Viewpoint -- Cadillacs Survival Is A True Test For GM

Dec. 21, 2004
A new image and restyling will hopefully steer Cadillac away from Oldsmobiles fate.

Forget the immunity challenges, tribal councils, and alliances. The true game of survival is taking place in the towers of General Motors Corp.'s headquarters on the Detroit River and at the company's design studios in Warren, Mich. The stakes revolve around the success or failure of a 99-year vehicle brand name: Cadillac. General Motors and its leadership are about to embark on the riskiest strategy in the company's recent history. They are going to try to reshape the image of its luxury marquee, while keeping it from the same fate as Oldsmobile, which was voted off the GM brand team late last year. Cadillac is looking to revamp its image, which has been tarnished in recent years due to idiotic product and advertising decisions: remember the Cimarron? How about the "Power of &" advertising tagline? Those blunders are expected to be a thing of the past as Cadillac embarks on its most critical new product blitz in recent history. Not only are there new products on the way, there's also a new overall vehicle style hitting the Cadillac showrooms. The product and design blitz is already underway with the arrival of the Cadillac Escalade SUV, which is the first vehicle to carry the signature styling cues of tomorrow's Cadillacs. Gone are the boxy, staid looks of the Eldorado and Seville, which are giving way to a more modern look with sharp edges, defined angles, and a return to the vertical tail lamps of the past. The look is unmistakable. Besides the Escalade, Cadillac is on track to offer a pickup truck, car-based SUV, entry-level sedan, full-sized sedan, and even a roadster. All will carry the new styling that the new Escalade hints at. Most of these new products will be based on new rear-wheel-drive vehicle platforms, which also signals a significant move for GM's luxury division since it made the shift to front-wheel-drive vehicles back in the 1980s. The aim is to take on BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Acura, and gain a foothold with younger buyers. Product isn't enough, however. Cadillac also is launching a new series of ads that will play off glory days in the division's history when Hollywood stars and the social elite wouldn't be caught dead in anything but a Cadillac. At the same time, Cadillac will invite consumers to "dream again" as it unveils sneak peeks at these new products. The task is nothing less than monumental for a company that has continued to develop products and advertising that are less than inspiring. GM, however, is risking the store on the longevity of Cadillac, as GM North America President Ronald Zarrella told BridgeNews at the New York Auto Show last month. "We have to have the discipline and the fortitude to spend the marketing resources necessary in addition to quite considerable product resources to make the brand cool again, to make it relevant to the people who are in this luxury club," he said. If Zarrella can pull it off, he'll be canonized as the savior of General Motors. If he fails, he should be sent packing faster than Al Gore was at the end of the election count debacle. Kevin Kelly writes for BridgeNews.

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