Johan de Nysschen marked his one-year anniversary as Cadillac's global chief with a bit of levity last week during a speech to Wall Street investors.
"It's been the toughest five years of my life," he quipped.
Maybe it was a reference to Cadillac's sales being down or flat in 10 of those 12 months. Or the ridicule he withstood for moving the headquarters to New York. Or the harsh reality that Cadillac is scraping by with a one-crossover lineup when rivals are peddling as many as five apiece.
Regardless, nobody can accuse de Nysschen of sugarcoating the difficulty of his mission to return General Motors' luxury brand to prominence. Lately he has been reminding everyone that rebuilding Cadillac is a decadelong project, and he has the support of GM CEO Mary Barra and President Dan Ammann to take the long view, even if the short-term results aren't pretty.
But it's not all bad, insists de Nysschen, a lanky 55-year-old South Africa native who's given to mixing self-deprecating one-liners with eloquent, passionate rhetoric about his plans for Cadillac. The former Audi of America chief says his first-year report card offers a glimpse of his vision for the future, one in which Cadillacs are coveted luxury goods rather than simply decent cars that consumers will consider if the deal is enticing enough.
"Right now we have to put image development ahead of sales development," de Nysschen said in an interview last month.
"Unless you take time to work on those building blocks, you are forever in this circular reasoning: You have great cars, but they don't gain traction."
De Nysschen urges a deeper look at Cadillac's 2.4 percent U.S. sales decline through July, which lagged the 8.7 percent increase for all luxury makers:
- Average transaction prices climbed more than $6,000 per unit through July vs. the same period a year earlier, J.D. Power data show. The heady prices being paid for the redesigned Escalade SUV fueled that increase (the ESV long-wheelbase version is going for $86,000 on average). But transaction prices on the ATS and CTS sedans also rose more than $2,000 each, even as sales of the ATS slid 19 percent and the CTS fell 38 percent through July.
- Incentive spending dropped 9 percent on average across the lineup in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, TrueCar Inc. estimates.
- Inventory fell to a 69-day supply as of Aug. 1, the lowest level in nearly four years.
Those improvements got the attention of TrueCar's ALG unit, which calculates the residual values that dictate automakers' lease rates. Strong residuals are especially important for luxury brands, which typically count on leases for more than half of sales.