Ten years ago, a sport utility vehicle was the last thing GM execs considered adding to the Cadillac line up. The Cadillac brand was synonymous with sedans and more or less the exclusive domain of 60-something-year-old retirees. Sentiment quickly changed, however, and according to Brandweek, GM committed half of its annual US$ 200 million ad budget to promote the 2002 Escalade, hoping its efforts would cast a halo effect over all of General Motors (Brandweek, April 2001).
Indeed since the new millennium, the Escalade sparked the rebirth of Cadillac and has become a staple of contemporary, affluent lifestyles – from business owners in middle-America to hip-hop stars on both coasts to the “Fab Five” make-over artists from the American television show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
Starting in the $50,000 range, the Escalade line also includes the EXT extended cab (effectively the offspring of a truck and SUV); the ESV, a 20 inch longer version of the standard Escalade; and the ESV Platinum. The latter is a limited edition version of the ESV, which offers popular after-market items such as dual televisions, a DVD player, heated and cooled seats, heated and cooled cup holders, and 20-inch wheels as standard features direct from the GM factory. The difference is GM pockets the money versus losing it to an after-market company.
Larry Appleby, sales manager for Lund Cadillac Company, a dealership based in Scottsdale, Arizona, says that he began noticing his buyer demographic go from 65- to 68-year-olds down to mid- to late-thirties and sometimes younger for certain models. “I think when rappers and music personalities started having [the Escalades] in their videos, it helped immensely,” says Appleby. “They’re another factor that has helped bring our age demographic down. Now there’s a wide appeal [of Cadillac] to the 25-year-old guy aspiring to drive an Escalade.”
According to Appleby, it’s the aspirations of someday owning an Escalade that is getting younger buyers into an entry-level Cadillac sedan like the CTS. At a little over $30,000, the CTS and its sports cousin the CTS-V (5.7L,V8, 400 horsepower, six-speed engine) are built on what Cadillac calls “the latest technologically advanced platform.” The SRX, a luxurious crossover wagon, is built on the same chassis and engine as the CTS and comes in front or all wheel drive.
While the major luxury sedan makers such as Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti are opting for softer curves in their exterior design, what the entire Cadillac sedan line has in common is sleek, angular exterior design styling coupled with luxurious comfort and high performance. According to Lund Cadillac, GM took many of its new design cues from the success of a concept car created in the mid-90s called the Evoke, which apparently resembled a “stealth bomber.” Cadillac’s XLR, a convertible hard-top luxury roadster built on a Corvette chassis, is the end result of the Evoke. It retails for $76,000 and up.
Looking at any one of these cars, it’s very clear that these are not your grandparents’ sedans of yesteryear. The interiors of the entire Cadillac line are filled with leather, wood grain, metal accents, and computer navigation systems now standard to all luxury vehicles. What sets Cadillac apart from many of its competitors is the spacious and solid feel of the interiors (regardless of whether you’re sitting in an Escalade or an XLR roadster) combined with GM’s rekindled interest in racing performance technology.
About the same time the Escalade first hit the market in 1999, Cadillac returned to racing at Le Mans after a 50-year absence. Lund Cadillac itself is building this year a 1000 horsepower racecar built on the CTS engine for the Bonneville Salt Flats race. Their goal is to reach 215 miles per hour – the fastest speed any Cadillac has driven.
Cadillac’s current concept car, the Sixteen, is an all-aluminum, 1000-horse power, V16 chiseled body sedan. There are rumors that the Sixteen may be produced as an actual model available to the public at a later point. If made, it will compete directly with the Mercedes Maybach and retail for a quarter of a million dollars – a bargain compared to the Maybach’s $350,000 price tag.
In a further effort to compete with the European and Asian luxury heavyweights, Cadillac’s fifty-plus year old Seville and DeVille brands are now named the STS (for Seville Touring Sedan) and DTS (for DeVille Touring Sedan). The changes hence solidify a consistent system of high-tech inspired acronym and alpha (minus the numeric) model names. Earlier in the brand’s transformation, the Cadillac logo was given a much cleaner, more contemporary graphic facelift. Intentionally or not, the new logo sports a quasi-Scandinavian/German look and feel to it.
The complete overhaul of the Cadillac brand – from the factories to the nuts and bolts of the cars to the visual and verbal identity – are by all accounts contributing to a newfound success for General Motors. Its branding and new business strategies, including a recent launch in China, have contributed to GM’s 56 percent increase in sales this year, giving it a 9.2 percent share of the vehicle market.