“Cadillac (NYSE:GM) is no BMW or Audi.” These words don’t necessarily mean a whole lot — a friendly jab from a brand loyalist to a rival, a comparison of a company against its benchmarks. But when those words are spoken by Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac’s global marketing chief and a former BMW marketing executive, those words suddenly become rather significant.
For years, Cadillac has been held to the standard set by BMW; as the reigning king luxury for the last several years (though Mercedes overtook BMW last year), BMW has been the yardstick to which all other luxury marques are compared to. However, Ellinghaus is now asserting that it’s good that Cadillac differs from the German brands, as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have become “ubiquitous” and “mainstream,” Automotive News quoted him as saying.
Ellinghaus submits that because of the immense popularity of the European trio, Cadillac now has an opportunity to define American luxury for itself, rather than weakly mimicking the German model as it has done in years past.
“None of the German premium manufacturers can any longer afford to offer cars with distinctive styling,” Ellinghaus told Automotive News. “Their volume aspirations are such that they must go mainstream with their major cars.”
However, he added that ”tiny little Cadillac has a higher degree of freedom,” and “we can be a little bolder, a little more distinctive. We have something they do not have.”
This is coming from a guy who spent 15 years working at BMW, and on brand strategy at BMW’s headquarters in Munich, nonetheless. However, Ellinghaus realizes that despite the praise of Cadillac’s new range of products, Germany is ingrained in the minds of luxury shoppers due to years of industry dominance.
Automotive News reports that during the fourth-quarter of 2013, only 4 percent of consumers who searched Edmunds.com for a BMW 3 series cross-shopped it with a Cadillac ATS, which didn’t even fall within the top ten vehicles that were most commonly compared to BMW’s immensely popular sedan.
“I think people tend to say, ‘I like Cadillac’s cars and I know that they are better than ever,’” Ellinghaus said. “‘But will it send the right signal to my peers if I’m seen driving in one?’ This driver imagery is an important consideration.”
However, there is still a significant number of luxury shoppers looking for something different and out of the ordinary, the niche that Ellinghaus is hoping Cadillac can help fill. Jim Sanfilippo, a marketing consultant and former executive at the ad agencies for Ford and Hyundai, agrees with Ellinghaus and points to the popularity of the Tesla Model S.
“But it will require Cadillac to convey a message that’s authentic and gives a very clear definition of exactly who they are,” Sanfilippo told Automotive News. “Right now, consumers have to walk past BMW and Mercedes and Audi and sometimes Lexus and Infiniti before they get to Cadillac. That’s a long walk.”