Cadillac tries to overcome walk-on status

UPDATED: 4/2/13 4:30 pm ET - adds March results

When I was in college, I walked onto the football team. It didn't take long for me to grasp a cold reality: I couldn't just be as good as the scholarship players, who already had the reputation and name recognition. To get the coaches' attention, I had to be better.

That's where Cadillac is today in its quest to play on the same field with the German luxury brands.

And today's March sales report certainly helped: Cadillac's U.S. sales rose 50 percent last month compared with the same month last year.

"We know we need to sort of over-achieve on the performance side to break through the imagery, the false image of Cadillac that still lingers in the minds of some consumers," Hampden Tener, Cadillac's product director, said on the sidelines of the New York auto show last week.

Opinions may vary on the wisdom of Cadillac's beat-the-Germans strategy. But it's hard to accuse General Motors of not trying.

The redesigned 2014 CTS, unveiled last week, appears to be a leap forward on the performance scale. It's longer and lower to enhance handling. It sheds weight from the current model -- GM claims it'll be the lightest mid-sized luxury sedan, about 200 pounds lighter than a comparably equipped BMW 528i.

GM is dropping a new, 420 horsepower 3.6-liter twin turbo engine into a performance CTS, Vsport, that it claims will cover 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds.

The next-gen CTS rollout in late fall will follow last year's debut of the ATS compact, built from scratch on a lightweight platform that now underpins the redesigned CTS. Plenty of reviewers have concluded that the ATS rivals the BMW 3 series -- not just a scholarship player, but the MVP of the compact luxury segment.

And Tener says Cadillac remains as committed as ever to its V-Series, the high performance line that played a big role in getting people to take the brand seriously again after debuting nearly a decade ago.

For Cadillac's sake, I hope its quest to beat BMW, Mercedes and Audi goes better than my college football career. I never sniffed the field.

You can reach Mike Colias at

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