware. "The next-generation CTS will have to have bulletproof execution" to sustain the renaissance, agreed Cadillac's Taylor.

DeLorenzo, who has seen a preview of the CTS, says he thinks it will. "I think this vehicle is the first direct threat to the BMW 3 Series," he predicted.

Cadillac fans, and anyone who thinks GM can punch its way out of the corner it has backed into, hope he is right.

http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Featu...rticleId=114950

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Good read.

If the CTS does seriously threaten the 3-Series, that will be a great accomplishment for Cadillac. Hopefully it comes with the 3.6L HF V6 with DI making 310HP standard, but I'm guessing we'll see a ~240HP DI 2.8 as the base engine.

Cadillac is going to need some engine upgrades to stay competitive. With the rumored 310HP on the 3.6 it should be fine, but the Northstar is going to need to be redone or replaced. If the V6 is making 310HP, the V8 needs to be up near 380-390HP like the new MB V8.

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i think caddy has the roll to do whatever they want now. and i think they will have all the success in the world.

as far as the comparo between the benz e55 amg and sts-v--im not all that wild about that. as much as ive heard what a rocket that car is, and i dont doubt it, i hear its also not all that track suitable or light enough to truly enjoy.

and if it has the brake by wire its only worse.

that car has world conquering torque as ive heard it referenced to...500+

thats what everyone loves.

i think most of us hear realized that long, long ago.

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Caddy is going in the right direction and may not have all the tools yet but they will compete with the best in due time. You have to walk before you run and they were not even standing a few years ago.

If Caddy had not changed direction they would be just as Lincoln is now, on life support!

Edited by hyperv6

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While I'm thrilled with Caddy's direction, it would be great to be able to assume greatness, like with BMW 5 series (which, despite the questionable design, is still quite a ride.)

One of Lutz' true tests is his stewardship of Caddy's 2nd gen. of new cars since the renaissance.

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I love Cadillac, and they have been in the unique position of being at the exact right place at the exact right time. At the nano-second that Mercedes foisted cars with abysmal quality on the world and decided to introduce a model for everyone including the Gremlin like C-Coupe while BMW debuted Bangleised big-assed cars crippled with iDrive (why Apple never sued, I don't know) and Lexus made their cars even more like a three year old Buick than a three year old Buick, Cadillac came out with cars with some attitude. They weren't perfect, yet, but they were there. They started to resonate with buyers again.

The first CTS's I saw in LA were in Koreatown, being driven by Asians (which I thought was interesting, and pretty cool); it took a while before I started to see them on the Westside. With each model introduction, I saw more and more of them in my neighborhood. STS's started showing up, XLR's and now the new Escalade. I'm seeing more Cadillacs in Beverly Hills than I would have when Liz Taylor and Dino still boozed it up at the Luau.

Cadillac really got it right, and really lucked out. Sadly for Mercedes, they still seem not to get it. BMW seems to have cleaned up it's act: the 3-Series is the least hideous of the Bangled cars, and it handles like a 3-Series. I can't wait to see how the new CTS stacks up.

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He does bring up a good point about GM. While they do bring out better cars, they only benchmark previous sedans instead of competitors.

Now, with Lutz, that's starting to change. The interior is going to be hot from the spy shots and it better drive well because I predict that the CTS will be the first serious entry into the European market.. I can guarantee it. The BLS doesn't really count since it's a stop-gap vehicle.

the next generation cadillacs will be global sport/ luxury vehicles from what has been speculated and that's good news for all of us.

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i doubt gm planners really want caddy to be absolute top dog because there are less customers at 60,000-100,000 dollar price points than there is at the 40-70k price points. The DTS which is a volume leader for them still needs to appeal to the 'almost wealthy' masses (i.e. old folks) who buy the car. There's not enough business in the vain set to sustain a large ascension of Cadillac into near six figure territory. Caddy needs to be somewhat volume based and still sprinkle in some more expensive halo cars like the XLR and XLRv to give them the cache they need.

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i doubt gm planners really want caddy to be absolute top dog because there are less customers at 60,000-100,000 dollar price points than there is at the 40-70k price points.  The DTS which is a volume leader for them still needs to appeal to the 'almost wealthy' masses (i.e. old folks) who buy the car.  There's not enough business in the vain set to sustain a large ascension of Cadillac into near six figure territory.  Caddy needs to be somewhat volume based and still sprinkle in some more expensive halo cars like the XLR and XLRv to give them the cache they need.

cadillac is volume based... and so far Cadillac sells the most Luxuary cars in america... (Luxuary cars being defined at vehicles sold at over 42k$)

but what is important to have a Mercedies benz, for half the price with twice the reliablity... and Cadillac will succeed.

but a new engine is needed... next generation cadillacs need a new v8 with over 400hp, and a v12 to throw in the mix....

we cant let the SL65 take the competition with its 604 hp... twin turboed v12... :pokeowned:

The most powerful production SL model from Mercedes-Benz, the SL65 offers a 604-horsepower twin-turbocharged V-12 and every AMG race-engineered component available.

