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Cadillac Chief Leaves GM, Citing 'Philosophical Differences'

April 19, 2018
Sources say Johan de Nysschen was ousted for pushing brand over selling individual models.

General Motors Co.’s Cadillac chief left the company in the midst of a $12 billion plan to turn around the brand, citing strategic differences with other managers.

Johan de Nysschen exited immediately on Wednesday and was replaced by Steve Carlisle, who had been president of GM Canada since late 2014. De Nysschen, 58, joined the automaker in July 2014 after managing Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti and Volkswagen AG’s Audi brands.

In a phone interview, de Nysschen said he left amicably and declined to go into detail on what spurred his departure. “We agree to disagree and we move on,” he said. “There wasn’t a fight. Let’s call it philosophical differences.”

During de Nysschen’s nearly four-year tenure, Cadillac’s recovery efforts have been a mixed bag. Record global sales are expected this year largely due to China, where the brand has been among the fastest-growing in an expanding industry. The U.S. has been a different story -- annual deliveries declined in all but one of the years under de Nysschen.

“We appreciate Johan’s efforts over the last four years in setting a stronger foundation for Cadillac,” GM President Dan Ammann said in a statement.

One of the issues that contributed to de Nysschen’s exit, said people familiar with the matter, was that Cadillac spent a lot of its marketing efforts developing content to build the overall brand and didn’t do enough to sell individual models. Under de Nysschen and former Chief Marketing Officer Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac focused on a “Dare Greatly” campaign that attempted to build Cadillac’s image with less of a focus on sales and the cars.

GM management wanted to see a greater effort to sell new models like the CT6 sedan and XT5 sport utility vehicle, said a person familiar with the matter. The XT5, which replaced the SRX in 2016, did little to improve demand with about 68,300 sales last year -- no better than SRX sales in 2015, even though SUVs have been on a tear in the U.S.

Cadillac debuted a new XT4 compact crossover last month at the New York auto show that will be crucial to maintaining momentum. The brand struggled in the U.S. to a large degree because too few SUVs were in the lineup at a time when luxury buyers were abandoning sedans in droves.

When the XT4 arrives later this year, it’ll be one of only three SUVs in Cadillac showrooms. German rivals like Audi, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and BMW AG’s namesake brand have had more crossovers for consumers to choose from for years.

One of de Nysschen’s strategies was to raise prices on Cadillac models to maintain a more high-end clientele. That tactic contributed to lower volumes that dealers complained about early in his tenure. He held the line to rebuild the brand’s cachet, but sales volume suffered.

Other changes have been afoot lately at the brand. Ellinghaus resigned in December, and GM replaced him in March with Deborah Wahl, who was CMO at McDonald’s Corp.

by David Welch

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