China Now A “Make Or Break” Market For Cadillac

China Expected To Overtake US As Leading Luxury Car Market By 2020

Cadillac CTS

With China now a “make or break” market for Cadillac, the American automaker is encountering difficulties appealing to Chinese buyers accustomed to industry leaders like BMW and Audi. As Reuters notes this week, Cadillac is finding that its more edgy, angular designs may have to be toned down if it is to have a fighting chance to catch up to its European rivals and boost sales in a critical market:

Chinese car buyers’ antipathy towards the Cadillac design has a partly cultural basis, too. The preference for smoother, curvier cars stems from ‘Zhongyong,’ a Confucian concept that stresses harmony, according to Fu Liming, who teaches transportation design at Jilin University in northeast China.

“In cars, the Zhongyong concept translates into unified lines and curves,” Fu said. “Cadillac’s design isn’t soft, its angles and arcs aren’t smooth enough.”

GM has reached a similar conclusion, independently, and is toning down the Cadillac design, according to the brand’s China sales and marketing chief Kevin Chen, who said the company’s research found some Chinese buyers passed up Cadillac because its design was too “futuristic” and “bold”.

“If you ask our customers what’s the motivation for choosing Cadillac, they would say design. If you ask Audi buyers why they don’t choose Cadillac, they’d say it’s too bold,” he said.

China is not the only market GM is focusing on, but as the luxury car market there has grown so fast, GM is altering Cadillac’s design to please local buyers: “instead of too much futuristic and too advanced, more towards modern contemporary design,” sums up GM’s Chen.

Altering designs to suit the preferences of Chinese buyers is not unknown — virtually every major automaker has added elongated makes for the market over the past several years, catering to the preference of wealthy Chinese for chauffeurs. But the challenge for Cadillac is to maintain its style while toning down overall boldness. Clearly, the automaker has a long way to go before it can expect China sales to catch up to its US sales, a prospect that GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson says he hopes to see by 2015 or 2016.


Market Analysis, Marketing, Retail