Cadillac Crafts BLS Just for Europe

2005 Geneva Motor Show Index by TCC Team (2/13/2005)

How can you call yourself the “standard to the world,” if your only real market is the United States ?

2006 Cadillac BLSThat’s the conundrum Cadillac has faced in recent years. It’s not that the automaker hasn’t tried to develop demand in Europe and other parts of the world, but despite some high-profile introductions, it’s so far found little success. Now, as General Motors pumps an estimated $6 billion into Caddy’s nascent comeback, going global isn’t just a nice idea, it’s absolutely essential.

Recent additions to the product line, such as the edgy CTS and STS sedans, as well as the XLR roadster, show some promise, but Cadillac officials are betting that the best way to gain traction in the tough European market is with a model designed exclusively for overseas luxury buyers. What they have in mind will take its formal bow at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show, but TheCarConnection was given an early preview of the sedan that will carry the designation BLS.

The basic shape of the four-door will likely seem familiar to those who have followed the evolution of Cadillac’s new Art & Science design theme. The bold grille and vertical head and tail lamps are pure Cadillac, as are the tall and angular body panels, with a wedge-shaped stance designed to suggest power and performance.

At 184.25 inches in overall length, the BLS will be nearly six inches shorter than Caddy’s current entry model, the CTS. But that shouldn’t be a problem outside the States, where buyers are less likely to link size with price. “Premium is not a question of size, but purely of excellence,” declared Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman and global product chief.

2006 Cadillac BLSThe BLS will certainly have plenty of premium touches, including bi-xenon headlamps, leather seats, Bose audio hardware, and a touchscreen DVD navigation system. Bluetooth-equipped cellphones will be able to link to the Caddy sedan’s hands-free phone system.

While the new BLS might visually fit into the Cadillac brand, it remains to be seen if European consumers will accept the sedan’s pedigree. This particular Caddy started out life as a Saab, the basic platform shared with the Swedish automaker’s 9-3 lineup. The decision was anything but unexpected considering Saab’s ongoing sales problems and excess production capacity.

The automaker already has gotten plenty of cash, engineering, and marketing assistance from GM and the other members of its global alliance. The new Saab 9-7X is a rebadged version of the parent company’s big SUV, and a version of Fuji Heavy Industry’s sporty Subaru WRX was launched in the U.S. last year under the Saab 9-2X nameplate.

Beyond basic expediency, there are some advantages to using the 9-3 as a starting point. It gets Caddy into this very global segment far faster than if it had started developing an all-new product entirely on its own. Saab also makes it easy for Cadillac to offer a right-hand-drive model for Britain and various export markets, such as Japan or Australia .

The BLS won’t be your typical Cadillac in the powertrain department. Diesels now account for nearly half the overall European automotive market, and perhaps counter-intuitively for Americans, these highly efficient engines are particularly popular among luxury buyers. The BLS will be offered with a 1.9-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel, a first for the luxury marque. Alternately, buyers will be offered a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 2.8-liter V-6, both also turbocharged.

Preliminary specifications suggest Caddy’s version of the 9-3 platform will get unique suspension tuning designed to enhance the car’s sporty feel. Additional sound insulation is also part of the package.

Though the BLS will take its bow in Geneva next month, it won’t hit showrooms until spring 2006. That will give Cadillac time to mount an aggressive introduction campaign for a brand virtually invisible to the typical European luxury buyer.

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