Remember when 'Cadillac' used to mean something great? It still does, although not in the way you might think.
I recently drove the Cadillac Escalade, the big General Motors truck of the aggressive grille and extensive cladding. On a dark Friday night, I went to pick up my 14-year-old son and three of his friends from a summer festival. When I pulled up to the curb, I began hearing the shouts.
One of my son's friends opened the passenger door and exclaimed: 'Whoa! Not too cool! Escalade's got OnStar! You're so lucky.'
Faces popped out of the dark. Teen-age boys were jabbering about what a peachy (I think they used other adjectives) vehicle this was. The excited voices sounded like a Turkish bazaar.
At 55, ho-hum
They inspired me to push the OnStar button and ask the cordial lady who eventually got on the line for directions to one boy's home. It was great, youthful fun being with these 14- and 15-year-old guys who were so enamored of a cool machine.
Two days later, I picked up a couple of friends for a round of golf. They are 55 years old and in what used to be thought of as the Cadillac demographic.
The first one came out of his house.
'What's this?' he asked as he hoisted himself up into the high truck.
'It's the Cadillac Escalade,' I said, preparing to tell him about it.
'Oh,' he said. 'Well, looks like we're going to have good weather.'
The conversation at the next friend's house was similar, except that his 16-year-old son came out and leaned in the window to admire the truck's instrument panel and OnStar button.
A challenge for Caddy
The 55-year-old potential buyers of luxury vehicles had no knowledge of or interest in the Cadillac Escalade.
What can we conclude from this?
There is still a ton of goodwill in the Cadillac name. And it doesn't turn off young people. Show them an exciting Cadillac with exciting features, and they'll be as thrilled as anybody in the 1950s over the idea of 'Cadillac.'
But Cadillac has all but killed itself with the buyers who used to be its target.
Leading-edge baby boomers with money have a recollection of Cadillac as cool. But it's only of historical interest to many of them.
There is a challenge here to Mark LaNeve, Cadillac's new general manager. But, as the high school boys showed, it's not a hopeless challenge.
You can e-mail Peter Brown at [email protected]