Caddyshock! GM Bets Big On Cadillac

The Future of American Luxury Is At Stake! We Take An In-Depth Look At What's Coming For the Brand

Todd Lassa
Nov 17, 2008
Photo 2/14   |   future Cadillac Cars group Shot
Timing, they say, is everything. And Cadillac's could certainly be better. Three months after the 1929 stock-market crash, Cadillac premiered at the New York auto show its Series 452 with a 185-horsepower V-16 engine designed to trump chief rival Packard's V-12.
Fast-forward almost 80 years: Cadillac is ready for another flagship, perhaps something along the lines of the gorgeous Sixteen concept that was first shown in 2003. Except, once again, the economy isn't ready. Worse, once-mighty GM doesn't even have the money to spend on such a project -- it's got Chevy Volts and Cruzes that badly need building.
It's been four or five decades since Cadillac built a car that came close to being "The Standard of the World" -- the brand's tagline until the 1970s -- but with the new CTS, and especially the world-beating CTS-v sport sedan, its rehabilitation is well underway. The first step was, believe it or don't, the King of Bling 1999 Escalade, which made Caddy a must-have for sports, music, and Hollywood stars. More important, it dramatically improved Cadillac's chance of being considered for purchase by buyers under 50 years of age.
Photo 3/14   |   2010 Cadillac Cts Coupe front View
The original Escalade made so much profit and gave GM management so much confidence in the brand's appeal that the decision was made to invest in the Sigma premium platform, which returned most of Cadillac's passenger-car lineup to rear-drive and forms the basis for the COTY-winning 2008 CTS. It was a turning point in Cadillac's fortunes no one expected, and few --especially at GM -- initially understood.
Nearly a decade on, Cadillac is still only a bit player in the premium segment -- selling fewer cars than Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus here in the U.S. -- and virtually invisible in Europe and Asia. And now, it's at a crossroads; arguably the most crucial in the brand's history: Cadillac is off life support, but to prosper it must go global. GM will not measure Cadillac's success only by the number of German and Japanese luxury-car buyers it conquests. More important is to grab a share of new luxury-car buyers, many of them coming from emerging markets like China and Russia.
Photo 4/14   |   2010 Cadillac Srx driver Side View
With the U.S. appeal of the Escalade diminishing in proportion to the rise in gas prices -- 2008 sales to the end of July were down 30 percent year on year -- and the current STS, DTS, SRX, and XLR aging fast, Cadillac is effectively a one-car company, almost totally reliant on the CTS. That means it needs at least 10 more years of solid investment in a new range of vehicles. Problem is, cash-strapped GM faces a ravaged economy and the spectre of the 2011-2015 Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, right at the very time its luxury brand needs money to take on Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, and Lexus.
All this explains why GM is taking a bigger gamble now than it did in 1929 and launching up to 10 new Cadillacs in the next five years. But it has no choice. The future of American luxury is at stake.
Photo 5/14   |   2010 Cadillac Cts Coupe front Passenger Three Quarters View
2010 CTS COUPE
The coupe, which premiered at the Los Angeles auto show in November, rolls on the same 113.4-inch wheelbase as the CTS sedan, which saves a lot of development and tooling money, yet achieves coupelike proportions, thanks to a fast roofline and a rear overhang that's 4.6 inches shorter. It's a strategy GM's Australian designers used to create the Pontiac GTO coupe from the Holden Commodore sedan.
All the sheetmetal past the A-pillar is exclusive to the coupe. But while that fast backlight looks great, it effectively nixes the chance there will be a convertible version, because GM would have to engineer new structural metal around the rear end as well as new quarter panels and decklid.
The concept's rear bumper was redesigned for rear-offset crash standards, but the single-pipe-centered exhaust remains. The engine is the sedan's 3.6-liter V-6, including the optional 304-horsepower gas direct-injection version. The CTS-v version will follow within a year after the coupe's mid-2009 launch. As most of the engine, transmission, and suspension hardware from the sedan virtually bolts right in, this 556-horse Caddy two-door will be a relatively low-cost program.
AIMED AT: BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLK, Audi A5
Photo 6/14   |   2010 Cadillac Cts Sports Wagon front Drivers Three Quarters View
2010 CTS SPORT WAGON
This is very much a Eurocentric model. Cadillac initially considered the wagon a niche car for the U.S., with volume in the 3000 to 4000 range. The entire brand sold just 4508 units in Europe in 2007, so even if the Sport Wagon becomes its volume model there, total sales probably will be well below 8000 units worldwide.
