Firmly on the comeback trail in the US, Cadillac is still trying to get out of the starting blocks in Europe. At the Geneva Motor Show in March, Cadillac' senior execs revealed plans to grow the brand's presence in a luxury market dominated by the big three German marques, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

GM President Dan Ammann says he sees "enormous" potential for Cadillac globally.

Over the past 20 years, the General Motors premium nameplate has tried and failed multiple times to break into the European market. This time around, Cadillac recognizes that progress will be modest at best, and depends on specific changes to models, some of which may impact the brand's US lineup. Planned new sales tactics in Europe may also impact the way Cadillac does business on this side of the pond.

GM President Dan Ammann says he sees "enormous" potential for Cadillac globally. "Our goal is to take a much more consistent long term approach than what the company used to historically," he tells Autoblog.

For Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac chief marketing officer, this means a slow and steady strategy for the European market. Ellinghaus, a former BMW executive, sees annual sales volumes reaching around 2,000 units for the next few years. That, of course, is a drop in the bucket compared to the German luxury brands' sales totals. But being the underdog is not necessarily a bad prospect, says Ellinghaus. Cadillac lacks a properly developed dealer network in Europe, but this gives the brand an opportunity to experiment with a new approach. "I think the future of retail in the automotive industry is without bricks and mortar, at least in comparison to what we do now, which is investing multi-millions in dealerships all over the country," he notes.

"Because of our limited volume, it will be easier to take care of customers on an individual basis. So we see a competitive advantage there and can pioneer a new retail format, with pop-up stores, virtual stores and a flagship store, maybe. If this approach works we then roll it out in rest of the world."
Ellinghaus says with the ATS sedan and coupe and the larger CTS sedan, the brand can easily reach the 2,000-unit mark in Europe. What's needed to progress further is a diesel engine, which is de rigeur on all models offered by the German brands. But Ellinghaus says Cadillac will not move into the diesel market until the right engine is available, which is not for a few years. "Until then we will rely on customers who don't need to buy a car that meets the lowest CO2 emissions limit," he says, "or buyers who do not have company policies that force them to lowest engine variant available."

Cadillac will not move into the diesel market until the right engine is available.

The fact that some of Cadillac's offerings are high performers, like the current CTS Vsport and forthcoming next-gen CTS-V, means the US brand will be competing with top-end German models from Mercedes-Benz AMG, Audi RS and BMW M variants. "So from a brand-building perspective, I like it," says Ellinghaus, "because you can only build a brand from the top down, never bottom up."

In terms of 'green' models, Cadillac only has one offering, the extended-range electric plug-in ELR, but at least that goes on sale in Europe next year.

"One thing is for sure," adds Ellinghaus, "if we say we want to elevate Cadillac to a global premium brand, we can't leave Europe untapped. Our new cars already rival Europe's best and even win some comparison tests. Five years ago, that would have been beyond imagination for any Cadillac. So the product is there, the brand is not yet, but we will build brand image slowly and steadily and not dump cars into the market."

The focus on new retail sales tactics will bring significant changes to dealers in Europe and potentially the US, says Cadillac. Audi and BMW have gone to 'virtual' dealerships in some cities, notes Ellinghaus. "We want to control better not just the transaction prices but the quality of the experience at the dealer customer touch points. This industry has one common Achilles heel, and this is that the dealers do not like automakers to get too far into their business," he says.

Another advantage for Cadillac is its long heritage and legacy, something that the Japanese brands cannot claim.

"But we have an opportunity to show them that it will be for our mutual benefit if we interfere more, if we do lead management and prospecting to a level that will aid the dealer. We will pioneer this in Europe and if it goes well, we will take it to the US to enhance the customer experience."

One Cadillac flaw that bothers Ellinghaus is the brand's confusing naming strategy. "We need to revise our entire nomenclature, especially with our expanding portfiolio. We need something better – not just a copy of German practice. There are better ways to give buyers guidance in terms of hierarchy and size than the current names and acronyms."

