You have to hand it to outgoing Cadillac General Manager John Smith.
Over the past three years, Smith set a brave new course for General Motors' luxury division by fighting for radical new vehicles.
It will start this fall with the reskinned Escalade sport-utility, the first of Cadillac's new vehicles to take its styling cues from Cadillac's Evoq concept roadster. Other new vehicles on the way include a redesigned, rear-wheel-drive Catera; a car-based, all-wheel-drive sport- utility; and the Evoq.
But what good is a lot of new vehicles if they are shown in the same old dealerships that once housed relics like the Cimarron and Fleetwood?
That's the challenge Smith's heir apparent, Mike O'Malley, faces: convincing dealers it is time to pump millions into dealership renovations in preparation for the rebirth of the Cadillac brand.
To Smith's credit, he has left his successor with a plan. Later this year Cadillac will introduce a dealership design that it hopes will attract younger customers. For the project, Cadillac hired architectural firms Hillier Group of Washington, D.C., and Booziotis & Co. of Dallas, as well as renowned French interior designer Andree Putman.
Cadillac so far is keeping the design under wraps, but dealers who have peeked at the Cadillac dealership of the future like what they've seen. Dealer Carl Sewell, who is building a stand-alone Cadillac dealership in Texas, describes the new design as contemporary, clean and crisp.
But the promise of that new dealership design won't be enough to persuade all of Cadillac's dealers to invest in their stores.
And that's where O'Malley's potential new role becomes critical. Where Smith was Cadillac's product champion, Cadillac's new leader must become its dealer champion. He must visit with dealers around the country and convince them that Cadillac will give them the vehicles to fill their new stores and then back that up with aggressive marketing and advertising.
If the new guy can get dealers on board, both he and Smith will look like Cadillac's saviors. If he can't, the rebirth of Cadillac will depend solely on product and remain incomplete.
Joe Miller can be reached at [email protected] or at (313) 446-1635.