In the years just before and after World War II, a Cadillac was one of the best performance cars on the market. By 1950, they were so good that a very lightly modified stock Cadillac finished in 10th place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, humbling many more exotic cars, and deeply impressing the Europeans. Cadillac engines appeared in European performance cars like the Allard. Cadillac cars were advertised as the “Standard Of The World,” a defensible claim.
In the mid-‘60s, Car & Driver Magazine tested and ranked the world’s best cars and found that a Cadillac was second only to the rare, super costly and complicated Mercedes-Benz 600. Starting in the ‘70s, it all went haywire. The U.S. government decided to regulate cars for smog, safety and economy. General Motors was particularly graceless in the modifications it made to its cars. Over the years Cadillac, which had absolutely “owned” the premium car business, saw its sales drop. They were surpassed by the German trio Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, and the Japanese Lexus, Infiniti and Acura.
Earlier in this decade, GM product planners, inspired by product czar Bob Lutz, started to re-invigorate Cadillac. The best result to date is this month’s test car, the Cadillac CTS-V coupe. This car goes up against another German trio, the four-seater coupes from those same three German brands. While the Cadillac hasn’t surpassed them, this newest car can definitely run in the same company. Cadillac is to be commended for developing a unique design language – they call it Art and Science – and sticking with it, and refining it over recent years. This latest coupe is distinctly American in flavor, bold and flamboyant, but still tasteful.
The brands that eclipsed Cadillac have chipped away for twenty to fifty years, edging upward slightly each year, according to their long-term strategic plan. For Cadillac to truly reestablish itself will require the same sort of steady, long-term approach.
Unfortunately, Cadillac is getting a little ahead of itself by once again advertising “Standard of the World.” Here’s what’s missing to substantiate that claim:
1. Sales – Cadillac is outsold in its home market by Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz;
2. Cadillac sells almost no cars outside the U.S. because no one other than Americans want them;
3. European brands including Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls Royce and Bentley are sought after and sold in most countries around the world. Mercedes, Audi and BMW each sell about a million cars per year worldwide. Cadillac sells fewer than 200,000, almost all in one country.
So to suggest that Cadillac is the “Standard of the World” is simply not true.