LOS ANGELES -- Uwe Ellinghaus doesn't like to see Cadillac explicitly comparing itself to German luxury competitors in its ads. But he's determined to see Cadillac adopt the marketing strategies used by those rivals, including his former employer, BMW.
The results of that drive will show up in April, said the 45-year-old marketing chief, when Cadillac unveils its range-topping CT6 sedan, the first car to carry its new vehicle-naming system, at the New York auto show, along with a revamped strategy that will seek to position Cadillac not just as a car brand, but as a pure luxury brand.
"Johan de Nysschen, my boss, and I always say we want to build the first luxury brand that just happens to make cars," Ellinghaus said in an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show. "That sounds like a joke, but we're serious about it."
The new image will come from a General Motors division that is in transition under de Nysschen's leadership, preparing to distance itself from the GM mother ship in Detroit and set up as a new business unit with its own headquarters in New York. After a hot 2013, Cadillac sales have slid this year as higher sticker prices repelled customers, leading to gluts of CTS and ATS sedans on dealer lots.
Ellinghaus, a German who came to Cadillac in January from pen maker Montblanc International after more than a decade at BMW, said he has spent the past 11 months doing "foundational work" to craft an overarching brand theme for Cadillac's marketing, which he says relied too heavily on product-centric, me-too comparisons.
"In engineering terms, it makes a lot of sense to benchmark the cars against BMW," Ellinghaus said. But he added: "From a communication point of view, you must not follow this rule."
Rather, he says, Cadillac needs to project unrestrained self-confidence, the way its competitors do. The brand communications rolling out next year "will not play with Cadillac's ambivalent image with a twinkle in the eye and say 'no more crappy cars,' or 'no longer your grandfather's car,'" Ellinghaus said. "Luxury brands need to display confidence. They have confident, very educated customers who only accept brands on eye level."