Our former Operations Manager drives a Cadillac STS. “Big deal” you say, but it’s a very big deal. Chris is a 40-something automotive connoisseur, and his past rides have typically originated from Sweden, with a long line of super sanitary restored Musclecars. He hails from a family of RISD trained, cutting edge product design types, and again, they tend to favor the tidy offerings from Saab and Volvo. So, for Chris to risk ridicule at the Thanksgiving table for owning a Cadillac is a tantamount to an automotive sea change. But, no one in the family finds fault with Chris’ recent choice of steed. Make no mistake, we are witnessing a minor miracle in the making. A total about face in Cadillac’s corporate zeitgeist, market perception and product line – and that’s a wonderful thing
Fifty years ago, Cadillac proudly proclaimed itself “Standard of the World” and that claim was not idle boast. In 1912, Cadillac won the prestigious Dewar Trophy for manufacturing excellence. At a time when most automobiles were painstakingly hand assembled with considerable custom fitment and component rework – several production Cadillacs were completely dismantled, their parts co-mingled and the cars reassembled with no rework allowed to any of the components. These cars were then driven 500 miles each with no mechanical failures of any kind. A stunning achievement – It spoke to Cadillac’s impressive levels of production accuracy, manufacturing process control and standardization. Mind you, this achievement coming long before the era of advanced metallurgy, CNC machining and Demming inspired total quality management.
For 50 years hence, Cadillac was known as an engineering, quality and design leader, with innovative features such as electric starting, automatic transmissions and some of the most exuberant Harley Earl inspired styling the world has ever known. In those days, a Cadillac in the driveway signified financial wherewithal, social standing and prestige. A Cadillac was truly something special.
The party came to an abrupt end in the 1970s and 80s, as a succession of Middle East oil embargoes catalyzed a precipitous rise in fuel prices. Cadillac responded with a series of engineering fiascoes such as the V8-6-4, Diesel Seville, and the Cavalier based Cimarron. Cadillac compensated for the poor engineering with over the top baroque styling intended to evoke the past glory days. Again, they missed the mark – so that by the 1980’s the only people voluntarily driving Caddies were the white belt/white shoe Florida crowd and the, ahem, “urban adult entertainment managers” with names like Huggy Bear and Sweet Lou. We actually owned a 1982 Coupe DeVille, and it was, speaking bluntly, a piece of utter vehicular excrement. Grim times indeed.
A decade later, automotive sophisticates like Chris are returning to the Cadillac marque. In this hyper competitive global economy, very few companies get the mulligan – and Cadillac is determined to stay in the game this time.
Whether or not Caddy has regained the title of “standard of the world” is debatable, but there’s no denying that the swagger is back. 13 years after it’s introduction, the world class Northstar DOHC 32v V8 remains fresh, potent and competitive. We recently enjoyed some extended seat time in a Northstar powered DeVille and the car positively ate up the Midwestern miles at a refined, leisurely and feloniously illegal 125 MPH plus. The V Series of performance cars is boisterous and pretty darned exciting – all boasting a sub 5 second dash to 60. While the flagship XLR has yet to achieve sales projections, the CTS is selling briskly and the SRX and Escalade SUVs are market leaders. The “Art and Science” design motif is a polarizing, like-it-or-hate-it look, but certainly less controversial than Chris Bangle’s “flame surfacing” styling at BMW. Heck, we even get a Led Zeppelin flavored ad campaign to remind us that Caddy is sincere about wooing the 40 year old market.
We are serious car people – and our peer group is largely comprised of serious car people too. Cadillac has begun to get our attention, our interest and our dollars. The management team at GM has been pummeled recently by the press, but they deserve some props for the about face at Cadillac. Once again, Cadillac is an aspirational brand for car lovers – a sure sign that all is right in the automotive world.