DETROIT - General Motors is close to signing up as many as three companies to distribute Cadillacs in Europe.
The distributors will select new dealerships, which will be required to provide exclusive Cadillac showrooms. GM wants to sign the distributors within 60 days.
The distribution and dealership changes are fueled by franchise agreements in Europe that expire Sept. 30 and Cadillac's rear-wheel-drive product blitz. Also, a favorable swing in currency could help Cadillac sales.
Cadillac CTS distribution started in April with the current dealership network. Late this year or early next year, the two-passenger XLR sports car will be exported to Europe. That will be followed by the SRX sport wagon, and in 2005, the redesigned STS.
GM's North American Vehicles Organization sells vehicles directly to selected Opel dealerships in Europe. Last year, those dealerships sold fewer than 800 cars - all Seville STSs.
"A huge hit that we take in Europe is that you go to a dealership and you can't find the Cadillac products because they are stuck in the back of the showroom," says Jeff Kuhlman, Cadillac communications manager. "And, you might find that a steering wheel is gone because they had to pull it off and use it as a part on another car.
"The basic tenet of the plan is we're not a secondary brand at the back of the showroom. This is going to be a true luxury brand, sold in dealerships in a way that luxury customers expect."
The automaker is in talks with three distributors: Kroymans Corp. and the Louwman Group, both in the Netherlands, and Emil Frey of Switzerland.
Kroymans distributes Ferrari, Aston Martin, Saab and Kia in the Netherlands, and Ssang-
Yong in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Louwman distributes Toyota, Lexus and Suzuki in the Netherlands.
Frey is the Swiss distributor for Toyota and Lexus, along with Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, MG Rover, Subaru, Kia and Daihatsu. The company also distributes Hyundai in Germany and operates the largest Ford Motor Co. dealer group in Europe.
The distributors will select the dealerships, but each dealership will have to meet a long list of requirements developed by Cadillac. Cadillac did not reveal the number of dealerships.
Kuhlman says dealerships wanting a Cadillac franchise must meet advertising and marketing requirements.