As a result, Cadillac now is talking up the CTS wagon as an alternative for buyers anxious to get out of big, luxury SUVs. Given America's love affair with the SUV, it's unlikely to prove as popular as the next-generation SRX (see next page). Powertrain lineup in the U.S. will mirror the sedan's, which means the 3.6-liter V-6, with either 263 horses, or direct injection and 304 horses. All-wheel drive also will be available.
What about a CTS-v Sport Wagon? A 556-horsepower load hauler might tempt us enthusiasts, but it's off the table, for now. The wagon has a flexier body than those of the sedan and coupe and would require serious recalibration of the suspension. The potential sales volume would be too small for that sort of capital investment.
Photo 7/14   |   2010 Cadillac Cts Sports Wagon rear Passenger Three Quarters View
European buyers will be able to buy the CTS Sport Wagon with the 2.9-liter VM Motori turbodiesel. But don't rule out a diesel for the U.S., either: GM is considering its smooth, innovative new 4.5-liter turbodiesel V-8, originally designed for the GMT 360 midsize sport/utilities. It fits under the hood of the CTS sedan, coupe, and wagon, so long as Cadillac uses the raised CTS-v hood-the 4.5 diesel's turbocharger resides in the engine's vee.
AIMED AT: BMW 5 Series wagon, Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon, Audi A6 Avant
Photo 8/14   |   2010 Cadillac Srx front Drivers Three Quarters View
2010 SRX CROSSOVER
Cadillac's crossover switches from the rear-drive Sigma platform to the front-drive Theta-Epsilon (GMT166) platform next year, although all-wheel drive is likely to be standard. Styling of the production version, which is expected to make its debut at the 2009 Detroit show, will differ little from the concept already seen.
Moving SRX off Sigma onto Theta-Epsilon buys GM a better interior package relative to the vehicle footprint. It shares the new platform with the upcoming Saab 9-4X, and it's bigger than the Chevy Equinox, Pontiac Torrent (GMC Terrain), and Saturn VUE Thetas, so it's directed squarely at Lexus' hugely popular RX midsize crossovers.
Photo 9/14   |   2010 Cadillac Srx rear Drivers Three Quarters View
The SRX will be loaded with far more features and high technology than any of its platform brethren, though not the hybrid powertrain the Provoq fuel-cell hybrid hinted at. Engine options are 2.8- and 3.6-liter gas V-6s. Exports to Europe could get the 1.9-liter turbodiesel used in the BLS.
RIVALS: Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz ML, BMW X5, Audi Q5, Acura MDX, Infiniti EX
2011 ALPHA FAMILY
Even Mercedes, Audi, and Lexus envy what BMW has done with the 3 Series: Making it an "affordable," iconic sport-luxury model that brings in bags-full of euros in profit. Alpha is GM's small rear-drive vehicle architecture and launches in late 2010 as a smaller-than-CTS Cadillac sedan aimed straight at the 3 Series.
Photo 10/14   |   2011 Cadillac Alpha Sedan driver Side View
This is where the volume is in the premium segment, both here in the U.S. and in Europe and Asia. This is where the money is made. Cadillac simply cannot afford not to do this car. And it cannot afford not to do coupe, convertible, and wagon variants of the car, just like Benz and BMW.
A 2012 Alpha convertible is likely to follow within a year. An Alpha coupe is a logical addition, although here's where the picture gets fuzzy. One of our spy photos shows a radical two-door hatchback-style car (similar in concept to the Z3-based BMW M Coupe that bowed in 1998). Cadillac may be anticipating an emerging trend toward luxury C-segment hatchbacks, which seems a gamble, even for the European market, although Mercedes is a player in the segment with the C-Class-based CLC.
We hear Bob Lutz is pushing hard for an Alpha coupe that's more or less a scaled-down version of the CTS. But the CTS Coupe's extreme rake makes it difficult to do a convertible at low cost compared with a more conventional three-box design-and a convertible to rival BMW's 3 Series and Benz's CLK is essential if Alpha is to be a truly global, high-margin vehicle.
