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Why Cadillac So Often Fails

With the recent news of Cadillac’s plans to axe the ATS, CTS and XTS for a different lineup after 2019 we once again face the question of why did Cadillac have poor sales on its sedans. This seems to be a repeating trend in Cadillac’s history, while the German Big 3 seem to continue their dominance through the decades.

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Sure Audi, BMW and Mercedes have had their faults and made some lame duck models – but what about them makes for a sales success and convinces more people to buy foreign over domestic like Cadillac?

Cadillac Has Never Ditched All Its Cheapness

Despite gorgeous concepts and real models that are very bold and beautiful, when you step into a Cadillac, you are often confronted with things you’d expect in a Chevy. Let’s take a peek inside a Cadillac’s interior and notice all the black shiny plastic and the smudges that go with it, the gear selector that looks like it could be from a Toyota Camry, hard to operate infotainment buttons, and one of the worst infotainment systems in the segment. Ironically, compare this to the 2016 Chevy Impala and you’d think they accidentally mixed up the interiors. The Impala’s interior is layered with different materials, has easy to operate HVAC controls with the displays in the middle, has a wood and leather dash that seems to encompass the driver with simple and clean lines, an easy to use infotainment system, and all from a car that has a $6000 lower MSRP than the Cadillac ATS – both made by the same company.

The same comparison can be said about Cadillac’s main competitors. Each of them have their own unique interior identity that sets the expectations for the driver and delivers on that expectation with a lot fewer compromises than Cadillac’s efforts. Mercedes has wowed consumers with their mini-S Class interior that makes consumers feel like they are driving a much more expensive car. Audi woos you with their virtual cockpit that puts the driver in control and takes advantage of the customizability trend that has worked well in the tech industry. Then there is BMW’s tried and true approach that is well executed and familiar to many who see BMW interiors as a luxury legacy, similar to Porsche and its 911 design.

Cadillac Screwed Up The Automatic Transmission

Say what you will about automatic transmissions, but since the early 2000s, automatic transmissions have gotten fantastic. No longer do they suck tons of power from the drivetrain, shift so slow that you feel like you can’t have fun driving, and no longer are they in competition with the manual - as automatics dominate sales. So, knowing that automatics are important, especially in the luxury sport segment, why did Cadillac do such a poor job tuning it.

Almost every major review out there says that Cadillac does a poor job in programing its transmissions. But again, let’s ironically compare this to Chevy’s efforts with the Corvette and Camaro, as reviewers have repeatedly praised Chevy’s end-results in programming the same automatic transmissions that are featured within the Cadillac lineup. What gives with the lack of cross-collaboration on these efforts within the company? At the same time BMW, Mercedes and Audi have embraced both autos and DCT transmissions and have largely delivered spectacular results that allow their cars to do 0-60 times that are comparable to other cars with less horsepower, while delivering smooth operation in a variety of driving scenarios.

The Pricing of Cadillac Wasn’t On Par For What You Got

Sure, Cadillac did wonders with their Alpha platform that stunned reviewers with its neutral and agile handling, balanced chassis, and supple ride. But it’s not like you couldn’t get those things in other cars. Which leads me back to the previous downfalls that just made people choose what was a higher priority for them. If someone wanted sporty, a decent interior, and good usability, they had the Audi TT, the Mazda MX5, the Audi S3, BMW M235i, Buick Regal GS, and others for around the same MSRP or less. If someone wanted affordable luxury, you had the Mazda 6, Mercedes C300, Lexus IS, or even a base XF. All of these had compromises, but each one of them nailed one of two sides Cadillac tried to split down the middle; Sporty or luxury.

But the compromises Cadillac made, killed its chances at that MSRP. If you wanted sporty car, you desired a driver focused interior that was easy to use and understand, as well as two great transmission options depending on your needs. Cadillac only could deliver the great sporty drive with the manual transmission and that a frustrating interior that was anything but driver focused. If you wanted all out luxury, a Cadillac would give you a car with a chassis you’d never fully utilize and an interior that disappoints. Not to mention you could get a more usable and luxurious car by going down-market in GM’s own catalog to a Chevy or even a Buick.

It’s Their Own Fault For Not Listening, And/Or Not Reacting To That Feedback

If Cadillac wants to make itself into a success in the sedan market, they need to utilize their modular platforms better, and deliver a two-pronged approach; Luxury and sporty within the same model ranges, but not within the trims. They need to listen to reviewers, and listen to their own leaders within their company, as they have the resources and results that Cadillac needs to borrow to get their products in line with expectations. They need to reset their grandiose MSRPs until they have earned their title as American luxury, to get people into cars so they can see what Cadillac can really do. But most of all, they need to react – which seems they might finally be doing with the new line up. But whether these turn into rehashes of their past mistakes or a new direction that is guided by feedback, and their beautiful Escala concept, will be determined with time.

Cadillac also needs to react quickly, as we have two converging trends that are going to upend the market further; the continuing dominance of SUVs and CUVs, and the electric car revolution that will see many automakers scrambling to tackle the EV challenges of batteries, range, charging, weight, cost and safety.

