DETROIT -- New Cadillac chief Johan de Nysschen is out to forge a new brand culture that's focused on proving its luxury bona fides to well-heeled customers.
He thinks New York City can help.
De Nysschen, who took over Aug. 1 after leaving Infiniti, confirmed to Automotive News last week that Cadillac is considering relocating some functions to New York. While much is still undecided, at least one function seems sure to get a sizable presence in the Big Apple: marketing.
"There are a great number of benefits to putting at least some of our marketing people in a world where they can be in regular contact with not only premium customers, but be more immersed in the lifestyle of people who shop for premium brands," de Nysschen says.
The move also could be symbolic for de Nysschen, who said one of his top priorities is to position Cadillac as a "distinct, separate, premium" unit apart from GM's other brands. He said it's undecided whether he and his direct reports would be included in the New York move.
The 54-year-old former Audi of America boss isn't the first auto executive to seek a combination of recruitment advantage, consumer insight and cachet by planting stakes where the tastemakers are.
Charles Mayer, who has held marketing roles at Ferrari-Maserati, Jaguar and Saab, believes Cadillac would benefit from access to talent at the other luxury brands that have their U.S. headquarters near New York, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz -- people who "would otherwise never consider relocating to Detroit."
Hudson Rouge, Lincoln's ad agency and a unit of Detroit-based Team Detroit, set up shop in New York in 2011 to support the relaunch of the Lincoln brand. Lincoln mainly wanted to tap into New York's creative talent pool, said Matt VanDyke, Lincoln's global director. Nearly all of the 50 people initially hired by Hudson Rouge had little or no experience in automotive marketing, but had been working on everything from fashion to liquor campaigns.
"Being able to pull in people with different experiences and creative points of view has worked out really well for us," VanDyke said.
Cadillac might be testing the New York waters at the right time for the brand, says Gary Stibel, CEO of New England Consulting Group in Boston. He says it could help in the two areas in which Cadillac needs it most: marketing and globalization.
Cadillac's marketers would benefit from being in the same creative circles where its buyer demographic resides, Sibel says. And choosing a global city would make a statement about its ambitions.
"De Nysschen is a disruptive thinker," Sibel says. "I think it would be a smart, timely move that could help Cadillac's image."
But there are risks, too.
Bill Lovejoy, a consultant who was GM's vice president of marketing, sales and service for North America from 2000 to 2002, thinks breaking off the marketing function from the rest of Cadillac's resources in Detroit would be a mistake.
Lovejoy says marketing's input on vehicle details -- right down to the placement of a cupholder or climate-control knob -- is an underrated aspect of its function. He believes it's more important for marketers to have face time with the designers and product planners based in Detroit.
"You've got to see and touch and feel the products that are being developed," he says. "If you just fly in for a review and fly out, there's less interaction. I think you'd lose a lot."
Mayer was with Jaguar when then-owner Ford Motor Co. moved the brand to Southern California in 2000, along with Aston Martin and Volvo. He says the distance between the marketers and the product teams that remained in Detroit hurt the effort.
"Other than running up significant costs of relocating brands and people, there was not much impact," he says.