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Caddy Likely to Launch 7-Series Fighter

Can Cadillac again become the “standard to the world”?

by on Jul.18, 2011

The Cadillac Sixteen - shown here in Beijing - could have strong influence on the 7-Series fighter Caddy is currently developing.

It long billed itself as the “standard to the world,” and in decades past Cadillac was indeed the marque to beat.  But that era is long gone and while Caddy has been regaining some momentum in recent years, it is struggling to catch up to competitors like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and even Lexus.

The domestic maker’s only serious passenger car offering is the midsize CTS.  It failed to generate traction with the larger STS and has nothing at all to challenge premium luxury models like the 7-Series and S-Class.  But that could be ready to change as Cadillac sets out to prove itself a truly world-class competitor.

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With the maker confirming plans for a compact luxury model, codenamed ATS, as well as the larger XTS, could it push even higher?  Apparently, yes, reports Mark Phelan, in the Detroit Free Press, confirming long-standing rumors that Cadillac could finally enter the lofty land of premium luxury sedans dominated by the Germans.

While such products generate relatively modest volumes, they provide the halo upon which brand reputations are built.  And, in fact, they could generate even more demand in the years ahead.  In China, newly affluent motorists are showing a distinct affinity for not just high-line marques but also for some of their largest and most expensive products.

A prototype of the Cadillac XTS.

Cadillac has long had aspirations to push into the upper stratosphere of the luxury market.  Its Sixteen was one of the big hits of the 2003 North American International Auto Show, now-retired GM “car czar” Bob Lutz driving out in a 1,000-horsepower sedan that pushed more into Bentley or Rolls-Royce territory.  But few inside the company actually believed Caddy could sell a car pushing that far into xis-figure territory and the project was abandoned.

And when the latest version of the STS was largely panned, Cadillac planners largely retreated into more mainstream territory, focusing on the CTS, which slots somewhere between the BMW 3- and 5-Series lines.

But a single passenger car line – along with the big Escalade SUV and SRX crossover – isn’t enough to make a truly world-class brand, certainly not when the competition is steadily rolling out more and more niche offerings.  Gone are the days when Mercedes was largely limited to C-, E- and S-, along with the SL roadster.  It now has an alphabet soup of offerings meant to leave no luxury stone unturned.

The ATS will bring Caddy into one of the fastest-growing niches, global luxury buyers increasingly downsizing their choices.  The XTS will fill the hole left by the STS’s failure.

But as for going after the likes of the 7-Series?  The Freep reports that former GM CEO Ed Whitacre ordered work to begin on such a vehicle last year.  And his successor, Dan Akerson, has been shepherding the project forward.  That’s no guarantee, but’s own sources believe that the so far-unnamed offering likely will come to market by mid-decade as the new Cadillac flagship.

It would likely be offered in the high 5- and possibly low 6-digit price range and would feature just about every piece of technology General Motors could come up with, from the most advanced infotainment system to the latest in safety technology.

Creature comforts would include a cavernous rear seat, possibly with Audi A8L-like reclining rear seats and foot rests.  That sort of amenity would be particularly important in China, where Caddy is desperate to build its base.  Even mid-luxury models are offered in extended wheelbase form there as a significant portion of the government and business market is pitched to those who prefer to be chauffeured.

As for powertrains, should GM take the new premium-luxury model global it would almost certainly be made available with a diesel for Europe, where about half the market for luxury cars is made up of “oil burners.”

For Americans, a V-8 would be a necessity, though there’s a growing demand for more fuel-efficient V-6s, possibly with turbo or super-charging.  Sources would not discuss whether a hybrid powertrain is under consideration, though GM is clearly watching to see how the market responds to such German gas-electric offerings as the Mercedes S400.  A Platinum Edition XTS concept showed GM considering hybrid power for that model.

(The U.S. maker, meanwhile, continues to study its options for a high-line version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in, though the original proposal was shot down.)

What sort of volumes are possible?  BMW sold more than 100,000 3-Series models last year, but just barely 12,000 copies of the 7-Series in the U.S. last year.  The gap was a little wider than normal as premium luxury sedans took an unexpected hit during the recession.  But volume is only one measure of a vehicle’s success, and as long as GM could sell enough to break even the big payoff would be on the image side.

Right now, Caddy is struggling to get luxury buyers to even include it on their shopping lists.  It has a long way to go to once again become the standard by which all others are judged.  A truly world-class 7-Series fighters would be one way to move closer to that goal.

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