Hooniverse Editorial: The Standard of the World and How to Reinvent Cadillac – Part 1

Of all of GM’s remaining brands, Cadillac is possibly best positioned for ultimate success. Here is some of my ideas on how Cadillac can once again be the Standard of the World. This is a four part series in which I discuss the significant history of the Cadillac Brand (Part 1), and then go on to highlight the three models that rivaled anything that the rest of the world produced at that time: The Cadillac V-16 from the 30’s (Part 2), The Cadillac Eldorado Brougham from 1957 to 1960 (Part 3), and the Cadillac Sixteen Concept from 2003 (Part 4).

General Motors underwent an unprecedented “engineered” bankruptcy last summer. As it is sheds divisions right and left, historic nameplates are being discarded and the company that once had over 50% of the new car market has lost the recipe. So what’s to become of Cadillac in the future? It needs to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce, Bentley, and the relatively new upstart from Japan, Lexus. This particular commercial is a great start, but you really can’t run a luxury division with three body styles of what are essentially the same car, and an upscale clone of a Chevrolet crossover. The two-seat XLR sports car has been discontinued, as will the STS and the DTS. The Escalade will live on though because America can’t seem to get enough of these rolling excesses. It has, over the last decade, been a very successful product in terms of sales for what was once the Standard of the World. But does it send the right message?

This next commercial, released at the time the new XLR-V debuted in 2005, illustrates that Cadillac has had a very long and distinguished history, producing some very desirable cars through the last 100+years. Some of the later models highlighted include a 1956 Eldorado Convertible, the flamboyant 1959 Eldorado Convertible, the understated 1967 Eldorado Coupe (notice a theme here?), the very flashy 1976 Eldorado Convertible, and a very curious addition in the form of a 1979 Seville sedan, which was one of Cadillac’s most troublesome vehicles at that time with the option of either an ill-tempered V8-6-4, or a normally aspirated and anemic Oldsmobile-derived diesel V8. However, the commercial highlighted Cadillac’s past and that combined with the first spot, it is a brand worth re-inventing.

The CTS is a worthy competitor to the BMW 3-Series, and the Mercedes C-Class, as well as the upstarts from Audi, Lexus and Infiniti. These are the cars and brands that currently reside on the lists of luxury car buyers. While Cadillac has its fans, they aren’t usually the trend setters and taste-makers that it so sorely needs (the Escalade changed this to a degree, attracting new and younger buyers to the brand) the expanding international-sized CTS lineup is expected to go further with the sport wagon just now going on sale with the stunning two-door coupe waiting in the wings to follow next year. But Cadillac needs more in the way of other models, including one that is excessive, extravagant, and in true form that defines “the Standard of the World.” There were only two other series of Cadillacs from its long history that were truly extravagant; the prewar V-12 and V-16 Cadillacs and the 1957 to 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Broughams.

Look for Part 2 Tomorrow showcasing the prewar Cadillac V-16, and read my original article at Automotive Traveler.

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  1. tonyola Avatar

    Until the late-'70s or so, Cadillac has always represented a distinctively classless American approach to luxury. For decades Rolls Royces, high-end Mercedes, and the other European ultra-marques were seen as cars for plutocrats, heads of states, and the topmost celebrities. They were simply beyond the attainable for the average working person, and to aspire to such cars was seen as reaching beyond one's class. The Cadillac was different in that, while expensive, the price was not beyond the dreams of the average people. It was not hard for the typical American to imagine working hard for 10 or 20 years, then one day walk into a Cadillac dealer and drive away in a shiny new DeVille. It was an attainable goal rather than a unreachable fantasy – the American dream. You didn't have to belong to a certain class to drive one either – all you needed was the money. If a plumber was seen driving a new Cadillac, the message to people wasn't so much "oh, he's trying to be a social climber", it was more "he's a successful plumber and good for him!". The Cadillac was also unusual in that it was built in high volumes to accommodate the demand without really cheapening the image – 150,000+ cars a year without losing the luster. Yet despite the relative attainability, Cadillac became known throughout the world (particularly after World War II) as THE American symbol of luxury and success. When a product was described as "the Cadillac of [category]", you knew it had to be good.
    Cadillac's ultra-halo cars (V16, Eldorado Brougham, Allante, etc.) got the company lots of attention, but none were financially successful. I think Cadillac ought to produce a car like the 2003 Sixteen prototype, but it shouldn't bet the farm on such a car, and they should never forget the formula that gave their cars mainstream success – power, size, glitziness, and quality all at a price that is within the aspirations of the "common" folk.

  2. regalregalia Avatar

    You never mentioned Audi as a competitor. MB, RR, and Bentely are easy to list as competitors, but Cadillac hasn't set its sights that high (at least RR and Bentely high) for quite some time, say 50 years, and I doubt they'll be financially and marketing-wise ready for that within the next decade.

    1. Jim Brennan Avatar
      Jim Brennan

      The CTS is a worthy competitor to the BMW 3-Series, and the Mercedes C-Class, as well as the upstarts from Audi, Lexus and Infiniti.
      I think I did, but that's not the point. America needs to produce a high dollar luxury car in the near future. You even have Hyundai getting into the Luxury Car ballgame with the soon to be introduced "Equus", so I think it's time.

      1. regalregalia Avatar

        That's what happens when I read first thing in the morning.

  3. SSurfer321 Avatar

    With the Cadillac ATS coming in 2012 to compete with the BMW 3 Series, MB C Class and Audi A4, I think the CTS is aimed at the 5 Series, E Class and A6.

