Cadillac Boss Not Outwardly Terrified of Brand’s Transition

Were it not for his Canadian place of birth, Cadillac President Steve Carlisle might make an ideal centrist presidential candidate. On paper, anyway. Mild-mannered and cautiously optimistic, not prone to exaggerated doomsaying, Carlisle would either be triumphantly swept into power, or creamed like a bushel of Iowa corn.

Well, he’s not running, though he is couching the importance of his brand’s product turnaround in less apocalyptic terms. Unlike, say, GM President Mark Reuss.

While the GM prez ominously stated that Cadillac’s new role as GM’s electric car flag bearer is the brand’s last chance for glory, Carlisle has a more subdued take on things. Speaking to Wards Auto, Carlisle said GM’s EV investment can’t be wasted.

“I wouldn’t call it desperation,” he said. “We have to electrify transportation. We have an opportunity to change the world so let’s focus intensely on that, and we have confidence in the technology and there are early signs we’re turning the brand around.”

The brand boss admits that a pivot to electrification “does not occur without consequence, in terms of resource allocation, return on investment (and) return to the shareholders,” adding, “We won’t get a second chance to spend billions of dollars.”

Image: GM

GM revealed a conceptual, nameless electric Cadillac crossover in Detroit last month as a way of whetting consumer appetite, assuming it exists, for a futuristic Caddy. A production version should appear in 2021, but not before more profitable models come online. Those include the late-to-the-game XT6 and a revamped Escalade.

Carlisle seems to think that buyers of a Cadillac EV will choose to add a second, internal combustion Cadillac to their driveway. Speaking of early EV adopters, who tend to be younger and better educated, Carlisle said, “If they have an electric car, it is probably not the only car in the driveway. Take all those things into consideration, and it makes sense for Cadillac to take on the role as leader when it comes to electrification.”

For Cadillac’s sake, let’s hope that brand loyalty grows in the next couple of years. A 2018 Edmunds study shows an erosion of return Cadillac buyers over the past decade (not at CarMax, though!), though the sudden spike in SUV and CUV popularity could account for some of this loss. As more and more buyers gravitate towards high-riding vehicles, a segment they’re not likely to vacate, car-heavy brands suffer. It’s another reason why products like the recent XT4 and upcoming XT6 are so important for Cadillac. In the short term, they’re far more important than any EV.

As well, considering profit margins for electric vehicles are generally slim or nonexistent, Cadillac will need the bread brought in by big, gas-slurping vehicles to fund its transition.

[Image: General Motors]

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