Cracking the German market in particular will be very tough, acknowledges Ellinghaus. "Germans are stubborn and narrow-minded. We will not conquer the vast majority of our future sales from Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. We are not German but we are the distinctive face in the crowd. We will appeal to those who don't want what everybody else has in the neighborhood, an Audi A6 or E-Class Mercedes."

"We have a great potential for customers moving up from volume brands into the premium sector."

Another advantage for Cadillac is its long heritage and legacy, something that the Japanese brands, Lexus and Infiniti, cannot claim. While the lack of heritage matters little to US buyers, it appears to be a big issue in Europe, where Lexus has struggled for years to make an impact.

"People crave authenticity, so we have a better chance than the Japanese brands, who have tried to conquer the premium sector in Europe but have failed, regardless of the perfect quality of their cars," says Ellinghaus.


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  • 51 Comments
      fabianbond
      • 8 Months Ago
      Why not focus on China instead? Doesn't that fit Cadillacs brand better?
        Man of men!
        • 8 Months Ago
        @fabianbond
        I think Cadillac want to get it pride back and be able to say that Cadillac sell well in Germany for example in their advertising in the U.S. marketplace!
      SquareFour
      • 8 Months Ago
      "Germans are stubborn and narrow-minded." Statements like that probably won't help make cracking that German market any easier.
        Jerry
        • 8 Months Ago
        @SquareFour
        LOL it's true and they are proud of it! My family is mostly German. Some still have accents and speak German. I can vouch that this statement is true!
        HH112233
        • 8 Months Ago
        @SquareFour
        I have to disagree on the narrow minded part... stubborn, yes. Germans put a lot of emphasis on build-quality and durability. Maybe Cadillac is just not on par and is therefore not selling well in Europe. The Japanese are doing just fine in Germany and are on track to grow Lexus and Infinity.
          Jerry
          • 8 Months Ago
          @HH112233
          Don't mistake all German automakers for Porsche and MB... VW and Opel make some real junk.
      danfred311
      • 8 Months Ago
      Crude americana styling doesn't fly outside of crude USA. Caddy has no potential. It doesn't even sell well inside USA.
        skoobey
        • 8 Months Ago
        @danfred311
        You mean Buick. Cadillac is actually quite competitive nowadays. Not to BMW perhaps, but they have their niche.
      icemilkcoffee
      • 8 Months Ago
      Why are they so obsessed about cracking the euro market? They should be focused fully on the Chinese market. Forget the euro market. You don't have a diesel engine. You don't have a station wagon. In short you don't have a chance in Europe.
        Sergey
        • 8 Months Ago
        @icemilkcoffee
        because wealthy Chinese get clues on car fashion and what is worth buying by looking at the Old World (Europe) that's why MB,BMW and Audi doing so well in China.
      express2day
      • 8 Months Ago
      Firmly on the comeback trail in the US??? Sales of their two new models from last year are down 25% (ATS) and 18% (XTS) so far this year even with heavy incentives. Overall Cadillac sales are down and the only model in positive sales territory so far this year is the SRX. I think calling them "firmly on the comeback trail" is way too premature.
        Jerry
        • 8 Months Ago
        @express2day
        XTS is no surprise. Who would for $60,000 for a laCrosse? Especially with the clunky CUE system and a long list of quality issues?
        Quest
        • 8 Months Ago
        @express2day
        Correct, but they finally have two really good cars with which to compete. The question is are they in it for the long haul? GM has never been good at long term product or Brand support; at best maybe a generation or two of decent models, usually just 80 to 90% competitive never going the full distance, before the rot sets in. If Reuss and a couple of other key execs leave, i.e., just a handful of people, it will in all likelihood be back to business as usual. The case can be made that Cadillac's biggest problem is ... GM!
      manure
      • 8 Months Ago
      The problem isn't the cars. Cadillac's cars are just as good as BMW. The problem is that executives will not make a 12-15 year commitment to establish street cred and resale values in Europe. If they invest 10-20 billion then it is definitely possible to make Cadillac one of Europe's favorite brands. But will they? Of course not this is just a self pleasuring by 1-2 mid level executives, not a serious company effort.
