As Cadillac begins what could be its best-ever global sales year, the brand is also going to reclaim its historic role as General Motors Co.’s high-tech line.
Powered by rapid growth in China, GM believes the brand is now a good place to debut new electric and even self-driving vehicles starting in the next decade, Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.
Cadillac will get a “disproportionate share” of the 20 all-electric vehicles that GM plans to bring to market globally by 2023, he said. A few years after the first electric Cadillac goes on sale, the brand will have some kind of self-driving vehicle in the lineup as well.
“Cadillac in the future will be the technology lead brand for General Motors,” de Nysschen said. “Technologies will debut in Cadillac first and then cascade down to the other brands.”
That had historically been the case at GM, which used both Cadillac and now-defunct Oldsmobile to debut new technologies like air conditioning, the modern V-8 engine, electronic fuel injectors and auto-dimming headlights, said John Wolkonowicz, an independent auto industry analyst. Recently, GM has instead tapped Chevrolet to first sell its plug-in hybrid technology with the Chevy Volt and then to launch its all-electric Chevy Bolt. GM last week revealed its first photos of a self-driving Bolt with no steering wheel and pedals.
Window of Opportunity
That will start to change as Cadillac tries to seize a unique opportunity to distinguish itself among the German carmakers that lead global luxury sales. Brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have a great reputation for driving performance and engineering and it’s difficult to overcome that, de Nysschen said. But with no single company definitively in the lead yet when it comes to electric drive or autonomy, the industry’s technological revolution gives Cadillac a window to establish itself as a leader.
Cadillac already has some legs up in the sector. Its Super Cruise technology allows users to drive with hands off the wheel today — a feature few rivals have. GM also started rolling out in select Cadillac, Buick, Chevy and GMC models new connected dashboard technology that enables drivers to buy coffee, find gas or parking and make restaurant reservations with just a touch of the screen.
But Cadillac’s future self-driving cars will not be devoid of a steering wheel and pedals like the new Chevy Bolt that will be tested as a ride-sharing car next year, de Nysschen said. That’s because Cadillacs are engineered to be fun to drive, he said, and luxury buyers will want to chose between the option of driving or letting the car do the work.
GM announced plans in October to have 20 electric cars for sale globally in five years. Cadillac will get several of them, and de Nysschen said he can envision a five-passenger crossover sport utility like the current XT5.
“Zero-emission vehicles have to feature prominently in the Cadillac portfolio,” he said.
One reason for the electric car push is that Cadillac is growing fast in China and the government is demanding more battery-powered models. Cadillac probably will sell more than 200,000 vehicles in China this year, de Nysschen said in a Bloomberg Television interview. That would be a jump of about 14 percent following a 51 percent surge last year.
Cadillac went on a tear last year despite a sedan-heavy lineup handicapping U.S. deliveries amid voracious demand for SUVs. GM is gearing up one of its domestic car plants to build a new Cadillac crossover called the XT4 later this year. The automaker will add more crossovers to the brand’s lineup for a total of five models, in addition to the full-size Escalade SUV, and cover the car market with one fewer model in the future, de Nysschen said.
Cadillac had its second-best sales year ever in 2017, delivering more than 356,000 vehicles worldwide, up about 16 percent. More than half of global sales were in China, while deliveries in the U.S. slumped 8 percent.
The fourth quarter of this year “heralds the beginning of the largest product offensive seen in the history of this brand,” he said in the television interview. Cadillac will field a new vehicle every six months from then through late 2021, including “a whole family of new crossovers and SUVs.”