Cadillac - Faces the Future

LCT Staff
Posted on May 1, 1987

The Cadillac name has been associated with limousines since 1906 when the company introduced a seven-passenger car equipped with Moroccan leather upholstery, a satin headliner, French plate glass windows, electric lights, an electric signal bell, and a speaking tube connecting the enclosed passenger compartment with the front seat. Only four years after Henry Leland founded Cadillac, the company was already setting a standard for luxury in the automotive industry.

As automobile design evolved through the next few decades, Cadillacs became increasingly comfortable and luxurious, and Cadillac engineering was consistently at the forefront in high performance and passenger convenience. Cadillac “firsts” included the electric starter, a successful V-8 engine, chrome plating, a thermostatic cooling system, and a counter-balanced driveshaft which gave Cadillac the smoothest ride on the road at the time.

Cadillac limousines attained an even greater level of distinction than did the passenger cars. A number of models, such as the 1930 V-16 Limousine, the Series Seventy Five Limousines built during the years 1941 through 1949, and the shark-finned models of the late ‘Fifties, are - considered classics.

In the ‘Eighties, Cadillac continues to build classic luxury cars for loyal customers who, for more than eighty years, have looked to Cadillac for the most luxurious and reliable cars available. Over the past ten years, however, the luxury car market has boomed and Cadillac now faces a broader range of buyers, as well as more competition, than ever before. While luxury cars accounted for less than ten percent of new car sales in 1975, for example, they accounted for nearly fifteen percent of the total new car market in 1985.

Spurring this burgeoning market are many appealing vehicles representing price levels from “near-luxury” to “ultra-luxury”. Cadillac entries in each of these market segments have sold well during these recent boom years…but so have many offerings from the competition. The turf has become crowded with carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volvo whose models are designed to attract performance-oriented buyers. Overall, the percentage of foreign cars in the U.S. luxury market has doubled over the past ten years.

“In the American luxury car market,” says Cadillac General Manager John Grettenberger, “we have experienced the classic good news/bad news syndrome. The good news is that the market has virtually exploded in recent years. The bad news is that the benefit of this growth has essentially been enjoyed by manufacturers of import luxury vehicles.

“Our competition boils down to Lincoln and European luxury imports,” observes Grettenberger, “and you have to look at why they are doing so well. Volvo, for example, is selling more than 100,000 units now...which is more than Mercedes and more than BMW. We find from our research that an awful lot of people are moving to imports because we haven’t done our job well enough…Cadillac gets very high ratings for comfort and convenience, but we haven’t been hitting the mark on distinctiveness, and we haven’t been delivering the performance they want. I think that’s as true of Lincoln as it is of Cadillac.”

Earlier this year, General Motors announced a significant organizational change concerning Cadillac...the flagship of its five divisions. Under the reorganization, Cadillac will not only continue to market its vehicles...the division will now become the only one within General Motors to control its own engineering and manufacturing programs. Previously, Cadillac had primarily served as a marketing arm for a yearly model line-up produced by GM’s engineering and manufacturing groups.

“We essentially became, if you will, a car company. We not only have control of product engineering, but we also have body engineering which was previously done by Fisher Body, and we have manufacturing which was previously done by General Motors,” says Grettenberger

Some of the initial changes planned by Cadillac are enhancements in the Eldorado, Fleetwood, Seville, and DeVille models. One of the first developments will be a significant new look for the Eldorado in ’88. Each of these models will also receive a powerful new 4.5 liter engine in ’88.

“Cadillac built its reputation on its powertrain,” says Grettenberger, “and when you measure the quality of our new engine on the assembly line, it ranks above Lincoln, Chrysler, the Mercedes 300E, and some BMW engines.” Within five years, Cadillac plans to introduce a completely new generation of multi-valve engines.

Cadillac is also evaluating new models for entry into market segments in which the division has not previously appeared. This year, Cadillac introduced Allante, its first effort in the high-performance, ultra-luxury category. The $54,700 two-seater was designed by the Italian Pininfarina Company, creators of the Ferrari Testarossa.

In an innovative production process, Allante bodies are crafted in Italy and then shipped on specially-equipped 747s to Detroit for final assembly. Thus far in its first year, Allante has exceeded sales goals, according to Cadillac, and a four-door version of Allante is reportedly on the drawing board.

“We need to move everything we make, with the exception of Allante, upscale from where it is today,” maintains Grettenberger’ who believes that this upscale model played a role in events leading to the reorganization at General Motors. “The enthusiastic feeling we now have throughout our organization really started when we got into the Allante program,” Grettenberger says.

“We began setting objectives in quality and performance that were higher than we had ever set before” he continues. “Then, when we realized that we were going to become our own operation, we really started catching fire. It is exciting to watch our design staff because we now have more new things going on in the design studio than any other division of our size.”

Given the opportunity to utilize some of the world’s most advanced automotive technology, Cadillac created its most stylish and roadworthy model ever. A 4.1 liter transverse-mounted V-8 produces 170 horsepower. Allante features the world’s first application of the Bosch III antilock braking system...the most advanced in the world. The driver sits in a ten-way Recaro power seat, and instrumentation combines both analog and digital displays. The car is so fully equipped that a cellular telephone is its only option.

