Just weeks after presiding over the debut of two critical new products, the CT6 V-Sport sedan and XT4 sport-utility vehicle, Johan de Nysschen is out as the head of the Cadillac brand, replaced by Steve Carlisle, a fast-track executive credited with major turnarounds for parent General Motors in Canada and Thailand.
With extensive experience in the global luxury car market, including stints with BMW, Audi and Infiniti, de Nysschen laid out broad plans for Cadillac’s revival after joining the brand in 2014. That ranged from additions to its product portfolio to the decision to move Caddy from Detroit to New York City to give it more distance from the parent company and put it at the center of one of the country’s biggest luxury car markets. But several sources suggested senior GM management was growingly increasingly concerned about Caddy’s weak performance in its home market.
“We appreciate Johan’s efforts over the last four years in setting a stronger foundation for Cadillac,” said General Motors President Dan Ammann, who helped lure de Nysschen from Infiniti to Cadillac. “Looking forward, the world is changing rapidly, and, beginning with the launch of the new XT4, it is paramount that we capitalize immediately on the opportunities that arise from this rate of change. This move will further accelerate our efforts in that regard.”
Cadillac was long the luxury market sales leader, but it fell off its throne in the 1990s as import brands like Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz read the tea leaves and responded to a rapidly changing auto industry. By the time the Detroit brand bottomed out sales fell to barely half their one-time peak and Caddy was struggling to be seen as what some analysts at the time referred to as a sort of “blue-collar luxury brand.”
(Caddy triggers battle of the behemoths with $10,000 Escalade discounts. Click Here for the story.)
It started to rebound with the 2002 launch of the CTS, a more European-style midsize sedan that introduced the brand’s edgy “Art & Science” design language. But despite the subsequent debut of some well-reviewed products, Cadillac couldn’t seem to make a real dent in the competition.
That led the automaker, under then-new CEO Mary Barra, to decide on a more aggressive, albeit risky, approach, bringing in an outsider and backing him with the bucks needed for a truly competitive product line-up. Not only has that brought to market updates of established models like the CTS sedan and the big Escalade SUV, but the debut of all-new models such as the flagship CT6 sedan and XT5 and smaller XT4 crossover-utility vehicles.
As de Nysschen revealed to TheDetroitBureau.com in an interview earlier this month, at least two more utes are coming in the near future, with 11 models in all set to debut by 2021, a roll-out averaging one new product every six months. And, he hinted, “I can tell you, there’s a lot more coming after 2021 that we have not talked about.”
Despite the good reviews models like the CT6 and XT5 have received, however, sales results have been mixed. On the plus side, Cadillac has gained significant momentum in China, now the world’s largest luxury car market. As a result, it had its second-best year ever in 2017 and de Nysschen said, during his interview, that he expected 2018 would bring an all-time record.
The problem, to the chagrin of GM management, is that the results in China haven’t been matched at home where sales have actually dipped for several years. And so, with the debut of the CT6 V-Sport, the XT4 and other models coming, a well-placed source suggested top management viewed this as “a critical time to regain momentum which was at peril of being lost.”
The decision was made to part ways with de Nysschen and replace him with Carlisle, a GM veteran with a reputation as something as a “fireman,” said another insider, someone who can be moved to trouble spots and put out a blaze. He joined the automaker in 1982 as an industrial engineering co-op student at the Oshawa Truck Assembly Plant near Toronto, and has moved to operations around the world, including Thailand and his home, Canada, where he has led a strong resurgence for all four of GM’s North American brands.
(Cadillac Exposed! Click Here for a deep dive on the brand’s dramatic product and technology plans.)
“The potential for Cadillac across the globe is incredible and I’m honored to be chosen to be a part of mapping that future,” said Carlisle, in a statement released by GM on Wednesday afternoon. “I look forward to building on our current momentum as we continue on our mission to position Cadillac at the pinnacle of luxury.”
In turn, Travis Hester, who has been in charge of global product programs for GM, will take over as president and managing director of GM Canada.
“There’s no question Johan is a visionary automotive leader, but given GM’s conservative culture he may have pushed things a step too far,” said Jessica Caldwell, the head of industry analysis for data tracking service Edmunds. “It feels like Johan spent too much time chasing the German brands instead of embracing Cadillac’s unique heritage”
Caldwell said the sales numbers weren’t the only sign of trouble at Cadillac, noting that the average Caddy vehicle sat on a GM lot for 112 days during the first quarter of this year, compared to 48 days for Mercedes-Benz, 60 for BMW and 74 for Lincoln, that other struggling U.S. luxury brand. Even the XT5, Caddy’s best-seller, sat on showroom floors for an average 100 days.
While there’s likely to be relatively little change to the Cadillac product plan now rolling out, observers expect to see Carlisle amp up the brand’s marketing efforts, especially when it comes to individual products.
(To see more about de Nysschen’s arrival at Cadillac, Click Here.)
He may also feel some pressure to rethink de Nysschen’s decision to move Caddy’s headquarters to New York City. But sources tell TheDetroitBureau.com that is highly unlikely, at least any time in the near future.”