Cadillac’s Made-in-Sweden Wagon Chases Elusive Euro Success

By Andy Bannister









Cadillac, that quintessential all-American luxury marque, is having yet another attempt to conquer Europe…with a little help from the Swedes. GM’s luxury division is currently trying to tempt European station wagon buyers of out their Audis, BMWs, Volvos and Mercedes with a heavily-disguised Saab 9-3, the Cadillac BLS wagon.

A BLS sedan has been available for a couple of years already, but has so far been greeted with almost total indifference across the continent. The scale of Cadillac’s desperation can be seen by the company’s fortunes in the UK, despite the company expensively engineering right-hand-drive versions of some of its key products to suit the needs of buyers here.

In 2007, Cadillac’s UK sales – in a market of over 2 million cars a year – were just 345, though at least that was an advance on the 294 sold in 2006. So far in 2008, though, Caddy has sold only 94 units in its first seven months.

Despite this miserable record in a country where premium cars sell like hot cakes, someone at GM clearly believes in the old maxim: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

Cadillac is therefore having its third relaunch in recent years, with responsibility for importing this time being put in the hand of GM’s British volume car division, Vauxhall Motors. The previous importer, despite having a wide range of products on offer including the BLS sedan plus the CTS, STS, SRX and Escalade, seemed to forget a couple of key points. They did nothing to advertise the cars’ existence and compounded this by not providing any semblance of a decent network of showrooms to sell and service them.

The failure of Cadillac so far isn’t down to an antipathy to American cars, despite the traditional view that in the past they have been too big to work on this side of the pond. Chrysler has had a storming success with the 300C, and even seems to be making a half-decent effort of selling the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger.

As far as the BLS is concerned, Saab underpinnings should be a positive advantage in the UK, where the Swedish marque does particularly well. The saloon and station wagon disguise their Scandinavian roots from outside very well, both featuring the unmissable Caddy egg-crate grille, perpendicular headlights, and the upright rear lights that characterise the US brand, neatly integrated into a vertical tail in the wagon’s case, with alloy roof bars.

Carrying capacity is good – unlike some premium smaller station wagons the BLS has the room to work for a living too, although most buyers in this class tend to be well-heeled and want a lifestyle vehicle with a fancy badge rather than a true load-carrier. The model name, BLS, may be a slight handicap here as to me it is a little too close to a popular sandwich. (Anyone for a BLT?)

Inside the Euro-Cadillacs have much better interiors than Chrysler offers on its products, with judicious use of items from the Saab parts bin. Being screwed together by an experienced Saab workforce at Trollhattan means the quality should be up there with what the Germans offer. Mechanically, the choice of power units is also very Saab-influenced: three petrol engines (four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-litres with either 175 or 210bhp and a V6, 255bhp 2.8), two 1.9-litre turbodiesels (150 or, with a two-stage turbo, 180bhp) and a bioethanol-compatible option for the 2.0-litre petrol engine giving up to 200bhp.

The BLS is priced to undercut its German competitors, but one problem of Swedish assembly is that it loses out on the exchange-rate bonus the car would have had due to the weak dollar if its had been built in America. The bigger CTS, also part of Cadillac’s renewed European push, at least has that as an advantage.

All in all, full marks to GM for persistence. It’s a tough time, however, to be selling luxury cars in Europe at the moment, and more so when you are trying to persuade buyers to take a risk on a marque most of them have heard of. Next year’s sales figures should make interesting reading.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at

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  1. “It’s a tough time, however, to be selling luxury cars in Europe at the moment, and more so when you are trying to persuade buyers to take a risk on a marque most of them have heard of”

    Should there be a “not” before “heard of”?

  2. Oops, well spotted…I’ve corrected it.

  3. Unlike the recent past, GM is obviously invested in building European sales for Cadillac for the long term. And I’m certain they know it will be a wait of some measure at this juncture, because, as you point out, the results are awfully meager so far. But it’s what they need to do in order to get their cars known in Europe, so they must spend the time and money for what are low returns at this point.

  4. The American cars have the same problem in Europe that they have in America, that is, trying to live down all the negative attributes the public has given to them over the past decades. It will be a long climb back up to respectibility in terms of positive perception for the American cars in Europe.

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