This week brought us a collection of bombshell announcements from General Motors. Laced within the news of five assembly plant closure (“idling”) and nearly 15,000 jobs getting axed was the news that the Cadillac CT6 will meet its death in 2019. Yes, the sedan hailed as the best modern Cadillac sedan in decades–the one that can literally drive itself on the freeway–wasn’t good enough to last. The timely death of Cadillac’s flagship product highlights decades of poor corporate strategy.
Everything at current-day Cadillac dates back to 2002, the year the original Cadillac CTS sedan entered production. At the time it was hailed as the second-coming of Cadillac; laced with this “Art & Science” design theme that was completely different than anything out of Germany, but it was based on a proper rear-drive architecture.
From that day forward GM executives and Cadillac as a brand became that kid in high school who so desperately wanted to be the popular kid, but just didn’t quite fit in with the it-crowd. More specifically, Cadillac wanted to match the German luxury brands mono-e-mono in the segments they owned. Those segments? Compact, midsize and full-size luxury performance sedans. You know, where names like 3 Series and E Class are regarded as the world’s best.
Those of us in the world of automotive journalism didn’t help their obsession with besting the Germans in sedans. We too felt Cadillac needed to churn out a viable 3-Series, 5-Series and 7-Series fighter in order to be worthy of mention with the names BMW and Mercedes-Benz. And back in the early 2000’s, sedans were still cool and worth spending billions on developing.
Spending billions is exactly what Cadillac did. GM authorized Cadillac to produce more unique architectures just for sedans, which ultimately yielded the second-generation CTS, then the ATS and third-generation CTS. Both of the ladder examples have consistently fallen short of sales expectations, with the ATS Sedan actually being killed off several months ago.
While sales expectations were consistently missed by the ATS and CTS, GM let Cadillac continue its quest for three three-box sedans. The CT6 commenced development, again spending a small fortune developing a world-class large sedan to polish off the vey for luxury popularity.
Meanwhile, the macro market is pivoting away from sedans entirely. Mercedes-Benz and BMW are spending resources on new crossover and SUV entries, such as developing the X7 and redesigning the GLS Class.
Even Ford’s Lincoln brand knew better than to chase the luxury sedan stalwarts. Lincoln rolled out an all new Navigator and was developing a new Aviator that appears to be a world-class SUV that will likely hold its own against the Germans.
That’s not to say Cadillac focused solely on sedans. The brand did manage to launch the XT5 and, more recently, the XT4. But let’s examine the difference in scope of these versus the Cadillac sedans. Both crossovers are built on broader GM architectures; they’re not resting atop a host of Cadillac exclusive content like the sedans. The mega development dollars went to the sedans.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Cadillac’s strategy is the CT6 itself. It finally launched in 2016 and actually turned out to be a world-class sedan; particularly recent iterations that included Cadillac’s impressive Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system. The car launched a host of other features, such as the return of Night Vision and impressive mixed-material manufacturing processes.
The money Cadillac spent on the CT6, paid off in execution.
Unfortunately, the market does not reward great products that no one wants. As the market pivots away from sedans, Cadillac is being left with its pants down over a strategy that was more concerned about optics than actual market data. The near 20 year obsession with having three world-class sedans at Cadillac is toast, yet again.
Perhaps Cadillac should have spent billions developing new SUVs atop the Alpha and Omega platforms, versus obsessing over emulating the German sedans. Essentially, perhaps Cadillac should have emulated Lincoln instead.