Allante symbolizes Cadillac’s determination to reaffirm itself as a leader in automotive technology. Other models are also expected to receive leading-edge components such as anti-lock braking systems, in the near future.

Limousines will be an important facet of the Cadillac program in the wake of the reorganization. After more than eighty years in the limousine business, Cadillac finds itself looking at a number of different scenarios for the future. One imminent decision faced by Cadillac is whether or not to continue its traditional Series Seventy Five Limousine. A number of alternatives are being considered, and a decision is expected within the next few months.

While awaiting a formal announcement on the immediate future of the factory limousine, Grettenberger insists that Cadillac is committed to increasing its presence in the limousine industry. “The limousine business is a high priority to us, and you’re going to start seeing Cadillac on the move in this industry,” he says.

“That doesn’t mean that we intend to do the limousines ourselves, or that we will try to be the master of all the Cadillac limousines that you see on the road,” Grettenberger maintains. “On the contrary, I see the attempt on our part to work closer than we ever have before with the coach-builders who have become the backbone of the industry.

“It seems to me,” continues the General Manager, “that the logical approach is to put our efforts into improving the lots of those coach-builders who are really serious about making high quality Cadillac limousines. Coachbuilders are in a business environment where they can respond to the market more quickly than we can, and offer more variety. They can easily change directions and, in most cases, their quality levels are rivaling the original equipment manufacturers in my opinion.”

In recent years, Cadillac’s rear-wheel-drive Brougham has been a highly successful base unit in the stretch limousine business. After once announcing plans to discontinue the big Brougham, Cadillac now intends to preserve the model through the foreseeable future. A heavy-duty towing package and a five liter engine were recently added to the Brougham. In ’89, the model will receive an exterior restyling, and powertrain enhancements.

“There are a number of good reasons for us to continue building the Brougham,” says Grettenberger who points out that the model appeals strongly to the traditional luxury car buyer as well as to coachbuilders. For the ’88 model year, Cadillac has received a significant increase in advance orders for Brougham base units from coachbuilders. Manufacturing of the Brougham is expected to move from Detroit to Arlington, TX during 1987.

Grettenberger believes that front-wheel-drive Cadillac models will also attract a growing number of coachbuilders in the near future. “We want to provide coachbuilders with a package that is equally attractive with the Brougham from an engineering point of view,” he says. When faced with a choice between the Brougham, and a Cadillac front-wheel-drive model with a 4.5 liter engine and contemporary styling, Grettenberger predicts that a number of coachbuilders will decide to build both models.

In planning changes for its models, Cadillac has kept the needs of both coachbuilders and limousine operators alongside those of retail customers. Among the considerations involved in planning refinements for the Brougham is whether changes might cause problems for coachbuilders. “If you look at Mercedes, for example,” says Grettenberger, “they have a lot of lower body fascia treatments. We could take that approach too, but we feel it would cause difficulties for coachbuilders. We’re trying to look at all of those things.”

“A lot of our attention these days is also in the reliability area...especially regarding the limousine business,” says Grettenberger. Cadillac technical representatives have met with sedan and limousine operators in the New York area, where Cadillac sedans see heavy commercial use, to examine the impact of this harsh operating area on engines, brakes, and drivetrains.

In coming years, coachbuilders may also become involved in building other Cadillac specialty vehicles such as station wagons and funeral cars. Cadillac recently completed a prototype station wagon in which Oldsmobile components were applied to a Brougham chassis. The result was so impressive that Cadillac is considering sharing the technology with coachbuilders. Grettenberger points out that both Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are successfully marketing luxury wagons in the United States.

There are no plans, however, for Cadillac to work exclusively with particular coachbuilders. While Cadillac plans to picture stretch limousines in its product catalogs in the near future, specific coachbuilders will not be identified. Cadillac dealers will be encouraged to sell and service limousines from coachbuilders whose products they respect. “We’re going to have to rely on the customer as an intelligent buyer, and the dealer as a reputable businessman, to pick an affiliation that is a Cadillac class relationship,” Grettenberger asserts.

Another aspect of Cadillac’s limousine marketing has been an energetic campaign to exhibit a prototype Presidential Limousine at major auto shows around the world during the past two years. The vehicle, an unarmored version of a limousine delivered to President Ronald Reagan in January 1985, is billed as the ultimate vehicle for transporting dignitaries and heads of state.

The impressive vehicle attracted crowds at recent Limousine & Chauffeur Shows, as well as at last year’s Paris Auto Show. Although it has not yet been determined whether the vehicle will be offered commercially, the Presidential Limousine symbolizes Cadillac’s desire to offer the world’s finest limousine.

“I want to convince the limousine industry that Cadillac is tuning up to be as responsive as we possibly can to their needs,” says Grettenberger. This should come as welcome news to both coachbuilders and limousine operators.

Related Topics: Cadillac

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