CAGLIARI, Sardinia - At the launch here of the redesigned 5 series, BMW's top executive took time out to praise Cadillac.
Helmut Panke, chairman of BMW AG, says Cadillac is leading other North American brands in trying to establish a brand identity and common design theme throughout its lineup, from cars to SUVs.
"It has made a strong effort to reposition itself and do it consistently, not a model here and then something completely strange and inconsistent on another side of the market," he says.
Brand building takes several years and several model generations, he says. Cadillac has to move step by step to build on its strengths, something BMW has been doing for the past 30 years or more.
"Everybody (now) knows what BMW stands for, and maybe at the end everybody will know what Cadillac stands for," he says. "Maybe this is one of the secret successes of (Vice Chairman) Bob Lutz, giving the brand enough freedom within the GM organization that they can follow this direction and bring those products to market.
"Let's see if all those products will be accepted or not, but at least it's a clear-cut effort to make the brand discernible and recognizable in the marketplace."
Cadillac will start this summer selling two new vehicles with the angular CTS design theme: the XLR roadster and the SRX sport wagon.
Also moving to re-establish their North American image, Panke says, are Chrysler, with cars such as the 300C, and Ford, with its Mustang concept.
With the 300C, a full-sized sedan with rear-wheel drive, Chrysler is going back to what is authentically American, not following either a European or Japanese lead, he says.
"What you see is a revisiting of where the strength of the North American industry lay in the past, not just copying what others are doing." The production car off the 300C concept is due in the first quarter of 2004.
The Dodge Magnum, a wagon, also is an attempt to revive an American classic. "We all wonder whether station wagons are really coming back. But going back to some of the elements of what a station wagon used to be, making it modern, making it clearly a Dodge, is saying we don't want to copy," Panke says. The Magnum is due in spring 2004.
Says Panke, "We should all look to a coming back and strengthening of position among the North American makes."