DETROIT -- General Motors global product chief Mark Reuss said that a large luxury sedan being developed for Cadillac will "define its brand" and is a prerequisite to competing against rivals BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus.
"If we're a serious luxury carmaker, it's really important to us," Reuss said at an event here Tuesday.
"This is a car that Cadillac needs, that will define its brand in terms of innovation and excellence," Reuss told reporters. "That's the mission."
Cadillac’s chief engineer, Dave Leone, told Bloomberg last week that the rear-wheel drive sedan would arrive sometime in late 2015. It was the first time a GM official has publicly given a timeframe for the long-rumored sedan, codenamed LTS for now.
Reuss declined to discuss specifics but said Cadillac's entry in the large luxury sedan segment "has got to be a symbol of excellence."
Engineering mules of the sedan have been spotted recently being put through the paces at GM's proving ground in Milford, Mich. It's expected to ride on a new rwd platform and compete against the Mercedes-Benz S class, BMW 7 series and Audi A8.
Reuss downplayed Cadillac's sluggish U.S. sales, which have fallen 2 percent this year through July, vs. 6 percent for the luxury market and 5 percent for all light vehicles.
He said it will take "a long time" for Cadillac -- which had a threadbare lineup just a few years ago -- to fully rebuild its product portfolio and translate it into sustained growth and robust sales volume.
Cadillac last held the U.S. luxury sales crown in 1997 and trails BMW, Mercedes and Lexus today.
"Not one car is ever going to turn something like that around," Reuss said. "You've got to have a portfolio of those and you've got to do it for a while."
Reuss spoke to a crowd of more than 100 Detroit high school students at University of Detroit-Mercy, who participated in GM's Student Corps initiative. Spearheaded by Reuss two years ago, the program teamed about 60 GM retirees this summer with local high schoolers to clean up Detroit parks and schools.
"Either you're part of the community or you’re not. We decided to concentrate on education," Reuss said. "You can do a lot of things in a city to bring it back, but if people leave the city because the education system has failed them, you will stall" its revitalization.