Whither Cadillac?

No, Whither Cadillac is not the name of a Cadillac dealer. On this day in 1909, a relatively new company—General Motors—purchased the Cadillac Automobile Company. Cadillac was already an established maker of luxury automobiles. For example, the company earned a major distinction in 1908 when it became the first US automaker to be awarded the prestigious Dewar Trophy, which was presented the Royal Automobile Club of the United Kingdom.

To me, Cadillac seems lost. An old joke in the US car biz went like this:


Q: What is the average age of a Cadillac buyer?

A: Dead


Cadillac management has made an effort to attract younger buyers, but most young US car buyers seem uninterested. Here are Cadillac US sales and market share for 2015-2018:


2015 175,267 1.00%
2016 170,006 0.97%
2017 156,440 0.91%
2018 154,702 0.89%


You think that looks bad, look at where US Cadillac sales/share were 30-ish years ago:


1987 261,284 1.76%
1988 266,548 1.73%
1989 266,899 1.84%
1990 258,168 1.87%


The 0.89% market share for 2018 is the lowest since at least 1985, probably longer. By the way, all of this data comes from carsalesbase.com.

HOWEVER, Cadillac is making huge inroads in China. Take a look:


2015 53,086 0.26%
2016 111,532 0.47%
2017 172,832 0.71%
2018 228,043 0.98%


Yes, China should “play fair” and not steal intellectual property, etc. However, US car companies can hardly ignore the Chinese market, which is only the largest car market in the world. Note that Cadillac sold more vehicles in China than in the US in 2018. Remember, too, that it was Buick’s success in China that saved it from the chopping block in the GM bankruptcy/reorganization of 2009 while Pontiac was consigned to the scrap heap with better US sales than Buick.

Not being 30-ish myself I don’t know why Cadillac doesn’t resonate with that demographic. For me, though, the cars seem boring, which doesn’t mean they are boring. Of course, I am not a typical car purchaser. I do think the three-character naming convention for models is awful, though. CTS, XTS, ATS, XT-4…who the hell can remember what is what?! I don’t know whether that idiosyncrasy negatively affects sales.

From cars.usnews.com a picture of a Cadillac ATS two-door coupe:


See the source image


The ATS used to be offered in both 4-door and 2-door versions, but sales have slumped and rumors abound the model itself will be discontinued. Cadillac does offer a “V” spec for the ATS, powered by a 3.6 liter twin-turbo V6 producing 464 HP/445 LB-FT of torque and available with either an 8-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual. (Does anyone else think it’s very ironic that Cadillac offers cars with manual transmissions, but Ferrari and Lamborghini don’t?) From their peak at about 38,000 sold in 2013 US ATS sales have declined every year since reaching a very low number of under 11,000 in 2018.

I would very much like to read your thoughts on Cadillac. Given their increase in Chinese sales, does it matter how well they do in the US so long as they continue to build cars for this market? (The Chinese consumer would probably drop Cadillac quickly if it became an orphan make in the US.)






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6 thoughts on “Whither Cadillac?

  1. I despise that alpha-numeric naming on cars almost everyone uses now. U.S. manufacturers starting doing it aping Mercedes-Benz. • In recent months GM sacked the Cadillac division manager primarily because he was focusing on sedans rather than on SUVs. He was developing a very controversial plan to pare back the number of dealers – weeding underperforming dealers from the network. There was a lot of pressure on GM from the dealers over this. One upshot of all of this is Cadillac seems to be groping to establish a successful business model for the U.S. market – and failing to find that model. How the mighty can fall! I think you are right that if Cadillac fails in the home market, it will falter in China as well.


  2. I have a bit of an affinity for Cadillac as I grew up in Cadillacs. My father always had a late model, not new, Cadillac when I was young. His first new one may have been, I’m thinking 1978. He preferred the Fleetwood Brougham model… He had a ’57 and ’58 that had been handed down from his father in law, my grandfather. My grandparents died in ’62 so the next one dad had was a ’64, then a ’68, a ’70, ’74, then the new ’78… at some point dad switched to Mercedes Benz which was what he had always wanted, but couldn’t afford. I remember when he got the ’68 Caddy, he had to have the garage door moved out a foot or so as it was so long… and, it had an 8 track player… we’d run the battery down sitting in the car in the garage, listening to my first 8 track, In A Gadda Da Vida. Anyway, I’d love to have a ’57 or ’58 like he had. Those old ones were black, too. Something about a black ’57 Caddy… anyway, I realize you’re talking about more recent history, but, I thought I’d take the opportunity to stroll down memory lane…


    1. Thanks, Carl. Actually, I wasn’t limiting myself to recent history, but the sales data only goes back to 1985.

      I really like the Cadillacs from 1949-1956—before the fins got too wild, but with the modern V-8.


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