The Mercedes of GM?
2020 Cadillac XT6: Does the All-New Three-Row Model Even Stand a Chance?
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Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Torque: 271 lb-ft
Seating: three rows
Sunday evenings are an intimate time to be spent with family, HBO television, or perhaps a dram of whiskey and the New York Times Book Review. It’s also not a bad time to preempt the media onslaught during an auto show. Venerable automaker Cadillac assembled journalists the night before NAIAS 2019 and offered the company’s latest plan to redefine and reinvent itself for the modern era. Short-term: sell upmarket Cadillac crossovers. Long-term: sell upmarket Cadillac crossovers powered by electricity.
Cadillac unveiled the XT6, its new three-row crossover SUV. That vehicle slots into the Cadillac SUV family between the midsize XT5 and the plus-sized Escalade. It’s a minivan for people who don’t like minivans. The XT5 will hold three rows of passengers or a fair amount of cargo, but not both at the same time. If you filter out the Cadillac-specific design cues, it looks a bit like the Buick Enclave Avenir, employs a 310hp 3.6L V6 and nine-speed automatic like the Enclave Avenir and may end up with a similar price point to the Enclave Avenir. The XT5 is just part of a broader overhaul. Cadillac plans to offer new vehicles every six months or so through 2021.
Cadillac also offered further insight into its plan to become “the pinnacle of mobility” as GM’s luxury EV brand. Cadillac unveiled artwork for a four-door EV crossover. A flat, customizable battery architecture likened to an ice tray will support multiple vehicle designs. Here’s hoping for a two-door, 20-foot long all-electric Eldorado. Fans of Cadillac’s idiosyncratic vertical LED lights need not fret. That design fixture will be an eyesore well into the future. Cadillac will help build GM’s “zero emissions future,” one fossil guzzler at a time.
We’re still getting gambits from Cadillac. Execs are still talking up “making Cadillac Cadillac again.” That’s because previous reinvention efforts failed.
Cadillac relaunched itself as America’s urbane luxury brand. The company moved from Detroit (just as it was becoming cool) to swanky SoHo, NYC headquarters. Cadillac cars were filmed rolling over Lower Manhattan cobbles miraculously denuded of noise, traffic and people. Cadillac debuted “Book by Cadillac,” a car-leasing subscription service for the affluent but indecisive. More recently, Cadillac announced a return to suburban Detroit and “Book by Cadillac” has been put on ice until some automaker figures out how subscription services could ever work in the automotive space.
Producing quality performance cars did not revive Cadillac either. The current 640hp CTS-V sedan and its predecessors were legit competitors for cleanup hitters from Mercedes and BMW. Cadillac tried to sell car-guy catnip with a 500-plus hp CTS-V wagon with a manual transmission. They were also selling a 464hp ATS-V coupe with a stick option until the 2018 model year.
Global sales did well in 2018. Cadillac sold more than 380,000 vehicles. Though strong sales numbers from the Chinese luxury market seem far less surefooted in 2019 than they did in 2018. Following the market to SUVs (the present) and EVs (the clear and almost present future) makes sense for Cadillac. But, it still may not work.
Family-sized SUVs are what’s selling and profitable, particularly in the luxury space. But, that also means it’s the most saturated segment of the market. Cadillac’s desired customers are not just buying Mercedes and BMWs. They are buying Land Rovers, Audis, Porsches, Jeeps, Alfa Romeos, etc. Even within GM, the XT6 is squaring off against the Buick Enclave Avenir and GMC Acadia, not to mention upper-level trims of the Chevy Traverse. The former two also brand themselves as GM’s luxury brand. Cadillac may be competing to be “the Mercedes of GM” as much as it is competing with Mercedes. Getting into the luxury crossover EV game will only be more competitive.
There’s no doubting the Cadillac brand’s historic resonance. It’s important and iconic for GM. But, will the Cadillac brand serve as a buoy or a millstone for GM? Cadillac ceded the luxury market impetus to competitors decades ago. The gravitas that makes the brand formidable also makes it nearly impossible to recast. Neural pathways, for many, still lead straight to Grandpa’s Fleetwood.