More than 100 years old, GM is an old dog that can still perform new tricks. Consider the CTS series. With this family of vehicles, GM Cadillac is making impressive gains in the compact luxury car segment. Dan Harvey gets behind the wheel for this report.
Cadillac of General Motors has motored into a fast-growth renaissance period, in large part because of its willingness to shift gears.
Flash back several decades ago, when the Cadillac brand conjured images of the largest, most luxurious cars. That’s what customers wanted, and Cadillac demonstrated less than no interest in producing smaller vehicles. That was a viable business strategy back in the 1960s and 1970s, but times have changed. In the new millennium, new rules govern the automotive industry and traditional approaches could turn a car manufacturer into a dinosaur.
But GM-Cadillac adapted to the new environment. The automaker is thriving again. It’s not so much a rebirth as it is regeneration. The ever evolving company likes to call it renaissance. But whatever term you prefer, this much is evident: GM-Cadillac successfully responded to market demands with its CTS models – mid-sized cars that come in three body styles (sedan, coupe and sports wagon). Brian Corbett, Cadillac’s communications manager describes the impact: “We’re the fastest growing luxury brand in America, and one of the reasons is that our CTS product family has been a smash.”
Indeed, GM-Cadillac emerged from the darkness of the economic “nuclear winter” in strong fashion. In recent years, the company witnessed a significant sales jump – from 110,000 units (2009 figures) to close to 150,000 (2010), relates Corbett.
The CTS product was launched in 2007 with a sedan. The coupe and sports wagon models soon followed. Further, GM-Cadillac turbocharged the series with its CTS-V series (also including sedan, coupe and wagon). “Right now, all of those models are the focal point of Cadillac’s brand image – luxury, dramatic design and top-notch performance,” says Corbett. “It’s the exciting centerpiece to an exciting renaissance.”
NEW ROAD LEADS TO LANSING
GM-Cadillac’s reinvigoration is underscored by what’s going on at its Lansing, Mich. plant. “Lansing Grand River [LGR] represents one of the newest automotive production facilities in the United States,” says Scott Whybrew, the Grand River plant manager.
In late 2010, GM made a $190 million investment in LGR to produce its new, compact-sized luxury cars. Models are slotted below the Cadillac CTS and compete with models found in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series. Obviously, the investment was well received in Lansing. “We’ve been in this community for more than 100 years,” says Whybrew. “The investment reaffirmed that GM was back and that it was expanding into another area of the luxury market segment. It’s good for Lansing and great for Michigan that this vehicle came to LGR.”
The investment will create a second shift and 600 jobs at the Grand River facility. It also underscores the company’s renewed strength. It brings the total of new GM U.S. investments up to more than $3.1 billion. Further, GM has created or retained 7,900 jobs at its 21 U.S. plants since rising up from bankruptcy in July 2009.
Constructed in 1999 and opened in 2001, LGR is GM’s second-newest U.S. assembly plant. It measures 2.5 million square feet, located on 111 acres, and it is designed around GM’s Global Manufacturing System (GMS) and focuses on maximum performance in safety, people, systems, quality, customer responsiveness, cost and environment. With the new investment, the plant will have more than 1,000 employees after the second shift is added. “The investment gave us a new body shop and a remodeled paint shop, and it enabled us to reuse everything in our general assembly area,” says Whybrew. “Plus, the new smaller Cadillac series takes our production volume up from 70,000 units to 140,000. We’re very excited about what’s going on.”
General Motors is one of the world’s largest automakers. It’s also one of the oldest, with roots going as far back as 1908. Headquartered in Detroit, Mich., the company and its partners produce vehicles in at least 31 countries. Besides Cadillac, its brands include Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC, among others. “We are a large, global company but our mission is simple: to design, build and sell the world’s best vehicles,” says Whybrew.
The CTS family has been applauded throughout the industry and in the automotive press for its groundbreaking design and outstanding performance. These attributes garnered it numerous awards. “In 2011, we received the Car and Driver’s 10 Best award for the CTS-V series,” says Corbett.
In fact, GM’s CTS models have made that 10 Best list for three straight years. Also, earlier this year LGR received the J.D. Power and Associates Bronze Plant Award for initial quality.
Whybrew describes how Cadillac’s new vehicles came about: “Several years ago, we got back to our foundation, which involves reacting to what the customer truly wants. We took feedback from consumers and turned that into the designs that you see today.”
But the company doesn’t just want to be competitive. “We want to win,” says Corbett. “That means winning new customers and keeping the customers that we have. We’re going after some younger customers, and looking to get a higher percentage of the highly educated and the professional consumer segments.”
Adds: Whybrew: “The better the design and the better the quality built into the vehicle, the more customers we’ll capture.”
He’s confident that will happen, and he explains why: “Our employees are highly trained, and we couldn’t create the CTS models with such high quality without our people. True, success requires a great process – and that we have – and a great product. But at the heart of the entire system are the people, and the care that they put into each vehicle that we ship from our facilities.”