- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. Cadillac, seeking to break out of its graying buyer base, showed off its new SRX car-SUV luxury crossover vehicle Tuesday, with styling that radically reinterprets the classic fins-and-flash look.

Built with a carlike unibody but featuring the higher profile of an SUV, it splits the difference between car and light truck. Its seats are three inches higher than a luxury sedan's, three inches below an SUV's.

It also incorporates a new take on the Cadillac's cutting-edge designs of the 1950s with their huge fins and arrowlike outline. In place of fins, the SRX has stacked lights to the front and rear and angular panels. It also incorporates the nameplate's redesigned grille.

The 2004-model SRX will carry a sticker price of $40,000 to $50,000 when it goes on sale in mid-2003, officials of the General Motors Corp. division said at the vehicle's unveiling here.

The SRX is based on the 2001 Vizon concept car and is designed to plug a hole in Cadillac's lineup between cars and its larger Escalade SUV. It will come with a V-6 or V-8 Northstar engine and rear- or all-wheel drive.

"You've got the performance characteristics that are like you're in a premium sedan," said Cadillac General Manager Mark LaNeve. "This product is perfect for the job that needs to get done."

When the SRX hits showrooms next summer, it will compete with a number of other luxury crossover vehicles, including the Lexus RX 300, BMW X5, Acura MDX and Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Midmarket car-SUV hybrids such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CRV have been around for a while. More recently, luxury brands have been building their own niche.

"It's a relatively new market segment that's making an impact," said analyst Wes Brown of Nextrend in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Many analysts ourselves included feel [it] is going to explode."

Crossovers have carlike comfort and handling with the perception of safety offered by the higher seating of an SUV.

The SRX shares a distinctive look that first showed up in Cadillac's Escalade SUV and was fully realized in the new CTS sedan. Like the CTS, the SRX will be built at GM's new Lansing Grand River plant.

Cadillac also showed off another, pricier and more limited production vehicle Tuesday. The XLR is a luxury roadster based on the Corvette chassis that is expected to sell for well over $60,000. It also will debut in mid-2003 as a 2004 model.

With the SRX, XLR and other new-look vehicles, Cadillac is consciously telling younger car buyers that it wants their business, too, Mr. LaNeve said. He acknowledged that getting people under 50 into Cadillacs won't be easy.

"For a lot of people, Cadillac isn't even on the radar screen," the brand's general manager said. "It's a long-term project."

Mr. Brown said Cadillac seems to be taking the steps it needs to appeal to more style-conscious buyers who don't yet hold AARP cards but do have lots of money in the bank.

"The baby boomers, Gen-X and Gen-Y we are much more conscious of how we look and what we buy," the analyst said.

GM executives know they will have to work long and hard to overcome the dowdy image that Cadillac now holds for younger buyers and to reposition Cadillac as "a true global luxury brand," he said.

"They recognize that this is a decade-long process at least," Mr. Brown said.

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