Is this the dawn of a new era of American automotive luxury?
Don't laugh. It could happen.
See this issue's front page for some evidence that Lincoln is making real progress against one of Germany's best, thanks to a disciplined market strategy and a commitment to modern comfort and convenience. And the news that it will be the Ford Motor Co. brand that gets the first Rivian skateboard-based electric vehicle sounds like a smart way to package what is sure to be an expensive vehicle.
Cadillac is growing globally, though its standing at home hasn't rebounded much. Making it the true vessel for most of General Motors' best technology — soon-to-return Super Cruise and a new lineup of EVs — gives it a chance to truly reinvent itself.
Like it or not, the changing landscape has its roots in Tesla, which reported fourth-quarter results that sent its stock price into even-less-believable territory. CEO Elon Musk is seen by fans as the ultimate disrupter in the auto industry, and while his shortcomings make him a target of disdain for industry incumbents, his impact can't be dismissed.
Online sales, aggressive driver-assistance technology and huge touch screens are valued improvements. (Don't get me started on the example he set on sales reporting.) But probably his most important contribution was the notion that an expensive powertrain needs to be in a vehicle that can command a price that covers it.
It was one thing for Toyota to sell the Prius at a Corolla price point. But the Nissan Leaf and Chevy's "olt" cars never seemed to stand a chance as a source of profits.
By the time we saw a Cadillac version of the Volt, there wasn't much wow factor left. (The new Mirai fuel cell car still wears the Toyota badge, but it's based on the Lexus LS platform and should be priced to match.)
Tesla, on the other hand, came out with a car that looked and acted differently, and at least tens of thousands of people have been willing to pay $100,000 or more for it. The Model 3 is less expensive, but it's still priced more like a Mercedes than a Hyundai.
Batteries that are big enough to power a car or crossover are still really expensive. That may change in as little as a few years, but for now, EVs pretty much only make business sense at premium prices and above. (I drove an excellent Kia EV recently, but even that had a sticker north of $40,000 before federal incentives no longer available to GM and Tesla.)
"American luxury" has become an oxymoron to many consumers. But Lincoln and Cadillac, banking off upstarts such as Tesla and Rivian, have a chance to redefine themselves for the new game.