Nearly ten years after launching the Cadillac CTS and its Art & Science design language as part of a comprehensive, billion-dollar program to once again set the Standard of the World, GM's luxury division boasts three models that are among the best in their segments. Unfortunately, I'm talking about the CTS coupe, CTS sedan and CTS wagon—the unfortunate part being that Cadillac hasn't been able to develop another sustainably successful vehicle in some 10 years of trying.
The late XLR was a strikingly exotic-looking roadster with the kind of performance one would expect from a car built on the same platform as the Chevrolet Corvette, but the fact that the six-figure Cadillac shared a platform with even a vehicle as enthusiast-oriented as the 'Vette somehow turned into a negative for buyers. Combined with GM's lackluster support, the car quickly slipped into obscurity (and out of production).
The division made another worthwhile effort with the Cadillac STS, which is sort of a full-size version of the CTS, but the larger car was never able to escape the shadow of its smaller sibling, again partially because GM wasn't able to provide it with the kind of support it needed to thrive. Yes, it got its own V-series model in 2005, but that was still held up to the example set by the CTS-V and found wanting by the public, and GM really didn't try again. While still on dealer lots, the STS, too, is out of production.
The recently revised Cadillac SRX became a modest hit, but the bloom is already off that rose, too. Powertrain choices that didn't match customer expectations caused some issues, and after a long-ish run of monthly sales increases, the SRX has spent three straight months in the red, capped off by a 27.8 percent decrease in volume in July.
And with this kind of track record, GM recently confirmed/announced two new efforts to develop relevant entries for the Cadillac brand, in the shape of the XTS and ATS. These two cars will "bracket" the CTS, with the former being a full-size flagship and the latter being another attempt to take on the BMW 3 Series.
In other words, if all this new blustering about how new Cadillac products are going to return the division to its past glory sounds familiar, well, that's because it is. It's been going on for decades now, and there have only been two changes worth noting. One is that the CTS actually has become a strong foundation for the future, and the other is that GM's CEO already has admitted the two new Cadillacs aren't going to get the job done.
Especially with the ATS, which is supposed to tackle one of the icons of the industry, Cadillac needs cars that are going to blow the doors off the competition, but that's exactly what GM's Dan Akerson said the new cars won't do.
The New CTS Fighter
Frankly, I can't understand why GM wouldn't put its absolute best foot forward with new Cadillac products, particularly when the automaker just booked $2.5 billion in earnings for the second quarter of the year. The General appears to be reaping a nice amount of cash lately, but its product-development decisions still seem as if they're being constrained by a lack of resources and an overabundance of products on which to spend them.
I could grab the low-hanging fruit here and complain about GM making a heavy investment in full-size trucks instead of using that money to shore up Cadillac, but there's more recent news that better illustrates the problem.
As I've mentioned a few times, the CTS is now pretty well established as a strong choice among midsize premium sport sedans, with a base model that starts at $35,345 for 2011 while packing a 3.0-liter V6 that makes 270 hp and 223 lb.-ft. of torque. Drivers can also up the performance ante by choosing a 3.6-liter V6 that will put out 318 hp/275 lb.-ft. of torque for 2012 and currently has a $41,745 price of admission.
But instead of complementing the CTS with a world-class XTS and/or ATS that would best the BMW 7 and/or 5 Series, GM used its resources on a sport sedan that will surely compete against—and steal customers from—the CTS itself. I'm talking about the Buick Regal GS, barely an inch shorter than the CTS, which was just priced at $34,460 and holsters a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 that makes 270 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. Thus, not only is the Regal GS a little less expensive and a lot torquier than the base CTS, but it's also a lot less expensive and still noticeably torquier than the CTS 3.6.
The Verano Narrows the gap Further
I'd like to believe the XTS will at least manage to stay out of the way of the Buick LaCrosse and Buick Lucerne, since the former should be showcasing a significantly higher MSRP than the latter two. But based on the recent histories of Cadillac and Buick, I'm expecting GM's new premium compacts—the Cadillac ATS and Buick Verano—to have the same type of overlap as the Regal GS and CTS.
As a result, when it comes to divisions, I'm beginning to think four is still a crowd for GM.