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Cadillac Packs Its Bags And Heads To New York City

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

After more than 112 years, Cadillac is looking at Detroit in its rearview mirror. GM's luxury division is moving its headquarters to Manhattan.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Cadillac wants to be closer to the headquarters of other high-end brands and maybe pick up some of New York's sophistication and swagger. It's a dramatic move. Cadillac is almost synonymous with Detroit.

BLOCK: It's named after the French explorer who founded the city, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. But as sales fall short, the car brand is struggling to redefine itself, as NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: This is going to be a story about the Cadillac brand, and every person we're going to hear from in this story, including the Cadillac executive, admits that the company has a bit of an image problem. The commercials haven't helped. Exhibit A...

(SOUNDBITE OF CADILLAC COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Other countries - they work, they stroll home, they stop by the cafe, they take August off - off. Why aren't you like that? Why aren't we like that?

GLINTON: Now, that was a commercial for a car that poked fun at Europe where Cadillac sales are already terrible. OK, let's play another one. Does this one make you want to buy a car?

(SOUNDBITE OF CADILLAC COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Vanilla.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yup.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Good old crowd-pleasing vanilla - but if you're in the mood for something tasty, then test drive one of these.

AARON BRAGMAN: In the past Cadillac has had either the marking right or the cars right, and they've had a real struggle to get both of them right.

GLINTON: Aaron Bragman is with cars.com. He also is the owner of a 20-year-old Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham.

BRAGMAN: Right now, Cadillac has the cars right. The new cars are fantastic from Cadillac. They're winning all kinds of comparison tests against German competition, but the marketing has not been there. They haven't been able to follow it up with actually making them desirable, and so the sales haven't necessarily followed.

GLINTON: Right now the luxury car market is booming, but Cadillac sales are sluggish. The company used to be the number-one name in luxury cars. Now it's number five behind Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Audi, in that order. Cadillac has gotten a new head, a guy who helped turn Audi around and most recently was at Infiniti. It's the latest in many, many moves - some desperate - to get Cadillac into that top tier. Bragman says part of the thinking is that the company will pick up something intangible by moving to New York - maybe attract hipper workers or some downtown cache will rub off on its products.

BRAGMAN: Where's the secret sauce? Where's the source of a lot of this desirability? They think that it's going to be in somewhere that's a fashion capital of the world, and maybe it is. Maybe they'll find something out there. Maybe there will be some magic people that come in and turn things around.

GLINTON: Cadillac executives call the move a, quote, "expansion." The bulk of workers will stay in Detroit, and for good measure, GM announced that it's going to expand production of Cadillac inside the city of Detroit.

David Caldwell is a Cadillac spokesperson. He says the move is about Cadillac's global ambitions and bringing the brand closer to other luxury brands and to take advantage of an upward momentum.

DAVID CALDWELL: We feel that we're on a bit of a trajectory, but it's going to take a while. We're under no illusions.

GLINTON: Is there any cool quotient - is there a something that you get from being New York that you don't get from being in Detroit that you're looking for?

CALDWELL: No. The amount of actual relocation that takes place is probably very, very small. This is really about us adding a new dimension to the brand.

MICHELLE KREBS: I guess - I've been around this business long enough. I've seen this movie before.

GLINTON: Michelle Krebs is a senior analyst with autotrader.com. She says it does make some sense for Cadillac to decamp to Soho. BMW and Mercedes are both in New Jersey, but she says car brands have moved before without a lot of impact.

KREBS: I suspect if you asked Mercedes and BMW owners in the United States where the headquarters are and does it matter, they wouldn't care. And I don't think it's going to make an immediate impact on brand perception or, certainly, sales.

GLINTON: OK, think about it though. If Cadillac really wanted to be hip and fashionable, wouldn't they have moved to Brooklyn? Make that Queens. Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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