Also see: Cadillac CT5 to Replace CTS, ATS and XTS after 2019

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Gary Whitby (not verified)    July 31, 2017 - 5:58PM

Never mind reviewers and internal bean counters. Cadillac (and GM in general) needs to listen to its customers (those of us that are left) and make cars that people want. Stop boxing people in. Give them options. The V Series 3rd Gen CTS became too pricey and out of the grasp of many that wanted it. And at that roughly 100k price point, those that could have it can also shop for M, S-Line, and AMG cars.

Now please please build an AFFORDABLE performance SEDAN off of Alpha with a V8/manual transmission option to replace the VF Commodore, support it by promoting it properly, and watch what happens... If there is a business case for Dodge Charger Hellcats, then there is a business case for such a car here...

Curtis Hall (not verified)    April 27, 2018 - 12:02PM

In reply to by Gary Whitby (not verified)

I agree with everything you say. Cadillac needs a African American pitchman like Grant Hill or LeBron James. The reason I say is MBZ and BMW have a choke hold on African American consumers. The next generation Escalade has to be good also to overtake the Navigator. Cadillac needs dedicated engines also. Release the Escala with little deviation from the concept (leave the interior the same as the concept also). Make a V Sport version of the XT5. The CTS nameplate needs to remain in the same vein as the BMW 3 series. It’s the nameplate that brought interest back to the Cadillac nameplate (create brand loyalty through the model nameplate).

Thomas C Bradshaw (not verified)    July 31, 2017 - 6:07PM

I have owned more Caddy's than I can count. My current and final Cadillac is a CT6. I agree 100% with your comparison to the new Impala, it is a much nicer car for half the money. The CT6 is, without question, one on the most poorly designed cars I have ever driven and I have driven a lot of cars.

John C Cargill (not verified)    July 31, 2017 - 10:34PM

It wouldn't hurt to make their series easier to figure out. Meaningless and confusing series of letters that change constantly. Mercedes and BMW are more consistent and easier to tell apart. Also a more distinct appearance wouldn't hurt.

Joel (not verified)    August 1, 2017 - 2:22PM

I am Cadillac owner and fan. This brand has only to think about the image and develop that for young people and the fans of mechanics. Please never stop v8 and v6 otherwise better cancelling Cad!

Cary (not verified)    August 1, 2017 - 5:27PM

Here are 3 things Cadillac should do. Hire the guy that rebranded dunkin donuts. Put a mid engine sports car on the market. Focus on the 25 to 35 demographic.

chuck c (not verified)    July 28, 2021 - 9:20PM

In reply to by Curtis (not verified)

your idea is one of the several things that brought down Cadillac
I brought a new one home years aso, the neighbor said "what did you do with the N you stole it from?
The current situation with MB & BMW is subsidized by section 8 housing

Matt Evans (not verified)    April 27, 2018 - 6:53PM

Cadillac(G/M) just fired its head guy after 4 years. Why? Because he was to busy trying to sell Cadillacs to Benz/BMW owners. Those people don't want caddys.

The new guy is Steve Carlisle, a long time G/M guy through and through. Not a Euro wanna be like Johan. Carlisle will bring a more blue collar north American style. Time to lower prices and re-gain the customers that were alienated by high prices that were meant to increase image.

D (not verified)    April 16, 2019 - 2:46PM

Would have traded my 3 series for an ATS 2.0 if the infotainment system wasn't so darn screwed up. Seemed like there were also a lot of reliability issues with it... Would of also jumped on the 3.6 if it came with a 6speed.

henry castro (not verified)    November 20, 2019 - 9:03PM

bought a new awd srx in 2006. for the last 13 years its been serviced by my local cadillac dealer. just found out that the rear differential with 60000 miles on it has failed posssibley caused by a bad center bearing on the rear drive shaft. this bearing is riifgt over the exhaust system and its constructed like a motor mound with rubber sealed to steel and the rubber fails. the engineers at gm have hidden this part in such a way that only an expert mechanic would know to inspect it because of its construction. to add insult to injury you cant but this #75.00 part by itself but for about $1000.00 you get to buy the complete drive assembly front and rear. good marketing gm.

netg (not verified)    March 13, 2022 - 10:57PM

cadillacs suck! My grandma had a late 90's caddy and I had an early 90's lexus. Her car was like a model t compared to mine! The interior was deplorable, just terribly designed! The gauges were like something out of the stone age! When I was told it was a 96 caddy I laughed and said “no way, this thing looks like it’s from the disco era at best!” Road like a boat on rough water too! mind you AGAIN my car was OLDER. With such LOW quality in parts and design of COURSE no one of intelligence buys them! only fanboys do! Just like “harleys” (all american bikes made 90% in china honda shadow has more american parts and hands on it!) they’re a JOKE and of such poor quality I’d rather buy a kia than a caddie! When I see a caddie (or harley) I laugh as I say SUCKER!!!