Imagine a world of just Cadillacs and BMWs. No, not BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes or BMWs and Audis — BMWs and Cadillacs! Impossible, some — no, most — would say, especially when considering the lackluster products that have been thrown our way by the American brand over the past two decades. Cadillac Cimarron, anyone? But if the latest Cadillac CTS (both in standard and V trim) has taught us anything, it is that GM has the know-how to compete with the best.
It’s good that Cadillac is finally gaining some traction in the modern luxury car segment, but one thing that an automaker like Mazda has thought us is that having just competitive products does not make a brand successful, or at least well-known. Brand recognition needs to follow suit, highlighting the critical importance of effective marketing. Fortunately, marketing seems to be one of GM’s strong suits, although some would disagree. Ignoring the critics for a second, I feel that GM’s marketing department has been cooking-up something rather grandiose, and as crazy as this “something” might be, it might be on to something.
The first CTS was a good car, and the latest model is an even better one, each generation inching closer and closer to the Germans. The ATS will undoubtedly be the best yet, but GM has made many promises that have earned it the ire of more than few enthusiasts and journalists. The ATS unseating the 3 Series? “Blasphemy!”, “You Crazaaaay!”, “I’ll have whatever you’re having! No, make that two”. All of this indignation is warranted, of course; after all, GM did make the same promises with the first two CTS models. Now while the latest model is not to be taken lightly, the first-gen model greatly underdelivered.
Is the ATS so good as to warrant GM’s boasting this time around? I’d like to think so. The compact luxury sedan does have a lot going for it: a very light curb weight, a sleek design inside and out, a plethora of tech features and a powerful engine lineup. The ATS is the product of all the hard lessons learned from the development and marketing of the first two CTS models. Despite this, the critics have spoken and they say that GM should play it safe this time around — that it should keep a low profile with the new sedan and let the car prove itself, rather than promise the unpromisable and then underdeliver yet again. That would be fine by me. After all, imagine what a surprise it would be for the ATS to come out of nowhere to unseat the 3 Series. Sure people label GM as arrogant, but I’m sure that this line of thinking, as obvious as it is, did cross the minds of more than a few suits at the Renaissance Center. What many people fail to realize is that there might be a strategy behind all that boasting.
It’s a gig, a big ol’ marketing gig! That’s it. An upstart like Cadillac in the sports luxury segment got its name out there instantly by initially promising the impossible, delivering a decent product (first-gen CTS) and then failing. With the second-gen CTS, it promised the same thing, delivered a great sports sedan but fell just short of matching the 3 Series/5 Series driving dynamics. I suspect that at GM headquarters, the thinking is that becoming known as “the brand that has been chasing BMW but hasn’t quite succeeded yet” is better than being merely recognized, or at least having to wait a decade or more to get some recognition. What GM is effectively doing is shifting the public perception away from “BMW versus the other German brands” to “BMW versus Cadillac”, effectively creating a segment rivalry that was once reserved for the Germans. GM is hoping to create a world of just BMWs and Cadillacs in the minds of prospective buyers.
Crazy, maybe, but it seems to be working. For some perspective, let’s consider Lexus. The Japanese brand has followed a similar model-cycle with its IS sports sedan as Cadillac has with its CTS. The IS even had a head start, but the CTS appears to have succeeded in gaining more recognition over its shorter stint in the segment. To a lesser extent, the same could be said about the Infiniti G Series – the sedan has been well-received by critics, yet hasn’t garnered the level of recognition that many think it deserves.
A reminder that Cadillac is relevant, a reminder that Cadillac is chasing BMW, a reminder that Cadillac is catching up to BMW and, if all goes well with the ATS, a reminder that Cadillac has finally beaten BMW … that is what all of this marketing hype is about. The ultimate goal is to keep Cadillac fresh and at the forefront in the public psyche. And as long as GM’s luxury division continues to show great improvements, the public cannot help but to gobble up all that hype, only to ask for some more later. After all, who doesn’t like to see a highly-publicized underdog triumph? If the ATS proves to be everything that GM says it is, then the General might be well on its way to creating a world of just Cadillacs and BMWs.