Who's in charge at Cadillac?

Another exec out, leaving dealers in limbo yet again

Cadillac has been hurt by a 20 percent slide in sales of the ATS compact sedan this year through May.

Early this year, the chairman of the Cadillac National Dealer Council said dealers “desperately” wanted the brand’s leadership team to settle in after a revolving door of sales and marketing executives and an advertising agency switch.

“We’re ready for some stability,” California Cadillac dealer Howard Drake told Automotive News.

So much for that.

Last week, Cadillac’s U.S. sales chief, Bill Peffer, left abruptly after less than 10 months in the job, the third head of sales to leave in two years.

His departure comes amid uncertainty over who is running Cadillac, and amid a U.S. sales slowdown following a heady 2013 that had the brand poised to begin closing the sales gap on luxury leaders BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.

Bob Ferguson, GM’s former top lobbyist who has been Cadillac’s global brand chief since October 2012, has been spending much of his time in Washington, helping to steer GM’s response to its ignition switch recall.

“The last two times I’ve seen Bob, he’s been sitting behind Mary Barra while she testifies” before congressional committees, says another member of Cadillac’s dealer council, who didn’t want to be identified. “It looks like he’s gone back to lobbying.”

GM insiders say that Ferguson is likely to leave his Cadillac post for good and return to Washington, where GM’s top public-policy post remains vacant. A GM spokesman declined to comment on whether Ferguson is being considered for that job.

In anticipation of a Ferguson departure from Cadillac, influential dealers are encouraging GM brass to consider big-name luxury brand chiefs who have proven track records in building global brands, dealer sources say.

Ferguson was picked to run Cadillac by former GM CEO Dan Akerson, who created the global position to assign accountability for Cadillac’s growth in the U.S. market and overseas, especially in China. Ferguson had reported directly to Akerson.

Under CEO Mary Barra’s administration, Ferguson now reports to President Dan Ammann, who has responsibility for Cadillac globally.

GM says Peffer,43, is leaving to “pursue other interests.” He departs as Cadillac sales cool, following a year in which U.S. deliveries jumped 22 percent to 182,543 units, leading Cadillac to bill itself as the industry’s “fastest-growing full-line luxury brand.” Through May, Cadillac sales slipped 2 percent, well off the pace to hit Ferguson’s forecast for this year of at least 10 percent U.S. sales growth.

Cadillac has been hurt by a 20 percent slide in sales of the ATS compact sedan this year through May.

In an April interview, Peffer acknowledged that competition in that critical segment had stiffened with the debut of compact entries such as the Mercedes-Benz CLA and the Audi A3.

Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of sales operations, who was Cadillac’s sales chief from March 2010 until mid-2012, will serve as Cadillac’s interim head of sales.

You can reach Mike Colias at autonews@crain.com

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