Why GM means business with the Cadillac ATS

Mark Reuss acknowledged that GM could have decided to build the ATS on the same platform that underpins the CTS.

DETROIT -- In the past, General Motors has tried and failed to transform Cadillac into a global luxury player on par with the German stalwarts. So what's different this time?

GM execs have fielded that question a lot lately, since CEO Dan Akerson began touting the goal early last year. The execs gave their most convincing answer last night at the unveiling of Cadillac's ATS luxury compact sedan.

Here are three pieces of evidence that make it clear GM is serious about its pursuit of the German luxury brands:

1. Cadillac will offer a diesel ATS sometime during the car's first generation, GM North America President Mark Reuss said last night.

2. The car was developed with right-hand-drive availability for an eventual foray into Europe, where Cadillac was on pace to sell fewer than 1,000 vehicles last year.

3. The ATS has a new rear-wheel-drive platform engineered for performance, a must in the luxury compact segment.

We already knew the new platform, but it speaks volumes about how serious GM is taking its go-global strategy.

Reuss acknowledged that GM could have decided to build the ATS on the same platform that underpins the CTS, Cadillac's slightly larger sedan. Or it could have tweaked another of its rwd architectures to make it a luxury performance platform.

But that would have been Old GM thinking, Reuss implied.

"Such a vehicle would never become the car to finally challenge the German cars at their own game and win," he said.

The fact that Reuss, GM's highest-ranking car guy, made the ATS his pet project is perhaps most telling about the company's ambitions. His hand in the car's development included multiple test laps around the famed Nurburgring race track in Germany. He declares the car's steering "one of the most precise systems I've ever driven."

Whether the ATS lives up to Reuss' lofty expectations remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: GM is making a serious run at the Germans this time.

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