MILFORD, MI – Cadillac, General Motors’ recently resuscitated luxury division, has turned the corner and “no longer needs to shout over its competitors” to be considered by U.S. buyers, brand marketing chief Don Butler says.
“I’ve got the greatest job in the world,” he tells WardsAuto during a recent demonstration of new Cadillac safety technology here. “I don’t have to use smoke and mirrors any longer. I don’t have to apologize for our product.”
Cadillac’s comeback over the last decade has been, by most accounts, remarkable.
Earlier this year, Buyology, a group that studies emotional connections to brands, found Cadillac the most-desired automotive brand by men in the U.S.
But before the Escalade large SUV vaulted Cadillac back into the consciousness of American consumers in 2002, the brand spent two decades in relative obscurity watching Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz rearrange the U.S. luxury-car pecking order.
That Cadillac is cool again is evidenced by a 37% year-over-year U.S. sales gain in 2010, according to WardsAuto data, fueled by additional variants to the CTS line and the second-generation SRX midsize cross/utility vehicle.
However, the brand eked out a mere 4% sales gain in 2011, compared with prior-year, and so far is down 28% for 2012 in a segment where deliveries are up 7.9%.
Some of the loss can be blamed on the CTS sedan growing long in the tooth from its watershed ’08 redesign and the absence of large sedan after dropping the DTS in late 2011.
Cadillac’s showroom carries just three products currently – the CTS, SRX and Escalade. “We’re in a bit of a dark period here with a 3-model showroom, so near-term sales have been challenging,” Butler admits.
But the new-for-’13 XTS large sedan arrives in the spring, loaded to the gills with technology such as Cadillac’s first application of its radically new CUE infotainment system. Butler says 20,000 customers so far have “raised their hand” for an XTS.
The ATS, also all-new for ’13, comes in the summer to give Cadillac a much-needed entry-level sports sedan and volume-sales model. Enthusiasts in a segment dominated by the BMW 3-Series also eagerly await the ATS, developed extensively on Germany’s famous Nurburgring.
The SRX’s refreshed styling and technology updates for ’13 are sure to keep the brand’s most popular model quick on the heels of longtime segment leader, the Lexus RX.
A redesigned Escalade hits dealer showrooms in fourth-quarter 2013, sources tell WardsAuto, and a new CTS should not be far behind.
It took a decade for Cadillac to regain relevance, and Butler says with a loaded showroom by the end of the year, his marketing team is putting more focus on critical luxury-segment items such as first-class customer service and more engagement with owners.
“This has to be a holistic approach, it can’t just be about marketing,” he says. “It has to be product, showrooms and the dealership experience.”
Two years ago, Cadillac started working with the luxury hotelier Ritz Carlton to improve its customer service. The brand’s field personnel and dealership employees all took part in the “Cadillac Shield” ownership program, which provides a suite of benefits that evolved from the Ritz program.
Cadillac dealers throughout the U.S. have invested millions into store updates, giving dealerships a milieu on par with younger U.S. luxury-vehicle sellers.
At Suburban Cadillac of Ann Arbor, MI, west of Detroit, the store was among the first Cadillac sellers in the nation to complete its refurbishing.
The updates include well-lit vehicle-display areas for customers and sales people to interact and a customer lounge with a coffee bar and custom-made furniture to accent contemporary architecture using premium materials such as English Oak, matte porcelain tile and brushed stainless steel accents.
Last month, J.D. Power named Cadillac a 2012 Customer Service Champion, one of 50 companies out of 800 studied for the distinction. And at last week’s New York auto show, the consultancy named Cadillac the most improved among luxury auto makers in customer service.
“It is a direct result of the Ritz training,” Butler says of the J.D. Power recognition.
Going forward, GM will continue refining the Cadillac image, using its “The New Standard” slogan as a basis and touting “what makes a Cadillac a Cadillac,” Butler says.
But it likely will not be through traditional channels, as was the norm in the last decade when Cadillac was a key advertiser and sponsor of the Super Bowl and its related events.
Instead, spending will be more weighted towards owner-engagement events such as Cadillac’s sponsorship of the World Golf Championship, racing in the Pirelli World Challenge Series and tennis and skiing events.
The events give Cadillac marketers a chance to interact directly with owners and show individual-sport athletes alongside its product. For example, at a recent golf event owners received tutoring on their golf swing from teaching pros.
“Individual sports are parts of who our customers are – self-made, successful people,” Butler says.
Cadillac marketers also want to drive potential customers to social media, using the Google search engine to take them to its Facebook and YouTube pages to highlight the brand’s technology.