Why Cadillac will fail

The once legendary luxury car nameplate, Caddilac, was founded and created from the defunct automobile manufacture, Henry Ford's second business endeavor, the Henry Ford Company. Another Henry, named Henry Leland was the man who convinced the shareholder that there was enough left of Ford's old company to salvage and make a productive and viable car company. The men agreed with him and decided to name the company after the French explorer who founded Detroit Michigan, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac.
The idea that people could own and drive a better car with more features and luxury was a new one. Transportation was just that. You wanted to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.
A man by the name of William C. Durant was building an automotive conglomerate that would take the notion of efficiency and build on it. He decided that innovation and luxury should be part of the marketing and sales process and built that ethos into the car itself, thus the luxury car was born.
"The standard of the world", was the slogan for Cadillac and stayed with the brand for years. But a funny thing happened on the way to the new century. Cadillacs became less innovative and more pedestrian. Yes, one could argue that during the '80s and '90s Cadillac still had a certain brand appeal but it slowly gave way to the German competition like Mercedes and BMW.
What people forget was that in the '50s through the '70s is that Cadillac had no competition. This is not to say that Ford and Chrysler were not competing with Cadillac but they were nowhere close in style or content. Take a look at the pictures below and you can see the elegance and in some cases understated beauty they possessed.
You could order you Cadillac in 16 different colors. Some of those colors were extra-cost options with beautiful names with the designation Firemist, which specified large-flake, borosilicate (low melting point)-based, pearl effect pigment. This paint would take light and make it reflect and or refract in ways that would tantalize the viewer's eye based on where they were standing. Some of the color choices you had were called Atlantis blue, Sudan beige, Baroque gold, and Tropic green.
Does the paint matter? Does a car's lines and or shapes give you pause? If the answer is yes and millions of people would agree with you, it does. The GM designer knew this and it showed in their cars through hideaway headlights, long hoods, and short trunk decks and striking roof lines. The Cadillacs in the '50s - '70s epitomized movement when standing still, presence while being parked in front of a house and prestige in the eyes of the owners and hopeful onlookers alike.
Once you owned one of these beauties you would slip into a unique and pampering interior that was personalized to you. Not only could you select from 21 different interior colors but you could include specified cloth inserts to your leather upholstery. Cadillac marketing would use terms like Damascus (capital of Syria) or Devonshire (county in Southwest England) embroidered cloth to convey a sense of exclusiveness. Every other car out there had vinyl. Not exciting or unique.
These detail mattered to people who were spending the equivalent of a new home in those days. You felt special when you either ordered you Cadillac or went to the dealer to pick from their amazing inventory.
Flash forward to today and here is a sample of the colors and interiors you can pick from, like crystal white, Manhattan Noir metallic, red horizon tint coat. Here are some interior choices, jet black, cirrus, maple sugar, or dark auburn.
We've gone from 16 color choices and 5 extra cost Firemist colors to one no-cost color (silver) and 8 extra costs "tri-tint" colors with dull nondescript names and from 21 interior combinations to 5 interior choices with names like maple sugar and auburn.
I don't know about you but if I'm going to lease or purchase a $70K car I don't want a tri-tint color named horizon. I want a name that invokes a sense of exclusive destination and opulence. I know it only matters to me what the name says and what it means to me specifically but if I've learned anything in my 50 plus years it is that we all fantasize about who we are and what people perceive us as. The car is the easiest way to show people who you are and how you feel about yourself.
Back when GM paid a good salary for men and women to conjure up those images of travel and adventure and then transfer them to marketing material so people could imagine and see themselves in those spaces or locations. This was marketing genius. When you can get someone excited about your service or product and then they start to imagine themselves using you or your product in their life, you have entered a true space of rarity. GM and Cadillac in particular did this extremely well. and GM's sales showed this to be true.
So to what end am I getting? Well, as I look at the cars we consider to be high in status I don't ever see Cadillac being represented. Sure if you want a large American SUV Escalade is in the top 10 but I'm talking Flagship cars. S Class, 7 Series, A8, and even the Tesla Model S. But tell me the name of the Flagship Cadillac and what it looks like.
As the American diet for SUVs grows and Cadillac shifts its attention to them I don't like what I see. I would more likely go to the Koren car maker Hyundai and its new luxury brand Genesis for style and innovation. I see a better design language and interiors that inspire.
I contend that the bean counter is alive and well. Cost-cutting for the sake of the investor is the new moniker for Cadillac. Not the standard of excellence. Just drive a new Cadillac and tell me you feel like you have achieved excellence or even a non-GM like product.
I feel for the current management and employees of GM as they are hamstrung on what they can invest in or what type of innovation they can create.
I liked the Art and Science look of Cadillac when they came out with it in the early 2000s but that was 20 years ago. I'm also excited to hear that Cadillac will be the battery-powered division in GM but when will the cars and SUVs be available and will they still look like a melted down version of Art and Science?
My feeling is that the people who run GM will continue to be in a race toward the bottom of the market. How long can they keep moving products before the costs outway the profit?
We've seen this before. Have a financial crisis or worse yet a Pandemic where the average auto buyer pulls back on spending and GM will just "kill" a division and move on.
It's too bad that this happens but in the case of Cadillac maybe some of those investors will purchase the remains of a once-proud brand known as Cadillac and create a new car company that actually innovates and offers true luxury to the consumer. Maybe his or her name will start with an H and end in a Y...


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