Will Cadillac Ever Succeed On the Other Side Of the Pond?
By Andy Bannister
I spotted my first-ever Cadillac BLS in a slow-moving traffic jam the other day.
In case you don’t know, the BLS is a rebodied Saab 9-3 made in Sweden, and is meant to be Caddy’s breakthrough car in Europe, stealing sales from the likes of Audi’s A4, the Mercedes C-class and BMW 3-series.
The fact that it has been on sale for a year or so now and has made almost zero impact, at least here in the UK, must be worrying to GM. The BLS is competitively priced, distinctively styled and available with a range of smallish Saab engines including a 1.9 turbo diesel. It should be doing much better. Yet exotic imports like Maserati’s Quattroporte, costing far more, are easily more commonly seen zipping around town.
This isn’t the first time Caddy have attempted to crack the British and European markets and failed miserably. In the 1990s they tried hard to sell the Seville with a conspicuous lack of success, only to retreat with their tails between their legs after three or so years. This time it was meant to be different, with a much fuller range – including models as diverse as the XLR and Escalade.
My other recent Cadillac sighting was a CTS in a local Vauxhall showroom, tucked away in a corner like an unloved orphan, its heavily discounted price whitewashed on the windscreen. It was getting a few curious glances from passers-by but nothing more.
A few dedicated Cadillac dealers were set up over the last two years at great expense, but some have already closed due to lack of business. One big problem is the cars are hardly advertised, so too few people know they exist.
Now it seems GM have lost patience with the current Dutch-based importer and are planning to try their hand at selling them directly.
A quick straw poll I conducted in my office revealed awareness here that a Cadillac is an American make of luxury car. The bad news is that most people associated them with a long-ago era of fins, chrome and excess, mentioning people like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe in the same breath.
It isn’t that there is a particular bias against American cars as such. Chrysler have made great strides with the stylish 300C and the Jeep line-up, and have recently launched the Dodge marque here with the Caliber and now Avenger.
Chevrolet UK trade on an American heritage but sell only rebadged Korean Daewoos like the tiny 1.0-litre Matiz. The Corvette is sold alongside the Caddy line-up as a separate marque, again with little or no success.
Ironically, as a contrast, Ford doesn’t even sell the Mustang here officially but they are popular as personal imports, showing people are prepared to go to considerable trouble to get the right product, even with the steering wheel on the “wrong” side.
Can Cadillac ever make a breakthrough? The company have a new BLS Wagon still to launch, and the next-generation CTS has had positive reviews in the motoring press here. These false dawns, though, are turning into a bit of a habit. Maybe the company should take a look at Lexus as a case-study of how to establish a brand.
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