        Narom
        • 8 Months Ago
        @manure
        "Cadillac's cars are just as good as BMW" Lol.
          Floridian
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Narom
          @Narom: a 3-series isn't even a frickin luxury car if you don't buy one that has overpriced options that should be standard equipment anyway. Really? A navigation system is optional equipment on a BMW in 2014?! In Europe, it's even more the case. If you want a luxury car, your better off with a VW Passat with some options than an equally priced 3-series. Nothing about a standard 3-series is luxurious. Not one thing.
          Eta Carinae
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Narom
          I know right ! Cadillac's are so much better then BMW.....
          kontroll
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Narom
          Cadillac is much, much better than the BMW and MB combined. The problem with Cadillac is the 30 years of neglect and mismanagement by old farts who were not engineers but some a$$holes from other industries and as a result the brand name and image suffered.
          Narom
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Narom
          Maybe in America because BMW and MB have to dilute their products to make them cheaper. A 3 Series BMW in America is not the same as one in Europe, feels cheaper. One in Europe feels tighter and more premium. But in Europe, the Cadillacs are more like Vauxhall/Opel, just cheap cars masquerading as quality while being designed by a three year old. Then again, its probably just jingoistic down voting.
      bootsnchaps60
      • 8 Months Ago
      So, Cadillac wants to be a niche brand in Europe? Canabalize more sales from GM Europe? Cadillac's "hertitage" also includes the finmaster 59 Caddy, the Allante, the Cimmaron, the 80's GM clones, the Eldobarge-o, the Opel Catera, and years of out dated designs. And Europeans will surely overlook the ignition switch debacle (weren't most of the cars involved based Opels?). Sorry, I'm not at all impressed that an ATS goes very fast across the Aussie outback. While German brands develop smaller platforms at somewhat lower prices, Cadillac continues its search for a halo car. Maybe BAIC can buy the remains of GM after the ignition switch mess extends across all brands-maybe-and gain high end brand that way.
        Jerry
        • 8 Months Ago
        @bootsnchaps60
        Someone has to justify their EU presence. Opel sure isn't doing it.
      Georg
      • 8 Months Ago
      Cadillac will fail as all others in Europe like Lexus or Infiniti... Cadillacs heritage seen in Europe are oversized much to soft springed cruisers that cant take a corner... if you read europen forums about Cadillacs euro plans the people are laughing their ass of... if BMW Audi or Mercedes is to mainstream for a europen there is Jaguar as a alternative. Just look at Lexus car sales in Germany... under 50 vehicles/month and most of the handfull registered are dealer cars..
        Sir Duke
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Georg
        Except, the Cadillacs of today are not the soft squishy cars they once were. All Cadillac had to do, is keep right on kicking BMW and MB tail, its just a matter of time.
      Mudotaku
      • 8 Months Ago
      Cadillac has to improve their cheap plastic interior if they want a piece of the European cake. I mean, this time their cars don't look like crap, nor the cars are as horrible as the last time they try to sell something in Europe, but still needs a lot of improvement to compete with the Germans. Also, please no Cadillac BLS.
        Rob
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Mudotaku
        Caddy interiors are better then BMW and on par with Audi and MB. Also the big German three offer cars that are spartan in equipment and with small economical engines which the majority of european driver's buy. Cadillac are only sold as a luxury car and Chevorlet handles the lower end in the North American market for GM. For Caddy to sell in Europe they need two diesel motors in addition to the current engines because 50% of european buyers go for diesel..
      The Angry Intern
      • 8 Months Ago
      ""I think the future of retail in the automotive industry is without bricks and mortar, at least in comparison to what we do now, which is investing multi-millions in dealerships all over the country," he notes." Wait, what? Isn't that exactly what Tesla is trying to do here in the States and is getting all sorts of resistance?
        The Wasp
        • 8 Months Ago
        @The Angry Intern