Photo 11/14   |   2011 Cadillac Alpha Coupe passenger Side View
Besides, it's clear GM design chief Ed Wellburn doesn't want Alpha to be a CTS mini-me: "You know, if you're doing a smaller-type Cadillac, you'd have to tighten up the forms more," he says, without actually confirming the car's existence. "Because if you're doing a smaller one, you'd want it to be an agile, nimble car, and you certainly wouldn't want to do what some other brands have done, brands that are known for doing handling well and having a heavy body shape. That relationship of the body shape to the wheels is important, and you'd want to keep it lean."
As for Alpha's powertrains, Cadillac is experimenting with a direct-injection turbocharged 2.0-liter engine using the same fuel-sipping power-enhancing technology as the upcoming Cruze's 1.4-liter turbo four to produce about 220 horsepower. An optional 2.8-liter direct-injection V-6 from the "high-feature" (3.6) family could make upward of 270 horsepower. Europeans will be offered the exceptional 1.9-liter turbodiesel four.
RIVALS: BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Lexus IS
Photo 12/14   |   2011 Cadillac Alpha Convertible driver Side View
Photo 13/14   |   2011 Cadillac Alpha Wagon driver Side View
2012 DT7
Cadillac had planned to replace the rear-drive STS and front-drive DTS with one flagship, codenamed DT7. But in late summer that project was put on hold for one year. GM reportedly delayed funding the program just as Cadillac finished design work on the sedan.
Here's where the GM's cash crunch, the nuked economy, and concerns over the next-generation CAFE laws have coalesced into a perfect storm: The DT7 is precisely the sort of flagship car Cadillac needs to be considered a legitimate player in the luxury segment, a car that should play with Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS 460, and-yes-Hyundai's astounding new Genesis sedan. GM will be watching the national/global zeitgeist to determine whether building a new, large sedan makes better sense in late 2009 than it does in late 2008.
If GM spikes the project-plans were scrapped for a large Chevy sedan using the same architecture but on a shorter-wheelbase employing totally different sheetmetal and interior trim, and cheaper suspension components, which would have helped the business case-there's a lower-cost alternative: Design new sheetmetal for the stretch-wheelbase STS currently built for the Chinese market. In either scenario, likely engines will include the gas direct-injection 3.6 V-6 and the 4.5-liter turbodiesel V-8.
RIVALS: Mercedes-Benz S-Class; BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS 460, Hyundai Genesis
Photo 14/14   |   2014 Cadillac Escalade illustration
2014 ESCALADE
GM's full-size truck and SUV programs are on indefinite hold. But that hasn't stopped GM from thinking about the next-generation Escalade. This is, after all, the nameplate that unexpectedly kick-started Cadillac's renaissance; it would be foolish to walk away from the brand equity. Besides, even if gas prices remain high, Escalade is one of the few GM nameplates whose customers are wealthy enough for relatively poor gas mileage not to be a deal-breaker.
One of the key questions Cadillac product planners have been wrestling with is whether the Escalade needs to be truck-based. One proposal for the next-gen Escalade used the Lambda platform that underpins Enclave/Acadia/Outlook/Traverse, but turned the engine 90 degrees, placing it longitudinally for rear-drive dash-to-axle styling. This proved too costly a tear-up of the chassis from the A-pillar forward, although it could become part of the design of the next-generation Lambdas, which should launch some time in 2013-2014 model years.
More likely, the next-gen Escalade will be switched to the existing Lambda platform, which will accept a transverse-mounted small-block V-8 under the hood (the Enclave almost got one). The rear-drive dash-to-axle stance that's so critical in defining a luxury sedan seems less important in SUVs, but that doesn't mean it's a straightforward program.
The problem with Lambda for Cadillac is the structural steel under the skin would have to be re-engineered to give the Escalade a more formal roofline-and more vertical D-pillars-than any of the current Lambdas. The car also would need a less aggressively rising beltline and a new tailgate aperture. Those important stylistic issues-things that would ensure a Lambda Escalade is instantly perceived as a Cadillac-are not cheap.
So the three scenarios under discussion are to keep building the truck-based Escalade, replace it with a Lambda Escalade, or sell both. If Cadillac goes with Lambda, that doesn't mean the death of the EXT. Remember the Zeta-based GMC Denali XT concept?
RIVALS: Range Rover, Mercedes GL-Class, Audi Q7

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