Those numbers are still modest compared with volume in the U.S., where Cadillac sold 182,543 last year. But the explosive pace is positioning China as central to Cadillac's future.
Cadillac, for instance, will launch nine new models in the next five years in China and add one locally built nameplate a year through 2016. Shanghai General Motors Co., a venture owned equally by GM and SAIC Motor Corp., is building a dedicated Cadillac plant in Shanghai to assemble as many as 160,000 vehicles a year. Production starts next year.
GM aims to replicate the success it had with Buick in China, which for years has been that brand's biggest market.
In 2010, for example, just 10 percent of Cadillac's total global sales came from China. By last year, Cadillac was getting 20 percent of its sales from China.
Cadillac's China gambit gets an additional push from the arrival of new brand chief and China-acolyte Johan de Nysschen.
In his prior role as head of Infiniti, de Nysschen positioned China as the key global market for Nissan's premium marque.
A sign of the new boss' Far East focus: De Nysschen landed at GM only in August and has already been to China twice.
"From a Cadillac standpoint, it's a real advantage," Tsien said. "He really is thinking about Cadillac more globally than ever before. He's paying a lot of attention to the Chinese market.
"We will see him quite regularly."
To be sure, Cadillac's sales are increasing with a rising tide. GM expects China to be the world's top luxury market in 2016. But Cadillac is counting on a larger slice of the growing pie.
Today, Cadillac has less than 4 percent of China's luxury market. By 2020, the brand targets 10 percent.
Going forward, Tsien said, Cadillac will focus on improving the dealer experience to burnish the brand's luxury image. The challenge will be striking an independent personality that doesn't imitate the German premium competitors.
"Cadillac needs to stand for Cadillac," Tsien said. "We're not going to hide from our American roots. What we want to make sure of is that Cadillac is recognized as a global luxury brand."
Tsien conceded that China's slowdown, combined with the rapid production buildup by GM and rivals, may trigger industrywide overcapacity. But he predicted that GM won't be among those feeling the squeeze.
GM's investment plan is "well-placed" with the right product, he said, adding that sales growth should moderate to a more "healthy," sustainable level for the next 10 years or so.
In contrast to the outlook for Buick and Cadillac, Chevrolet is a long way from seeing China as its top market.
Last year, China accounted for just 13 percent of Chevy's global sales, vs. 39 percent from the U.S.
That's partly because Chevrolet's China lineup lacks the full-size pickups that are so important to the brand's U.S. sales.