        I agree -- I think he's a bit off the mark on that point. If you could buy a car off the internet, Cadillac is not the brand a hipster at a Starbuck's would order on his Macbook -- that would be an Audi or a BMW. I think Cadillac would be better off building a small strictly luxury/premium dealer network. They could even play it up as a quintessentially American brand, even though some Europeans would reject that. It's certainly more believable than trying to cast Cadillac as a brand with European refinement and copying the competition.
      Raymond
      • 8 Months Ago
      They are going more in line with what Tesla is doing here. Smart more and it will save bundles of money. some wonder why they are doing it but there is a reason some here don't see. In the Chinese market they crave cars that are from Europe and for Cadillac to see truly a real player they must be a competitor in the European market. Think if it as a football team claiming to be the best but they don't participate in the playoffs.
      wafgking
      • 8 Months Ago
      What legacy or heritage does Cadillac have to offer? While Mercedes did have quality missteps in the early 2000s due to overreliance on computer rather than real life testing, Cadillac had quality issues plus too soft cars, no sporting pedigree etc... The Mercedes cars still drove well, like a Mercedes and they quickly bounced back on quality. Even back when Cadillac did well in the US, it was not the type of car that Europeans were after. So there is no heritage other than being an old nameplate. I applaud Cadillac on their new cars. But its going to take more than one generation of getting it right to build heritage. So focus on the US, focus on your cars and the next generation. Then you will start to build that heritage. Also focus on your design language. I still prefer Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Audi in that order. Europeans, like myself, like understated. And while I could almost live with your exterior, the interior quality is getting better but the design is still too American and should be modern/industrial. I would say that is also the #1 problem with Lexus in Europe as well, not 'heritage'.
        Floridian
        • 8 Months Ago
        @wafgking
        See, I don't get that 'too soft' mindset. How can a luxury sedan ride too softly? IMO, I would love Mercedes, BMW or Audi driving characteristics combined with Cadillac DTS/Lincoln Town Car plushness. Why not? Isn't a luxury sedan supposed to keep you as comfy as possible on long trips? I just don't understand why so many people are against it nowadays. I love German sport sedans, but I've always felt that they could have made them more comfortable. I think simply just making the leather softer would help a lot and would be OK for me. And I'm not even old!
          wafgking
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Floridian
          Have you sat in S class? I don't see how you need softer seats then that. In the SLK I'm currently buying you need to upgrade to premium leather to get softer seats, something to keep in mind for the lower models. But we are talking too soft suspension, not seats. Where you feel the pothole as a slowly dissipating wave as it rocks your boat. And just like a boat, you need a big turn radius. A perfect suspension lets you take a 25mph corner at 50 with ease and drives over a pothole with no feedback. Unfortunately all are compromises with Mercedes imho getting it the closest. BMW if you insist on sporty though I think you generally loose more comfort than you gain sport.
          Floridian
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Floridian
          @wafgking IMO Mercedes suffers the least from what i'd like to call the "BMW-syndrome"'. I have sat in both the current and previous generation S-Class, and I agree that it's the perfect combination of plushness and great driving characteristics. I found the A8 the same, only a little bit firmer, but plush enough for me. I also like how an E350 rides. Never been in an E550, but it will probably be very similar. IMO the 7-series and 5-series are way too firm. And that's not what I look for in a luxury car. If I wanted a lot of 'sport', I'd simply buy a real sportscar.
        Eta Carinae
        • 8 Months Ago
        @wafgking
        "I could almost live with your exterior, the interior quality is getting better but the design is still too American and should be modern/industrial." I think that is the point.....cadillac said it wanted to build on its american style something the elmiraj exudes extremely well......styling will be love or hate like porsche design is....
          wafgking
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Eta Carinae
          That's fine, but don't likewise expect me to switch or alot of other Europeans.
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