DETROIT - Cadillac is aiming its new CTS mid-sized sports sedan at performance-minded buyers who covet crisp handling, a high-revving V-6 engine and a five-speed stick shift.
The Getrag five-speed is the first manual transmission offered in a rear-wheel-drive Cadillac since 1952.
Much is riding on the CTS, the first vehicle in a Cadillac product offensive that General Motors hopes will put it on a par with luxury makes from Japan and Germany.
The company gave journalists a peek at the CTS' hardware at a press event last week. The car goes on sale in January 2002.
CTS' predecessor, the Catera, made in Germany by Adam Opel AG, failed to establish Cadillac in the entry-level sports sedan market dominated by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Acura and others. But Cadillac returned to Germany with the CTS - not for the hardware, but to fine-tune the chassis.
Much of the testing was done on the punishing Nurburgring racetrack in northern Germany, said Kenneth Morris, CTS vehicle performance manager. The track is famous for its tortuous bends, sharp turns and steep angles. 'It's a destroyer. It chews up cars,' Morris said.
At 34 hertz of torsional rigidity and 26 hertz beaming rigidity, the CTS chassis is one of the stiffest GM has ever made. The automaker spent six years designing and testing the chassis. It is the car's most advanced technical feature, Morris said.
GM engineers bolted the front suspension cradle to the chassis without using rubber mounts. They also removed rubber mounts in the steering system. The advantage: a more positive feel for the road.
CTS means performance
A 220-hp, 3.2-liter engine replaces the Catera's 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6. Two transmissions will be available: a five-speed automatic and a five-speed manual made by Getrag. The automatic is the same one GM builds for BMW AG.
'A manual transmission is something we felt we needed. To have a credible sports sedan, you have to have one,' Pritchard said.
Many of the first customers for the CTS are likely to be Catera drivers whose leases are expiring, Seville buyers who want a less expensive Cadillac and a few Oldsmobile buyers who want to stick with GM as Oldsmobile fades away, Pritchard said.
Pritchard also expects the CTS to draw buyers of front-wheel-drive Asian cars. 'We ought to beat the hell out of the (Lexus) ES 300 and Acura TL,' he said.
Cadillac's plan to win sales away from European brands is to deliver BMW 5-series performance at a 3-series price, he said. The CTS' sticker price is expected to start at about $32,000.
Cadillac officials are quietly aiming for sales of about 30,000 for the car's first full year. Through July, Cadillac sold only about 8,000 Cateras.
BMW, on the other hand, is on track to sell more than 100,000 units of its class-leading 3 series this year in the United States.
The Lincoln LS, also with rwd, is the only domestic competitor for the CTS. But with its optional V-8 engine, the Lincoln will offer more power than the CTS. Cadillac will not offer a V-8 in the CTS. A smaller V-6 will be installed in export models.
Steering clear of incentives
Cadillac's initial marketing plan for the CTS focuses on selling the car, not the deal. It keeps the CTS out of fleets and relies heavily on the Internet.
The CTS begins production in November at GM's new Grand River plant in Lansing, Mich. No cars will be shipped to dealers until Jan. 1 because of the car's 2003 model-year designation.
Production of right-hand-drive models is scheduled to begin in December.
If demand for the CTS is higher than 30,000 per year, Lansing Grand River can add volume, Pritchard said. CTS will be the only vehicle built there until Cadillac's sport wagon begins production in 2003.
This fall, Cadillac plans to introduce the CTS to the nation's most influential auto writers in a bid to win North American Car of the Year honors. Such an award could make the difference between a slow launch and a hot one. In the next two years, the CTS will be followed by the production version of the Evoq roadster and a sport wagon based on the Vizon concept car.