  4. OA 5599 Avatar
    OA 5599

    "…and a very curious addition in the form of a 1979 Seville sedan, which was one of Cadillac’s most troublesome vehicles at that time with the option of either an ill-tempered V8-6-4, or a normally aspirated and anemic Oldsmobile-derived diesel V8."
    The Seville in the commercial was a second-generation one, not a '79. The bustle trunk, a design feature of the car in the commercial, wasn't introduced until 1980. The 8-6-4 wasn't introduced until the following year and then quickly disappeared before the end of the model's run, for obvious reasons.
    My parents had the gasoline powered 6.0 in their '80 Seville, which, in the decade or so they owned it, had only normal wear and tear failures.

    1. Jim Brennan Avatar
      Jim Brennan

      OK OK OK… the 1980 Seville was introduced in the fall of 1979. I should have said the Second Generation Seville, but I digress. While your parents Seville was relatively trouble free, these cars in general were real stinkers generally, with the V-8-6-4, and the Olds Diesel, it was like choosing the lesser of two evils.
      There was a third engine option and I believe it was only available on the Deville models, and that was a V-6, which should have been a real dog, but bypassed all the other engines offered, with their inherent problems.

      1. OA 5599 Avatar
        OA 5599

        I was making the point that the gasoline 6.0 in 1980 was 8 cylinders, all the time. The -6-4(-3-2-1-0) experiment/fiasco didn't begin until the next model year, and unfortunately, combined with the introduction of the Cimmaron shortly after, destroyed the goodwill of the brand for years. But in 1980, the Seville's styling was fresh, if controversial and the engine didn't totally suck, making this model the best choice for the early 80's slot in the commercial. As much as I'm sure Cadillac would like to forget the period after the "last" convertible and before the Allante, something had to represent that decade.

  5. discontinuuity Avatar

    I can has moar Northstar?

  6. engineerd Avatar

    I'm not a big GM fan and their bailout and politically-motivated bankruptcy only reinforce this. However, of all the GM brands, Cadillac and Pontiac are the two I could identify the most with. Pontiac for its [newly re-aquired, sort of] focus on performance with the last GTO and the G8. However, it was let go like an annoying girlfriend who only did right when she realized she was on the way out.
    Cadillac is still around though. And it does need to recapture that aura it had about it until the '80s. The problem is, the '80s happened. The Cimarron is a perfect rallying cry of the decline of Cadillac. No longer did GM and its Cadillac dealers look at the brand as something special, but instead something to be pimped out. Maybe they learned this from their target market. Maybe they got greedy and out of touch.
    I was at the unveiling of the XTS concept with UDMan at NAIAS. I have to tell you, I am impressed. I was expecting it to be ungainly and ugly. It's not. It makes a statement. It's sharp. It looks like it could compete with the 5-Series. However, I was dismayed by the presentation where they explained the different trim levels. The top level — called the Platinum level — sounded more like bling and ghetto-fab, hip hop catnip than real "American luxury". I know Cadillac has been successful in capturing a younger audience with their blingy trim levels, but I was hoping that this car would be a little more grown up.
    I was hoping it would be more Sean Combs and less 50 Cent.

  7. Black Steelies Avatar

    Cadillac needs an ultra premium sedan similar to the XTS concept put on display earlier this year. [I too witnessed this car's debut in Detroit.] Producing a car of that quality within the price range of their current models in that bracket would be optimal. European luxury has to be put in the cross-hairs while keeping prices competitive for our domestic market. The DTS/STS names wouldn't even need to be dropped, just make them one model as opposed to two, make it rwd, and a solid refresh would be in order.
    Like practically everyone, I love the the CTS iterations and the CTS coupe is a welcome addition to the Caddy lineup. However, I'm afraid this sole car will be Cadillac's bread n butter platform- exchanging simple bodies and calling it a whole new car. That could lead to trouble down the road and should try to get away from turning this car into everything.
    A roadster to replace the XLR would be a good idea down the road. Again, keep it fresh, modern and not too corvette-ish.
    I would continue with the V series on most vehicles, likening it to BMW M-series or Mercedes' AMG editions. Always thought an SRX-V or even Escalade-V would be mighty cool and offer an alternative to those in the market for a Cayenne S or BMW X_.
    Lastly, offer some hybrid versions of existing models or just a new standalone hybrid. The Escalade Hybrid barely counts.

  8. muthalovin Avatar

    "General Motors underwent an unprecedented 'engineered' bankruptcy last summer."
    I KNEW that guy was up to something!

    1. Tripl3fast Avatar

      And he drives a Ford………. hmmmm

      1. engineerd Avatar

        Haha…both of you.

  9. Tempie Ptaschinski Avatar

    I always enjoy reading quality articles by an author who is definately knowledgeable on their chosen subject. I’ll be following this post with great interest. Keep up the great work, I will be back

  10. Mad_Hungarian Avatar

    I think that the selection of cars used in the commercial "Roll" may have been influenced in part by what Cadillacs GM has in its Heritage Collection. I have seen the Heritage Collection '59 and '67 Eldorados at certain events and the ones in the commercial sure look to be those exact cars.
    Also, one last thing about the unfortunately infamous V8-6-4: Other than the extra stuff on the valvetrain, it is the same 6-liter engine as found in the 1980 models. Pull one wire and it stays on all 8 cylinders and will run forever just like the 6 liter. This is the last version of the engine first introduced at 472 cubes in 1968, increased to 500 in the '70 Eldo and other models in '75, then downsized to 425 cubes in '77 and 368 (6 liters) in '80. An absolutely bulletproof engine with excellent torque, and the larger displacement versions can be modified to produce prodigious HP as well.

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