With the upcoming launch of the Cadillac ATS the once-dominant luxury brand hopes to begin the difficult task of rebuilding its once-lofty reputation and challenging such import stalwarts as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
The ATS is not only the first compact Caddy model line in three decades but the marque’s first product to offer a four-cylinder engine – two, in fact – since the dreaded Cimarron, a vehicle whose mere mention evoked reflexively painful winces during a preview of the new ATS this week.
Specifically aimed at the luxury compact benchmark, the ATS will debut in sedan form with a choice of three powertrain packages. But numerous Cadillac insiders revealed to TheDetroitBureau.com that this is likely just the beginning. An array of additional ATS variants likely will follow. Among those under serious consideration are an ATS Coupe and the seemingly requisite V-Series version.
Indeed, Cadillac is now considering a wide variety of new product options, from a production version of the Ciel concept that would top the line-up and challenge the likes of the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class, to some additional crossover models.
Several sources also suggested a convertible is a serious option now under discussion. It would fill a notable gap in the Cadillac line-up and become the marque’s first ragtop since the ill-fated XLR roadster of a few years back.
For his part, Cadillac’s marketing chief Don Butler readily acknowledges “We’re considering our options,” but he and other Caddy executives go gun-shy when asked about specific product plans. That’s not surprising, as most manufacturers prefer to keep new offerings secret until well into the product development process. But in background conversations, there’s a clear sense of excitement percolating through the brand’s ranks as parent General Motors begins to free up the cash and other resources needed to make Cadillac competitive.
With the exception of a few years when it was passed by domestic rival Lincoln, Cadillac spent nearly a century as the U.S. luxury leader. But it slipped to second in 1998 when it was outsold, for the first time, by Lexus, 185,890 to Caddy’s 178,507, and has steadily lost ground since then.
Part of the problem, senior executives admit, is that the imports simply have a much broader range of choices in a market where buyers have become used to having expansive choices. BMW and Mercedes, in particular, have all but run out of their alphanumeric options while Cadillac has few more options than it did a decade ago.
That’s beginning to change. There’s the new XTS, which Caddy officials have notably stopped referring to as their new “flagship,” and the ATS. The more expensive of the two models will effectively replace both the unloved STS and all but forgotten DTS. But it is not a true brand-capper. That leaves the opportunity to roll out a more expensive and competitive model targeting the likes of the BMW 7-Series.
Caddy revealed one concept for that flagship during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last autumn. The striking Ciel convertible isn’t going to make it into production, insiders stress, but the underlying concept will influence a production model that TheDetroitBureau.com anticipates will reach Cadillac showrooms around mid-decade.
Of more immediate importance is the ATS. It targets the biggest segment of the luxury market, notes Butler – but also one of the toughest to crack, the 3-Series setting a daunting benchmark. Cadillac is hoping that it can at least gain credibility and slowly grow its share with the new sedan.
But it also recognizes that it needs other variants to pose a serious challenge to the established order in the compact luxury segment.
A new coupe appears to be moving its way through the product development process, though it was impossible to get a clear sense of when it might reach production. A major challenge is coming up with a design that is as strikingly distinctive as the CTS Coupe yet which won’t be confused with the bigger 2-door.
Also on tap: an ATS V-Series variant that would be the next entry into Caddy’s performance line – a challenge to the vaunted BMW M and Mercedes AMG models.
Officials, including vehicle line chief Dave Leone, don’t hide their interest in an ATS V-Series. But they suggest that part of the challenge has been deciding whether to go with another big V-8, as in the CTS-V, or shift to a turbo or supercharged V-6.
An eight-banger would be less expensive and the ATS development team reserved enough space under the hood. But it is also heavy and could be seen as “old-tech,” as one insider put it. A charged six-cylinder engine would likely be seen as the more sophisticated option and would make it easier to maintain the near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution of the current Cadillac ATS. It would also yield better mileage – albeit at a higher starting price.
Don’t be surprised to hear more about the ATS-V in the near future. Meanwhile, Cadillac is likely to start previewing some other new products, including that flagship sedan and one or more new crossovers, starting with next year’s Detroit Auto Show.
The maker is determined to provide a credible alternative to the German and Japanese imports and a broader product portfolio is the start of that process.