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The Auto Show Is in New York, and Cadillac Is Too

Dated-April 2015

When Cadillac announced last year that it was moving its headquarters to Soho in Manhattan, it caught my attention. Plenty of tech and digital media companies have set up operations in Lower Manhattan, but no auto companies, let alone an old-economy stalwart like Cadillac.

And Cadillac has special resonance for me, since I learned to drive on my father’s massive 1967 DeVille. It would be more accurate to say I started to learn, since my first try behind the wheel led me to veer off the side of the road and graze some branches. After that I was relegated to my mother’s Mustang.

But I always loved riding in the cavernous back seat with my father at the wheel and was later allowed to drive it to the senior prom.

My first thought was that I would visit Cadillac’s new outpost and see if the company had succeeded in creating a new vibe, attracting the hip 20-somethings that were so much in evidence when I visited Google’s outpost in Chelsea. But Cadillac hasn’t actually moved in yet. And in the meantime, it was relaunching the Cadillac brand with a new ad campaign, which I previewed just before it aired on the Academy Awards, and a new flagship model, the CT6, which debuted this week at the New York International Auto Show.

Brash and energetic, Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac’s chief marketing officer, is quite a departure from the staid G.M. executives of old. Mr. Ellinghaus, a Hell’s Kitchen resident (and subway rider), is behind the new Cadillac theme, “Dare Greatly,” and does a good job of embodying it. It seems ironic that it may take a native of Germany to recapture Cadillac’s distinctly American identity.
I liked the idea that Cadillac was taking some big risks, both creative and financial, and wasn’t content to play also-ran to the big German luxury brands. So I decided to focus on the CT6 introduction to get a sense of how likely Cadillac was to pull off what has to be reckoned a daunting challenge.

My first impression is that Cadillac has done a good job with the CT6, especially if the car lives up to its performance claims (it won’t be at dealers until late this year.) It’s good-looking and comfortable, loaded with features. But I don’t know that I’d go so far as to call it “bold” or “daring.” It’s squarely in the tradition of the large luxury car powered by an internal combustion engine. It’s not a Tesla, the innovative all-electric car. That’s what I’d call daring.

But in the high-end luxury car market, “daring” is relative. Cadillac doesn’t really want to rock the boat, and it said it’s not aiming for the “green” market or Tesla customers. It’s targeting the staid high-end Mercedes S-class and BMW 7 series. Given the worldwide success of those models, that’s pretty daring.

In any event, I’m probably not the best judge. I drive a Mini Cooper.