It's ironic that Cadillac and Lincoln got new bosses within days of each other this month. It's also a commentary on the fact both of America's domestic luxury brands seem to be stuck in neutral.
Both of America's domestic luxury brands seem to be stuck in neutral.
Cadillac has received barrels of good ink in recent years, thanks to its sporty, fun-to-drive cars with gaudy horsepower figures and eye-catching designs. The problem is sales have been uneven, and this year they've fallen 1.9 percent to 82,117 vehicles.
Enter Johan de Nysschen. You know him from such roles as the head of Audi in the United States and more recently, as the global boss of Infiniti. Both brands have somewhat underdog status compared with segment leaders Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus, and de Nysschen was lauded for his work at his previous stops, overseeing sales and product successes.
Cadillac went out and got a "name" with a proven track record. The 54-year-old South African brings strong leadership and industry credibility to a brand that needs both. He'll be tested right away, as 554,328 Cadillac CTS and SRX models were recalled in June in the United States for ignition switch problems. More recalls involving Cadillacs and other General Motors vehicles for a welding problem was also announced in July.
He's taking over for Bob Ferguson, who had been dividing his time between Cadillac and handling GM recall response on Capital Hill. Ferguson moved to a full-time role as GM's top public policy and government relations executive in July.
Meanwhile, Ford tapped a relatively obscure engineer, Kumar Galhotra, to lead Lincoln. He's replacing an industry star, Jim Farley, who's giving up the reins at Lincoln to focus on his other job – overseeing Ford's global marketing efforts.
Galhotra doesn't have as much name recognition as Farley or de Nysschen, but that means nothing. Lincoln needs momentum, and the only way Galhotra will ultimately be measured is through increasing sales and strengthening the product portfolio.
Lincoln is an example of perception not exactly meeting reality. Would you believe the brand's sales are up 16.3 percent this year? The MKZ midsize sedan and the MKX crossover have had strong years, and the addition of a compact crossover, the MKC, should help. The problem is Lincoln has only sold 44,522 total vehicles this year, which is about how many Mustang models Ford has sold so far in 2014. It's not hard to post a sales increase when you have nowhere to got but up.
Lincoln is an example of perception not exactly meeting reality.
Still, Lincoln has decent products in most of the critical segments of the industry. It has building blocks. There is substance, which is something Galhotra brings. He has been Ford's vice president of engineering for a year, so he had a hand in the development of some Lincoln models that we have yet to see. Before that, he was Ford's vice president of product development for Asia Pacific and Africa and was chief engineer for the Escape crossover in the early 2000s.
Galhotra, 48, needs to raise the profile of the brand and make people want its cars. It's telling that Lincoln sales can be up significantly, yet it's still perceived as a dying brand, while Cadillac's volume can drop, but it still garners positive stories in the press and enthusiastic reviews from consumers.
Lincoln and Cadillac have been inextricably linked since the early 20th century, when they were founded about 15 years apart by the same guy, Henry Leland. Auto pioneers jumped jobs even more back than, leading to one of the auto industry's most interesting historical quirks.
So yes, it's ironic, curious and probably coincidental that two brands that share so much history have new leaders at the same time. It's another interesting footnote in their intertwined stories, but it really doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is what Cadillac under de Nysschen, and Lincoln under Galhotra, do next.
Other News and Views
Aston Martin teased its new super sedan this week and will resurrect the Lagonda name for its ultra-limited, ultra-exclusive car.
We're starting to see Aston Martin's expansion strategy slowly come to the surface. Aston needs to fill out its portfolio, and something to slot in (well) above the Rapide is a good start that won't offend traditionalists. Now, this car is extremely limited and will be put together at the same shop that did the One-77, so there won't be many of them rolling around – early reports suggest that fewer than 100 will be built. Still, this is a sign that Aston is preparing to become more aggressive in its product cadence.
Nissan plans to replace the Cube with an "iconic" design.
Hmm, what could that be? Speculation/hopes immediately point to the iDX sports car concept, but that project could be in doubt. Icing the Cube was the right move for Nissan, as just 336 units were sold in June. But replacing it with something in red-hot small car/baby crossover segment could make sense. Besides, the design won't be a problem. Nissan design boss Shiro Nakamura has overseen everything from the attractive yet reserved new generation of the Altima, to Infiniti's Essence and Emerg-e concepts. Don't forget, he did the Isuzu VehiCross, too.
Dodge will reportedly build a Hellcat-powered Charger.
That makes a ton of sense, since the Challenger and Charger are based on the same platform and Dodge has already gone to the expense of developing the engine. Plus, the 707 horses of the supercharged V8 might be slightly more civilized in a sedan and give Dodge the opportunity to show-up the Chevrolet SS.
A Dart Hellcat? Now that's crazy.