Cadillac’s Last Stand? Storied Brand Aims (Again) for Revival

“It takes several things to come together to be able to revitalize the brand,” Mr. Carlisle said while at the wheel of a CT6 sedan zipping along Interstate 96 near Detroit. “If you’ve been off people’s radar screens, which we were, they move on to other manufacturers. We have to get back on their screens.”

The challenges are daunting. Cadillac is now in the midst of another reboot at a time when Tesla’s products and other electric cars are becoming the standard for luxury vehicles.

In some ways, Cadillac doesn’t really compete with other luxury brands. Cadillac buyers most often trade in Chevys and Fords; rarely do they trade in German makes. Almost 40 percent of Cadillac buyers are over 65, compared with 20 percent for Audi, according to Cox Automotive.

Mark Reuss, G.M.’s president, has said Cadillac had one last chance to pull off a comeback. And under Mr. Carlisle, it is betting on technology, something that distinguished Cadillac in its glory days. Under his predecessor, G.M. spent heavily to develop engines to be used only in Cadillacs. One of them, a 550-horsepower V8, became available this year — at a time when electric vehicles are captivating luxury-car buyers. Now Cadillac is planning to phase out combustion engines in favor of electric models. Within six to 10 years, Mr. Carlisle said, Cadillac’s entire line will be electric.

Mr. Carlisle, who gives a distinguished look with a head of close-cropped, silver hair and silver goatee, demonstrated another one of the selling points he is counting on: the Super Cruise driver-assistance system. Using radar and cameras, it is able to pilot a car on divided highways. Drivers don’t even need to keep their hands on the wheel. As long as they look straight ahead — an infrared camera monitors the eyes — Super Cruise does the steering, braking and accelerating as needed.

Such systems could gain wide appeal because they can make driving safer, and can make long highway drives less taxing.

As the Super Cruise system slowed the CT6 to keep a safe distance behind a silver Chrysler, Mr. Carlisle ticked off what he sees as the progress that Cadillac is making. In China, now Cadillac’s largest market, its sales are strong and growing, although car buying there over all is beginning to slow. Two new sport utility vehicles have arrived in the lineup, addressing an urgent need.


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