Cadillac Plans Roadsters in 2002

Friday, August 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) — The Cadillac division of General Motors Corp. will re-enter the market for expensive roadsters in 2002 with a version of its Evoq concept car, as part of its effort to regain prominence among luxury car buyers around the world.

Cadillac announced Friday it would build a roadster based on the Evoq for the 2003 model year that would share pieces of the next version of the Chevrolet Corvette. It also unveiled a restyled 2002 Escalade sport utility vehicle that aims to separate itself from GM's other SUVs by adopting some of the Evoq look.

The moves are the first tangible results from Cadillac's drive to revamp its cars and trucks by adding more style and power in hopes of luring back buyers who rate GM's luxury brand a step below competitors from other continents.

``We certainly have some terrific heritage and myths around our brand that mean a lot to customers,'' said Cadillac general manager Michael J. O'Malley. ``But if you look at how we stack up to competitors, we still have a ways to go.''

For the past 25 years, Cadillac has seen its banner fade as other automakers did a better job of keeping up with changing customer tastes.

In 1976, 51 percent of the luxury vehicles sold in the United States were Cadillacs. So far this year, it holds 13 percent of the U.S. market for luxury cars and trucks, according to Jacobs & Associates.

Most of the ground lost has gone to its European and Asian companies. Last year, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus outsold Cadillac, in part because Cadillac was rolling out a new version of the DeVille sedan. This year, Lincoln and Mercedes were ahead of Cadillac through July, but only 4,000 vehicles separated the three brands.

Those same brands are fighting for a share of the global market for luxury vehicles, estimated to be 4 million a year and growing.

More menacing is Ford Motor Co.'s Premier Automotive Group — the team of Lincoln, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin that Ford CEO Jac Nasser considers vital to his company's future.

Nasser has set a target of more than 1 million vehicles a year worldwide from PAG by 2004 — up from 861,000 last year.

O'Malley said leading a sales title was less important than having a name that stood for the right attributes in customers' minds.

``There is a latent ... feeling by an awful lot of customers out there for Cadillac to do well,'' he said. ``This direction we're taking is incredibly right on with our brand character, and with our heritage and it resonates with our customers.''

Cadillac's attempts to stand out have been constrained in the past by GM's spending limits.

Most Cadillac cars share a front-wheel drive platform with other GM models, while most of its competitors offer rear-wheel drive. Its only rear-wheel drive model today is the Catera, a German-built sedan that was supposed to lure in younger buyers, but has failed to meet sales targets.

One major problem: The $33,000 Catera has as much horsepower as the $22,000 Honda Accord V6 sedan. Catera sales are up sharply this year, but Cadillac has been running a special lease offer.

``I think Cadillac is really struggling to bring in a newer kind of buyer,'' said Wes Brown, an analyst with Nextrend. ``That leaves you with the 60-year-olds.''

The roadster, which has yet to be given a name, would compete with vehicles like the $71,500 Jaguar XKR and the $82,600 Mercedes-Benz SL 500. Only a few thousand would be sold a year.

The last time Cadillac offered a roadster was in 1993, when it stopped building the Allante. Critics contended the Allante was a regular Cadillac with an expensive Italian shell.

The new roadster will be built in Bowling Green, Ky., alongside the Corvette. Cadillac released a few details about the car.

It will have a 4.6 liter V8 engine driving the rear wheels, a 5-speed automatic transmission and an interior designed by Italian jeweler Bvlgari.

Brown said the roadster would be the car Cadillac needed ``that made people go `Wow!' You might have a few people that go `Yuck!', but you need something to stop people in their tracks.''

The 2002 Escalade is a revamp of the quickie knockoff of the GMC Denali that Cadillac came up with in 1998 to stop the flow of former Cadillac owners to Lincoln Navigators.

Despite its obvious similarities to GMC and Chevrolet SUVs, the $46,000 Escalade has performed well.

The version going on sale early next year has a more angular look than any other SUV on the road, let alone its GMC and Chevrolet brothers. It also gets an engine exclusive — a 6-liter V8 that churns out 345 horsepower — and electronic stability control.

The roadster and the Escalade are the first in several new products coming within a few years for Cadillac.

A reworked Catera and rear-wheel-drive Seville, both with Evoq-like styling, as well as a version of the Chevrolet Avalanche four-door pickup are up next.

And GM has been considering bringing back a 12-cylinder engine as a Cadillac option. O'Malley said no decision had been made about building a V12.