Cadillac's Johan de Nysschen clarifies a few points on the brand's future
21 March 2018 - Autoblog
Brand has more challenges than millennials' disinterest in driving
Last week, Motor Trend ran coverage on a journo roundtable with Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen. During the roundtable, de Nysschen cited a few reasons for the decline in sedan sales, including gas prices, "young consumers" — read, millennials — less interested in driving dynamics than lifestyle accessories, and the state of U.S. infrastructure. Jalopnik homed in on the last two reasons, and those became the story, including here in our post on the roundtable. So de Nysschen called Jalopnik to add more context.
The original reaction pieces painted de Nysschen's rationales as an excuse for sporty sedans not selling well, when the issue is Cadillac's sporty sedans not selling well. His main clarification: "I wasn't advocating the idea that the world is black and white, that if you're a young buyer a millennial or a teenager that you don't enjoy driving." On that note, it would be ridiculous to deny millennial and sedan-segment bugbears; de Nysschen has market research and the industry-wide, rabbit-like crossover breeding program to back him up. Yet even as he touted the success of the XT5, noting that it's "the third-best-selling luxury nameplate in the U.S. after the Lexus RX, and the Mercedes C-Class," he could add, "But the irony is not lost on me that the C-Class is a sedan."
The circumstances laid out in the follow-up piece inject more likely color into the situation: the brand's onetime, singleminded focus on the U.S., followed by a singleminded focus on China that left the U.S. market wanting for attention. We could add to that: years of lackluster products and awful attempts at volume and brand engineering under the old GM at the same time that downsized premium luxury products, crossovers, and SUVs began their rocketship trajectories; trying to live off the Escalade success; and the carmaker's desire not to offend its older, traditional buyers while concurrently wooing "coastal influencers." De Nysschen also acknowledged that Cadillac interiors aren't where they need to be, saying, "We recognize that's where we want to improve."
The result, as de Nysschen put it, "We're playing with the hand that we've been dealt. So one of the realities is, we have four sedans, we have one crossover and one SUV, that leaves you somewhat caught in the downdraft of where the majority of your products are." Boiled down, the memo is that de Nysschen has a much wider view of things than was communicated in last week's pieces (again, including here), and the brand is "on a long-term transformation program."
Part of that long-term future is the small performance sedan we've been hearing about off and on for years. Outsider speculation on the carmaker's coming sedan lineup is that the CTS and XTS will turn into the CT5. The ATS will be replaced by a smaller four-door that could be called the CT3, a rear-wheel driver to compete with the Mercedes-Benz CLA and BMW 2 Series coupe and Audi A3. Only the 2 Series comes with RWD in that segment right now, but de Nysschen said the Cadillac offering "will certainly lap the Nürburgring faster than anyone of our competitors in that category, if they care about that."
At the other end, the supposedly approved Escala sedan (or liftback) could be the true luxury flagship we've been hoping for from Cadillac for years. Let's get to 2022 already and see where these dice end up.