EngineAMG-built twin-turbocharged 6.0L SOHC 36-valve V-12 engine

Net Power604 hp @ 4,800 rpm

Net Torque738 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 4,000 rpm

Edited by Newbiewar

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One of Lutz' true tests is his stewardship of Caddy's 2nd gen. of new cars since the renaissance.

Agreed, the follow-up products will be key and at this point Cadillac's success is neither miracle nor mirage. It's a valuable 1st step.

What I'd like to add to your post is that this issue of 'renaissnace'/'miracles' and what not goes far beyond Cadillac and must be allowed to spread to all other GM brands: that is Lutz's biggest challenge.

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A well written article with "constructive criticism" rather than the "I hate Cadillac and GM" criticism I've seen in other articles, and from some posters here at C&G.

I bought my CTS in May of 2002 because of a need to transport our grandson, something my Vette couldn't do. It was a great choice and both my wife and I love to drive the CTS because it's a "drivers car".

I didn't like the dash, especially the hard to use DIC (in the NAV), but you get used to it after a while and it isn't as bad a some people think. Placement of the clock was truely stupid!

Our CTS will be about 5 years old when the NG CTS comes out and while I'm retired (somewhat fixed income), I hope to trade-in the '03 about a year after that.

GM needs to follow up the resurgence of Cadillac with new, better designed and engineered models, in all their divisions. They need to challenge their competitors, not just match them.

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The AMG-tuned mercedes are big performance disappointments relative to their power numbers- they should be much quicker. Either something mechanical is compromised or the numbers are bogus.

Cadillac already is 'succeeding' since they surpassed mercedes in volume. Sales are up 37% since '01, but they are up even more if you go back another handful of years (the arbitrary year of '01 is curious to me). They have taken a monsterous bite out of the entry-level lux segment, surpassing many established players in popularity with the CTS. This (and much more) is all fact and in the history books; how could one even suggest it is a mirage?

I don't think any other marque has ever turned things around so markedly in such a short period of time.

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The AMG-tuned mercedes are big performance disappointments relative to their power numbers- they should be much quicker. Either something mechanical is compromised or the numbers are bogus.

I think their weight is the issue...lots of power and torque, but in heavy cars.

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Do you think the next CTS will have a truely integrated center stack? If Hyundai can do it...Caddy should be able to

Take a look at the photos from the 60 minutes special. The prototype interior(which I'm assuming belongs to the next CTS) looks pretty integrated to me. Now, if it stays that way all the way to production then GM is definately on the right track.

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Cadillac is not out of the woods yet and is not even close. There is no question that sigma is a world class architecture and will continue to form the basis for phase 2. Cadillac's mission with phase 2 needs to correct all that is wrong with phase 1 and it is glairing.

Phase 1 has not been a complete success as it could have been. Not by a long shot. The only 2 real success stories in the market have been the CTS and the Escalade.

The SRX and STS show all that was and may still be wrong with GM. GM lost sight of their vision for Cadillac and hedged there bets on Art and Science. It shows in the sales and lack of consistency with the rest of the line up from the aesthetics point of view.

The Cadillac brand team forgot what the original John Smith A&S focus for Cadillac was all about. Even though the current Escalade is leaps and bounds better than the previous generation, the vehicle is still a schizophrenic blending of old school Cadillac and a watered down A&S.

I do not advocate a stagnation or lack of evolution in A&S, but GM needs to maintain the philosophy of A&S because that is the definition of Cadillac. That is what separates Cadillac from the rest of the luxury market. That lack of focus doomed the first generation SRX and STS when compared to the CTS. And the public was not fooled by Cadillac's lost vision or hedge.

Phase 2 is critical and Lutz/Taylor need to keep Cadillac, with the follow-up to the second generation CTS on focus. I am less concerned with the NG CTS than with the follow up to the SRX and STS. Phase 2 begins in July 2007. We shall see if history will repeat itself.

Edited by evok

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As enzl said, this next stage will be the true test for Cadillac. They will have to stay focused despite diminshing returns and much increased competition. One lazy, half-baked car at this point could ruin everything, and, as the article says, they messed up on a lot of those all-important little things with the Escalade.

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caddy knows what their target is now.

i have no doubt in my mind the ng's will deliver. no more half assing on the insides.

those teaser shots from 60 mins is what will have bmw buyers checking out cadillacs again.

its just aggravating they couldnt put it all together the first time.

on the other hand though, they got some spare change to play around with now.

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Cadillac's on the right track, they are among the top of the list in JD Power and Associates surveys. The sales are increasing and the cars are comparable to the best of the Europe and Japan, but nit winning comparisions, yet.

