Cadillac and Lincoln, joined by Chrysler Corp. with its new 300M sedan, are mounting a new push overseas in the hopes of offsetting a stagnant market for luxury sedans at home.
While the U.S. luxury-car market is expected to remain flat, sales of cars priced above $25,000 in Western Europe are expected to increase from 1.3 million units last year to 1.8 million in 2002, according to Standard & Poor's/DRI market research.
Lincoln, planning a global launch of its all-new LS next year, said it will have the sport sedan on sale in 30 countries by the end of 1999.
'From the start (almost four years ago), the LS was going to be a global car,' said Jim O'Sullivan, Lincoln group brand manager.
Lincoln will not be alone.
The Cadillac Seville has been on sale in Europe since early this year. The 300M, meanwhile, was designed and engineered from the outset with European sales in mind.
According to Cadillac forecasts, luxury-segment sales worldwide will grow from 3 million to 4 million units during the next five years. But that growth will come in Europe, Asia and Latin America, the automaker says.
The LS, which comes in V-6 and V-8 models, is scheduled to go into production in left- and right-hand-drive versions next March at Lincoln's Wixom, Michigan, assembly plant.
O'Sullivan said that soon after U.S. dealers begin receiving shipments of the LS, the car will be exported to Europe. Lincoln also plans to export the LS to Asia, despite the economic turmoil in the region.
'Our focus is long-term for expanding the brand,' O'Sullivan said. 'There are growth opportunities in 30 markets around the world.'
But that growth could be slow in coming.
Cadillac sales in Europe through September totaled only 1,004 units, up from 270 a year earlier.
Still, a spokeswoman for Cadillac in Germany said the Seville will hit its 1999 European target of 1,600 units, compared with 1997 sales of 500.
Lincoln sales through September are down 31.5 percent from a year earlier, to 39 units from 57.
The British market has been a particularly tough nut to crack for Cadillac, executives admit.
'We are not on target for the predicted 325 cars by the end of this year,' said Peter Wartnaby, General Motors' brand manager for Cadillac and Chevrolet in Britain.
'We will sell just under 300. But we have only been around here for five months, and brand building takes time.'