Cadillac, Lincoln rebound will depend on product

For most of the last 50 years, Cadillac and Lincoln were America's favorite luxury brands. But through July this year Lincoln is fourth and Cadillac fifth in sales behind Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

2001 Management Briefing Seminars index
Despite the plunge in sales, most people attending the Management Briefing Seminars say the two domestic brands can regain their luster.

Joe Magliochetti, chairman of Dana Corp., sees General Motors' hiring of Bob Lutz, and Wolfgang Reitzle's presence at Ford Motor Co. as being pivotal in the revival of the luxury brands. Both need to generate more excitement, and Magliochetti believes Lutz and Reitzle are the right men to lead the way.

"Bob Lutz coming on board, as well as the work that's being done by Wolfgang Reitzle at Ford, really is intended to stimulate more enthusiasm for the full range of premium vehicles. And I think that's going to be a pretty positive end result, beneficial for the buying public," Magliochetti said.

A number of people said Cadillac and Lincoln have to shed the image as an "old man's" car before they can expect to be given consideration by younger buyers.

"I think the key is how the new (Cadillac) CTS is received," said Merl Truman, labor supervisor at GM's new Lansing Grand River Plant, where the new Cadillac will be built this fall. He worries that consumers won't give it a chance.

"The sad thing is the quality that comes out of this plant will be by far the best quality for Cadillac ever. If the CTS doesn't have a significant impact, than God knows it may be a long time or never … before it recovers," he said.

Bob Oswald, retired CEO of Robert Bosch Corp., cites the CTS and the Lincoln LS as proof that GM and Ford are making progress.

"I have to believe they're sensitive to the idea of reclaiming their positions, and that's why we're seeing the new products, the LS and the CTS. It takes good product to compete. The fact that we're seeing these models says to me that they're on their way," Oswald said.

Cadillac and Lincoln won't regain luxury leadership as long they build giant old-style cars such as the DeVille and Town Car, said Dan Slater, manufacturing group president of RWD Technologies. "Both brands needs to improve their engineering and design and go for a European look. They should be more like BMW."

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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