- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

Many years ago, I wrote several stories hailing a Cadillac turnaround. After years of sales and image decline, Cadillac was coming back, I concluded, based on the gorgeous 1992 Seville which had just been introduced. Boy, was I wrong. Cadillac continued its downward spiral.

I'm now gun-shy to declare another Cadillac turnaround, though signs suggest one is in the works.

Cadillac's downslide accelerated in the 1980s when GM shrunk and de-powered Cadillac cars and introduced the ill-fated Cimarron, a gussied-up Chevy Cavalier. Traditional Cadillac customers rejected the smaller cars, while baby boomers flocked to European and Japanese imports. Added power and redesigns, apparent in the 1992 Seville, led to a short-lived sales uptick, but Cadillac's image still sagged. Finally, Cadillac, which had held the top sales spot for luxury vehicles for decades, dropped behind crosstown rival Lincoln and later fell further in the rankings below import marques.

Cadillac appears on the upswing again, however. General Motors finally has focused on its flagship luxury division, which turns 100 this year. It is pouring money $4 billion over the next few years into new products exclusive to Cadillac. Further, Cadillac has charted a clear course. All vehicles, which include not only cars but also trucks, sport utilities and things in between, are designed and engineered to fit Cadillac's Arts & Science philosophy. Two prevailing themes stand out in Cadillac's illustrious history: It often is first to introduce new technology and it is renowned for avant-garde styling, epitomized by the exaggerated tailfins of the 1950s.

The 1999 Evoq concept sports car illustrated the new direction. Laden with technology, the Evoq sported edgy styling, now featured on new Cadillacs. I find the new theme lacking the grace of Cadillacs past, yet it stands out in a crowd and is catching on in some circles.

"Three or four years ago, this was a huge bet," acknowledges Jim Taylor, a GM executive charged with developing Cadillacs. But the gamble seems to be paying off. Cadillac sales so far this year are up 10 percent 24 percent in April alone, said Cadillac General Manager Mark LeNeve. "The Escalade helped us crack the code for attracting new buyers," Mr. LeNeve said. The first Escalade was essentially a Chevy Tahoe with an aggressive grille. The 2002 Escalade adopts the entire Arts & Science theme. Buyers include young, urban people, including high-profile hip-hop stars.

Cadillac recently added the Escalade EXT, a sport utility with a pickup bed based on the Chevrolet Avalanche. Arriving this fall, another Escalade variant called the Escalade ESV is a long-wheelbase sport utility based on the Chevrolet Suburban.

Similarly, the 2002 CTS, introduced earlier this year, appears to be a hit. Replacing the Catera, the CTS is the first car to fully embody the Arts & Science philosophy. It is also the first vehicle to ride on GM's new rear-wheel-drive world platform called Sigma, which will be exclusive to Cadillac. Riding on the same Sigma platform will be the SRX, recently introduced to the press and on sale next spring. Based loosely on the Vizon concept car, the SRX ("sporty, reconfigurable crossover") is a performance-oriented sport wagon or sport utility based on the CTS to compete against vehicles such as the BMW X5, only with more function such as seven-passengerive seating. Also going into production in 2003 will be the XLR sports car, based on the Chevrolet Corvette and fashioned after the Evoq.

Meantime, a new Seville, which also uses the CTS' Sigma platform, is under development for 2004. A redesigned DeVille is planned for middecade, though debate rages as to whether it should remain front-wheel drive or shift to rear-drive like everything else. Numerous products from a supercar such as the Cien show car, a convertible CTS and performance variants of models in the vein of Mercedes-Benz's AMG or BMW's M Editions are being considered. At the same time, Cadillac is weeding out the old. The Eldorado disappears after this year's production run.

While hopes are high with Cadillac's recent U.S. sales resurgence, company officials are disappointed with Cadillac sales overseas. They say the true measure of Cadillac's turnaround will be when Cadillacs are the hit of Paris, London, Frankfurt and Tokyo, in the back yards of their most forspectmidable competitors.

Maybe that's when I'll be ready to declare a Cadillac turnaround as well.


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