Hours after revealing its global chief has been reassigned to become the new lobbying czar for parent General Motors, Cadillac has confirmed it has lured Infiniti’s CEO away from the competitor’s headquarters in Hong Kong.
Johan de Nysschen will now serve as the new president of Cadillac, and the role will be significantly upgraded, according to several senior sources, to give the exec much greater resources and freedom to accelerate Caddy’s long-promised revival.
Insiders reveal that the 54-year-old de Nysschen had become increasingly frustrated in his role at Infiniti. Separately, TheDetroitBureau.com has learned, the South African-born executive was aggressively recruited by General Motors President Dan Ammann, who has wanted a strong leader with a solid background in the luxury car segment to take over at Cadillac.
“Johan brings to our company vast experience in the development and proper execution of luxury automotive brands,” said Ammann, in a prepared statement. “With over 20 years in this exact space, especially in the development of the Audi brand, his track record proves he is the perfect executive to lead Cadillac for the long term.”
Once one of the leaders in the upscale automotive market, Cadillac stumbled badly in the 1980s and ‘90s. But its so-called “renaissance” since then hasn’t gone as smoothly as anticipated. And despite the introduction of a number of well-reviewed products over the last two years, U.S. sales have taken a sharp slide this year.
It hasn’t helped that Cadillac’s upper management ranks have been in turmoil. The latest departure sees global leader Bob Ferguson head to Washington to become Caddy’s top lobbyist. It is a position he held after first joining GM in 2010, and Ferguson was previously a senior lobbyist for AT&T. In recent months, he has split time between running Caddy and advising GM CEO Mary Barra on the handling of the maker’s ongoing recall crisis.
(For more on Ferguson’s departure, Click Here.)
Just last month, Caddy also lost its sales chief Bill Peffer, who joined GM just last autumn. Susan Docherty, its sales head in Europe, resigned last year. And several other top managers have either been fired or nudged out.
Cadillac has high hopes for de Nysschen, however. He spent most of his career with Audi, the luxury arm of Volkswagen AG – most recently as the well-respected head of Audi of America. Like Cadillac, Audi had significant problems, particularly in the U.S. where it long struggled to recover from a safety scandal back in the late 1980s. Under de Nysschen, the brand has begun to nudge closer to the first tier of luxury makers in the States. Worldwide, it is now vying for market leadership with both BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
De Nysschen delivered a surprise two years ago when he announced he would leave Audi – which had recently moved its U.S. headquarters to suburban Washington, D.C. – and take control of Infiniti. The luxury subsidiary of Nissan was also struggling to gain momentum after years as a market also-ran. De Nysschen moved quickly to shift key strategies, downplaying electric propulsion in favor of high-performance models like the Q50 Eau Rouge sedan now under development.
(Acura MDX sets new sales record as rest of line-up lags. For more, Click Here.)
He is expected to carry over many of his strategies to Cadillac, including a push to take the brand global. Caddy has tried to stretch beyond the borders over the years but has had mixed to negative results, particularly in Europe. On the other hand, it is rapidly gaining momentum in China – which is soon expected to become the world’s largest luxury car market. Cadillac is currently building a new assembly plant in China.
In the near-term, de Nysschen will have to help find a way to reverse Caddy’s U.S. sales slump, all the more unexpected considering the strong reviews for new products such as the compact ATS sedan and the newly redesigned CTS. Longer-term, he will be pushing to expand the brand’s product portfolio.
With barely a half-dozen models in its line-up, Cadillac has to go up against the armada of offerings from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the latter maker planning to roll out 30 all-new or significantly redesigned models by decade’s end.
Caddy insiders confirm they have a number of potential products under various stages of development. A production version of the well-received Elmiraj would serve as the brand’s new flagship. A compact crossover is a high priority, but other future products could range from a replacement for the outgoing CTS Coupe to a roadster, sports car and convertible.
(Click Here to see more about Chrysler’s recall of 895,000 SUVs.)
One thing de Nysschen is expected to continue is the Cadillac V-Series, the maker’s high-performance sub-brand designed to compete with the likes of the BMW M and Mercedes AMG models. New V versions of the Cadillac ATS and CTS are now under development.
While de Nysschen reportedly felt frustrated by the situation at Infiniti, several sources told TheDetroitBureau.com that it took some extensive negotiations to bring him back to Detroit – where he was originally based with Audi. It helped to have GM President Ammann lead the discussions, assuring de Nysschen that he would have more resources and freedom, going forward, to develop Cadillac into a true, top-tier luxury brand.
“The recognition of the brand is immense, and the progress on the fundamental product front is widely acclaimed,” de Nysschen was quoted in the GM statement. “I am delighted at the opportunity to join the GM executive team to lead the Cadillac business, and I look forward to working with my Cadillac colleagues and our global retail partners.”