To reinforce the idea that the Catera is a Cadillac different from any other, a Cadillac that zigs instead of zags, the car has taken to the racetrack.
The Catera is entering its second season as the PPG pace car for the CART circuit, America's premier open-wheel race series. The Champ cars (which had been called Indy cars until the CART-IRL split) run 17 events at road courses, street circuits and ovals in the United States, Canada, Australia and Brazil.
Cadillac, which traditionally steers clear of racing, saw the opportunity to have the Catera serve as a pace car as a cost-effective, high-profile way to promote the Catera without becoming involved in a full-fledged, costly racing program.
The Catera is the first Cadillac in the competitive and growing entry-luxury category, which includes the Lexus ES 300 and BMW 3 series. The European-built Catera is based on the Omega built by General Motors' Opel operations in Russelsheim, Germany. It is aimed at a younger, sportier-minded buyer than those who typically purchase Cadillacs.
'The opportunity with PPG allows us to demonstrate the capabilities of the car in an environment appealing to the market we're targeting without getting into a racing program, which is expensive and not practical for a small portion of a division's product line,' says Dave Shelton. Shelton, Cadillac's distribution manager for the central region of the United States, is in charge of the program.
He noted that the Catera marks a complete departure from traditional Cadillacs. Exposing potential customers to this new kind of Cadillac is challenging.
'The pace car program was an excellent opportunity to put the car in front of potential buyers who won't go to a Cadillac showroom to see the car because they have the mindset of a Cadillac as an old Fleetwood,' says Shelton. 'At races, the Catera is shown with BMW and Mercedes pace cars. And the demographics of people attending races are the people we want to market to with the Catera.'
WOMEN AT THE WHEEL
The PPG pace cars are driven by the world's top female race drivers. They lead the Champ cars on warm-up laps and do parade laps between races. The Catera was aimed at and has successfully hit its target market of largely women buyers.
Mike Sack, PPG director of sports marketing, says the Catera has been an ideal pace car: nimble, quick and responsive. 'It has a European aura,' he says. 'People who see it can't believe it's a Cadillac.'
The pace car itself is not radically different from an off-the-showroom-lot Catera. The most noticeable exterior difference is its Magenta Candy paint. The engine is a standard Catera V-6, though the engine block has been cast thinner to reduce weight and handle additional heat. The displacement has been increased to provide added power. The pace car engine is a 3.3-liter rated at 240 hp instead of the production version's 3.0-liter producing 200 hp. The pace car's top speed exceeds 150 mph; the production version tops out at 125 mph. The engine's compression ratios are increased; the rear axle ratio is modified somewhat as well.
In addition to appearing on the track, the Catera pace car stars in advertising featured in motorsports, lifestyle and women's magazines. It has its own Web page. The pace cars are also used for promotional purposes by dealer groups.
Indianapolis dealers last year invited 500 owners of vehicles that compete with the Catera to a program using the pace car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. More than 300 attended the event, which featured rides around the track in the Catera.
As a result of last year's success with the Catera pace car, Cadillac has received more requests from dealer groups to use the car in events. For instance, a dealer group in Lancaster, Pa., plans to use the car to pace a professional bicycle race.
The New York dealer group, after members read a cover story on the Catera PPG pace car in AutoWeek, a sister publication to Automotive News, developed a sporty edition of the Catera with aftermarket wheels, tires and flared rockers. The group is now selling the spiffed-up car.