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Cadillac Returns To Europe, But With Modest Expectations

March 8, 2010
2010 Cadillac CTS

2010 Cadillac CTS

2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

The past 18 months or so haven't been easy for General Motors, here or abroad. In Europe, GM endured much tense talk about its Opel brand, and the Kroymans Group fell prey to the global economic meltdown, leaving GM without a European distributor in over the half the markets it serviced. Now, a new company called Cadillac Europe has been created specifically to manage Cadillac distribution across the pond, and this go-round, GM is setting more realistic expectations for its luxury brand than we'd previously expected.

Much to GM's chagrin, Cadillac has never been a strong seller in Europe. In a market dominated by well-known, home-grown luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW, Cadillac's annual sales have remained below the 5,000 mark for decades. GM has often talked the big talk about making inroads on the Continent, but despite some massive ad campaigns and promising new models, the company's predictions have never come true.

Perhaps because of that history, or perhaps because of GM's painful restructuring and sagging public opinion of the brand, the GM that's returning to Europe is more chastened and modest than Angela Merkel pantsuits. According to the Wall Street Journal, the brand will relaunch in Europe with minimal expectations to match Cadillac Europe's minimal, 20-person marketing and distribution staff: GM has set Cadillac's annual sales goal at just 3,000 units.

For now, the brand is pinning its hopes on the 2010 Cadillac CTS, with sedan, coupe, and wagon variants. If all goes well, the midsize crossover SRX will follow in the 2011 model year. Distribution will be focused on areas of Europe where Cadillac sales have done well in the past -- namely, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. And this time, GM and its European dealers understand that the brand will most definitely be a niche player: as Roman dealer Stefano Celon says of the Caddy consumer, "It's a particular customer who wants to be different from the others—they like the new product."

There's a great deal of discussion about GM's strategy, but if Cadillac has to be in Europe at all (a big "if"), this plan sounds pretty solid. A sales goal of 3,000 units is realistic -- it's been achieved in the recent past -- but it's high enough to require some work. The strategy is also significantly more humble that we've seen in previous years, and in some ways, that may play well with European consumers, who can be wary of their brash cousins across the pond. Veteran staffers at GM may chafe at the understatement of it all, but when in Rome....


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