Following Cadillac as it tries to reposition itself in today’s world of luxury rides is like watching the New England Patriots claw out of that 25-point deficit to win Super Bowl LI in overtime.
Talk about an iconic game, right?
Ah, c’mon, admit it: even if you aren’t a huge Tom Brady fan, there was a part of you that wanted to see if he could actually pull it off. That is, unless you just bleed Black and Red or call ATL home.
Of course, comparing the challenges of a 115-year-old car company to that wild fourth-quarter rally by the Patriots might be considered totally out of context in most circles. Sure, both the Patriots and Cadillac have shared a relatively high level of pop culture appeal over the decades, which one could argue puts them on similar grounds, in some ways.
However, their respective fields of competition couldn’t be any further apart. I say that because as big as that Super Bowl feat was for the New England franchise, it pales in comparison to the fallout if Cadillac doesn’t win. Still, the more time we spend with carmaker’s new lineup, the more we’re reminded of that thrilling Super Bowl finale and some of the other great comeback stories in sports.
After all, you’d be hard pressed to name a carmaker that’s made as drastic of a turnaround as Cadillac in recent years. In fact, the brand’s renaissance might go down as one of the most legendary in the history of the automobile.
Farfetched? Well, consider this: roughly 10 years ago, Cadillac was practically riding on life support, being kept afloat primarily on the popularity of the Escalade. There was also a point where it looked like the company had pretty much abandoned large luxury sedans, a longtime staple for the carmaker.
Personally, I thought Caddy’s play in the large car segment (or rather lack thereof), after discontinuing the DTS in 2011, was one of the company’s most disappointing periods. I was reminded of that frustration whenever I would find myself watching *Goodfellas *again, and got to the scene where a young Henry Hill peers over the steering wheel of a 1949 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special, trying to park the huge car.
That said, Cadillac was forced to face a much more troubling issue (rolling out of the 2000s) than my personal fixation with those “big body” classic Caddys on the silver screen. It was the brutal reality that a young influential car buyer, living in a trendy spot like LA, probably would never even consider buying a car badged with the nameplate. That is, unless it was an all-blacked-out model of their popular SUV, fitted with 20-inch custom wheels.
Looking to shake things up in 2015, Cadillac packed up its operations in Detroit, where the GM-owned company had been based for over a century, and moved into a new set of digs in New York’s trendy SoHo district. The company also hired practically an entirely new team to help steer the company back to prominence, with Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen at the helm, leading the charge.
Fast forward to 2017, and it’s a completely new game for the luxury carmaker, with a lineup that is as much about groundbreaking technology as it is heart-pounding performance. The proof is in the numbers, with Cadillac recently reporting a year-to-date global sales increase of 27 percent for the first half of 2017. In 2016, the carmaker posted its highest annual sales increase since 1986.
“We’re busy with a wide-ranging brand transformation that really seeks to restore Cadillac back to its original roots of being the pinnacle of luxury,” de Nysschen tells Playboy. “When you have a 115-year-old heritage, it’s to be expected that you will have high points and low points. We are busy rebuilding and I think the tangible expression of those endeavors [is] in the products you see today.”
You get a great sense of those “endeavors” that the Cadillac president speaks about behind the wheel of the ATS-V sedan, the carmaker’s blistering-quick, 464-horsepower luxury compact, which *Playboy *recently had a chance to test drive.
First introduced for the 2016 model year, the ATS-V is as intriguing when sitting still, casually toying with the in-car tech features, as it is powering through some twisty canyon road and hearing that exhaust note growl. But it’s definitely the latter that leaves you itching for more seat time in the V-Series sedan. In fact, the turbo-charged four-door Cadillac is a clear sign that the luxury American nameplate is now a serious contender with high-performance heavyweights like the BMW’s M series and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG line-up.
The most impressive sign to date of Caddy’s new rebirth, however, shines through in the 2018 CT6, Cadillac’s new flagship sedan, which features the carmaker’s new autonomous technology called Super Cruise. The high-tech system, which involved data research covering 160,000 miles of digital maps in the U.S. and Canada, enables the driver to go hands-free, with the simple touch of a button.
How good is it? Well, good enough that during a recent road adventure in the full-size CT6, racking up 933 miles from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, I spent about 60 percent of my time in the driver’s seat, simply monitoring the road. Super Cruise does everything else, including maintaining a desired speed, slowing down based on traffic flow, and automatically applying the brakes if needed. The only thing that the system doesn’t do is automatically switch lanes. That requires the driver to take control of the wheel.
The again, Super Cruise isn’t intended to function like a completely autonomous car. It’s more of a premium driver-assistance feature, aimed at making long-distance travel and daily commutes on the highway easier. Sure, there’s some initial anxiety one has to work through when relinquishing the steering wheel of a $90,000 luxury sedan on a highway. But Cadillac has made it extremely easy to make the transition.
The first-of-its-kind hands-free system features a number of safety elements that makes it easy for the driver (and occupants) to feel comfortable when Super Cruise is being used to steer the car. The two most prominent are GM’s LiDAR Map Data System and the Driver Attention System, which issues a series of alerts if it detects the driver has taken their eyes off the road.
Caddy chief de Nysschen says both the ATS-V Sedan and CT6 Super Cruise represent two key touchpoints for Cadillac moving forward.
“Our portfolio is taking on this additional dimension of really high-performance drivers’ cars such as the V-Series models, but balanced on the other hand by really sophisticated, high-tech luxury cars like the CT6 and Super Cruise technology,” he notes. “We’re also reshaping the brand, as expressed with the products, into representing a more progressive, contemporary form of luxury as opposed to the classical form of luxury that has shaped brand positioning in the past.”
So, could Cadillac be revving up to unleash a supercharged, “Carbon Black” Edition V-Series Escalade with hands-free capabilities?
Uh, probably not. Well, at least, not in the foreseeable future. But de Nysschen insists that they have some hot vehicles in the works.
“I have the benefit of knowing what’s beyond the horizon, and I can tell you, the products we are working on right now are absolutely brand transformational,” he says.