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Very good read. I agree that they are almost there. Own a 2001 yukon and was waiting for the new Escalade but now I am waiting even more. Hopefully the fall will add DOD, Bluetooth, express windows, and anything else that should be in there already. Also Caddy is becoming a drivers car. I enjoy driving my wifes 2004 cts. Can't wait as the lease is up in Nov 07' Praying that the new cts fixs the not great interior, adds some features and more power!!!! Over all good read

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Cadillac is not out of the woods yet and is not even close.  There is no question that sigma is a world class architecture and will continue to form the basis for phase 2.  Cadillac's mission with phase 2 needs to correct all that is wrong with phase 1 and it is glairing.

Phase 1 has not been a complete success as it could have been.  Not by a long shot.  The only 2 real success stories in the market have been the CTS and the Escalade.

The SRX and STS show all that was and may still be wrong with GM.  GM lost sight of their vision for Cadillac and hedged there bets on Art and Science.  It shows in the sales and lack of consistency with the rest of the line up from the aesthetics point of view.

The Cadillac brand team forgot what the original John Smith A&S focus for Cadillac was all about.  Even though the current Escalade is leaps and bounds better than the previous generation, the vehicle is still a schizophrenic blending of old school Cadillac and a watered down A&S.

I do not advocate a stagnation or lack of evolution in A&S, but GM needs to maintain the philosophy of A&S because that is the definition of Cadillac.  That is what separates Cadillac from the rest of the luxury market.  That lack of focus doomed the first generation SRX and STS when compared to the CTS.  And the public was not fooled by Cadillac's lost vision or hedge.

Phase 2 is critical and Lutz/Taylor need to keep Cadillac, with the follow-up to the second generation CTS on focus.  I am less concerned with the NG CTS than with the follow up to the SRX and STS.  Phase 2 begins in July 2007.  We shall see if history will repeat itself.

i think evok has nailed it.

all indications are that NG CTS will be a success. the real test is NG STS, SRX and NG BLS/BRX. get those right and we have success. play it safe, like the STS, and it will just be another double instead of a home run.

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Cadillac's on the right track, they are among the top of the list in JD Power and Associates surveys. The sales are increasing and the cars are comparable to the best of the Europe and Japan, but nit winning comparisions, yet.

Good read......

BUT.....comparable to the best of Europe and Japan....? I'd hesitate to say that.....

The writer also has a GREAT point about all the missing convenience features in the new Escalade....I didn't realize it was lacking all those things....

CTS drives incredibly well and competes on a high level from a ride-and-handling standpoint....and the 3.6L engine is quite a nice powertrain. However, as mentioned before, it's interior trim quality is bottom-of-the-pack.

STS is about as big of a disappointment as you can get.......it's pricing-versus-option packaging is all wrong.....interior packaging isn't that much better than the smaller CTS......it's A&S styling is dumbed down so far it looks "generic" in a sea of $40K-$60K sedans.....and it's interior has sub-par materials.

DTS.....I don't even want to go there. IMHO that car is SO far out of touch with where Cadillac should be setting their sights, it pisses me off to think they even brought it out. It may be their "volume" product....but that's only because of the large number of units put into fleet. DTS does nothing but consumer-perception-damage to all the good things Cadillac HAS accomplished.

Do you see a 3-series driver aspiring to a 5-series....? Or a 7-series....? SURE....

Do you see a C-Class driver aspiring to an E-Class....? S-Class....? Absolutely.....

How do you perceive a CTS driver (that came OUT of an import for sake of argument) aspiring to a DTS...? nah....not gonna happen....

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>>"The SRX and STS show all that was and may still be wrong with GM. GM lost sight of their vision for Cadillac and hedged there bets on Art and Science. It shows in the sales and lack of consistency with the rest of the line up from the aesthetics point of view."<<

Gotta agree- an awful, terrible, wretched POSs. Never got any critical acclaim, either. Junk- would've been better off building nothing in these classes.

The writer also has a GREAT point about all the missing convenience features in the new Escalade....I didn't realize it was lacking all those things....

Right on- no way is all that class-leading HP & TRQ going to make up for no express up windows! I mean; c'mon! This is 2006 not 1906! I'd rather drive a rotted-out nissan with express-ups than a beautiful brand new Escalade! Cadillac will be lucky to move 10K units annually, mark my words.

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>>"The SRX and STS show all that was and may still be wrong with GM.  GM lost sight of their vision for Cadillac and hedged there bets on Art and Science.  It shows in the sales and lack of consistency with the rest of the line up from the aesthetics point of view."<<

Gotta agree- an awful, terrible, wretched POSs. Never got any critical acclaim, either. Junk- would've been better off building nothing in these classes.

Really are you that f'in illiterate that you cannot read what I wrote?

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