L.A. offers sobering reality check for Cadillac

LOS ANGELES -- When I arrived here for a work trip this week -- my first visit to L.A. in about seven years -- I expected to see a lot of Hondas and Toyotas clogging this city's infamously congested freeways.

And I did. But I was more struck by the hordes of luxury imports prowling the roads of west L.A. The streets were thick with BMWs. Audis. Jaguars. Mercedes.

Granted, I spent most of my time in the ultra-affluent areas around Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Malibu (celebrity sighting: Mel Gibson!). At times it seemed that every other car was a BMW or an Audi. (Gibson's was a Lexus.)

But I also saw something that might surprise you: Lots of Cadillacs. Shiny new ones. All XTS sedans.

Behind the wheel of each XTS: one of my peer automotive writers on Cadillac's national XTS media launch.

Other than that, Cadillacs were few and far between.

It was an in-your-face reminder to Caddy executives of the uphill battle that General Motors' luxury brand faces as it mounts its latest bid to wrest back the market share it lost over the past two decades, mostly to German rivals.

GM design chief Ed Welburn introduced the 2013 Cadillac XTS in Los Angeles late last year. Photo credit: Dan MacMedan

The first arrow in Cadillac's quiver is the XTS, a stylish large sedan with abundant technology that handles more nimbly than its predecessors. Later this summer, the ATS sports sedan hits showrooms, debuting GM's new rear-wheel-drive platform.

Few doubt that these entries represent a much more serious effort by Cadillac than the days of the Catera. But are they enough to get Cadillac on the radar of even a small slice of L.A.'s import owners? We'll see.

Cadillac marketing chief Don Butler relishes the challenge. During a stop along our drive, at a Malibu state park perched over the Pacific, I noted the glut of luxury import metal on L.A.'s roads. No shortage of conquest opportunities, eh?

Butler smiled: "It's gonna be fun."

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