(This story has been updated to include additional insight into Cadillac plans, including the brand halo product frequently referred to as the CT8.)
Cadillac offered a hint of its future design direction last week, in the form of the Escala concept car unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. But plans to launch a large luxury sedan that might share that design theme have been delayed and could even be cut, TheDetroitBureau.com has learned.
With General Motors’ flagship luxury brand struggling to boost U.S. sales, despite the addition of several new models, Caddy is facing the prospect that the aggressive product growth strategy outlined by brand boss Johan de Nysschen will be sharply paired back, according to various company sources and industry observers. Among the projects being delayed are the full-size sedan, which was expected to be called either the CT8 or CT9, but also the twin-turbo V-8 that would be used to power it.
While the South African-born de Nysschen declined to discuss specific changes to the Cadillac product program, he did indicate there could be some slowdowns during a conversation following the reveal of the Escala show car. The twin-turbo V-8, for example, might not make it into production until “the next-generation CT6.” Since biggest sedan in Caddy’s current fleet just came to market, that might mean the high-performance engine wouldn’t be available until around the 2023 or 2024 model-year.
Whether there would even be a need for it at that point is uncertain. That would be just before the industry has to deal with the full brunt of the upcoming, 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards that will boost the mileage of the typical American vehicles to 54.5 mpg. There is concern that could all but force the industry to abandon large V-8s.
Cadillac’s European luxury competitors have been preparing for those new CAFE rules – and equally tough mileage and emissions standards abroad – by working up fleets of battery-based models. Mercedes-Benz, for example, expects to have 10 plug-in hybrids on sale by the end of 2017, and will also offer pure battery-electric and hydrogen cars. BMW and Audi have similar strategies.
(Cadillac Escala Concept reveals new design direction for Detroit brand. Click Here to check it out.)
For its part, Cadillac does have a plug-in hybrid version of the CT6 coming, but after dropping the small ELR plug-in, it doesn’t have anything else in the portfolio, and it apparently won’t be moving quickly to fill those potential gaps.
A pure battery-electric model won’t arrive until “beyond 2020,” de Nysschen confirmed, adding that “Cadillac doesn’t have to be the technological leader for all of GM.” Where Audi has taken the lead among the dozen Volkswagen AG brands, it appears that the Detroit maker is letting Chevrolet get charged up, rather than Cadillac.
It’s the delay, and even the cutback, of other product plans that more concerns Caddy insiders.
Delaying a new flagship sedan might not be a bad move, however. “There’s just not the market demand for it,” said David Sullivan, senior automotive analyst with the consulting firm AutoPacific, Inc. “And let’s be honest. The Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series are just so good, maybe they (Cadillac) should just let them have it.”
(Long-struggling Lincoln nabs top spot in customer satisfaction survey. Click Herefor the story.)
While Caddy insiders were reluctant to go into great detail, the biggest changes in product planning are on the passenger car side of the brand’s portfolio. And that’s also something that industry observers believe might make sense. After all, pickups, sport- and crossover-utility vehicle, and vans now account for about 60% of total U.S. new vehicle sales. That’s only slightly less in the luxury segment, but even there the share is rapidly rising as new models come to market.
Caddy is still expected to flesh out its portfolio of SUVs and CUVs. It recently launched the XT5, a completely new replacement for the old SRX, the brand’s best-selling nameplate. De Nysschen has said, on several occasions that as many as three other utes are in the works. That would appear to include two smaller models that would compete with the likes of the BMW X1 and X3 nameplates. A larger, three-row model is reportedly also in the works.
Cadillac is expected to share in the fruits of one of GM’s most expensive and far-reaching product development programs ever. The maker is working on a new truck-based line-up that will use a breakthrough platform using a mix of aluminum and steel. That challenging approach could shave significant weight off future products, including next-generation full-size pickups and SUVs, sharply improving their fuel economy.
Though de Nysschen declined to directly address the question of product delays, insiders say the issue has become one of frustration for a Cadillac team that had hoped to prevent a broader and more tempting portfolio that could better stand up to European and Japanese rivals. Audi has plans to add more entirely new nameplates by decade’s end that Cadillac will have in its entire line-up, as things are now expected to go.
But justifying the cost of the hoped-for Cadillac portfolio has become increasingly difficult as sales have failed to grow the way corporate managers had hoped for. Last year, the brand was up just 2.6% in the U.S., well below the pace of the overall market and its key luxury competitors. It has continued to lag in 2016.
“There is a tremendous amount of pressure to get volumes up” before more money is invested in product, said analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting.
On the plus side, global volume surged 7.5%, largely due to China, Caddy’s second-largest market, and the pace of that overseas growth has been picking up with the opening of new Chinese assembly operations.
To his credit, de Nysschen has repeatedly stressed it will take time for Cadillac to regain momentum as its portfolio builds. But top corporate managers appear to be less willing to wait than when they brought the former Infiniti global CEO in two years ago.
The new Caddy brand boss is seen as a hard-charging, albeit pragmatic, leader, and open to shifts in strategy. Sources suggest he has been working with GM management to explore other options for the CT8 concept that could wind up with something distinctly different from the original plan, something other than the classic, brand-topping 4-door sedan.
Far from pulling the plug, GM continues to invest in Cadillac. It just appears to be scaling back the pace of that investment and making sure that its money is, for now, targeted at the products likely to deliver the most immediate sales growth, namely SUVs and CUVs. But that means that some products, including new sedans, coupes and sports cars, may not land in showrooms until well into the coming decade. And some may not make it into the Caddy portfolio at all.
Some may also undergo significant changes from the original plan but still wind up in production.
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