Cadillac Takes Bold Steps To Appeal To Chinese Drivers, But Will They Respond?

    Already in the midst of an aggressive digital marketing push in China, American premium automaker Cadillac is going all-out to convert more of China's notoriously German-car-obsessed drivers.
    The new XTS was unveiled last month in Guangzhou
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    Restyled Models, Brad Pitt Campaign, Aggressive Online Push Aimed At Younger Buyers#

    Already in the midst of an aggressive digital marketing push in China -- a critical market for its parent company, General Motors -- American premium automaker Cadillac is going all-out to convert more of China's notoriously German-car-obsessed drivers. Last month, Cadillac rolled out its new XTS luxury sedan -- which is currently being manufactured in China by the Shanghai GM joint venture -- at an event in Guangzhou. The new XTS — which will include a turbocharged 2.0-liter powertrain not available in the US — is a centerpiece of General Motors’ goal of increasing Cadillac sales in China from 30,000 last year to 100,000 units by 2015.

    But the new XTS is not the only model on which Cadillac is pinning hopes. Later this year, production will begin of the redesigned Cadillac CTS sedan, along with a smaller, made-in-China entry-level ATS. The company hopes that the ATS and XTS models will, combined, lead to a 50 percent rise in China sales. But it is the CTS that is perhaps the most important part of Cadillac's China efforts in 2013. Absent the sharp edges and aggressive styling that Cadillac found turns off many of China's Audi-accustomed consumers, the new CTS features a smoother profile along with the big engine and elongated wheelbase so beloved of Chinese buyers.

    Despite the company's optimism, Cadillac clearly understands that China represents both a crucial opportunity and a massive challenge. As GM China President Bob Socia recently put it, “We’ve struggled in the past, there’s been a new commitment so to speak, from General Motors about what we want to do with the Cadillac brand. It’s a journey, you’re not going to do this in a year or two, but you’ve got to come up with product that unequivocally can compete.”

    As David Zoia of told China Daily this week, the revamped CTS in particular has the potential to give Cadillac more of a fighting chance against dominant Audi and BMW in China this year. With a trio of new models hitting the market, Cadillac is outmaneuvering Mercedes-Benz at least, as the German marque was hit in 2012 by a poor reading of market particularities and painfully slow responsiveness to consumer demand. Given its 2013 efforts pan out as the company hopes they will, GM is on the right track in its bid to attract luxury-car buyers in China, despite its previous missteps.

    Said Zoia, "The China market continues to grow at a relatively healthy rate, and sales of luxury models in particular are expanding. With its new ATS and XTS models and an even more competitive CTS on the way, Cadillac appears well positioned to take advantage of that."

    Of all the new Cadillac models set to take China by storm this year, we're most interested in the ATS, which -- owing to a lower price tag and smaller size -- has an opportunity to tap the fast-growing middle-class 25-35-year-old buyer demographic. As Jing Daily has previously pointed out, this consumer group is often several years into their careers and at the age now when many are looking to trade up for their second or even third vehicle. Led by a multi-platform marketing campaign featuring Brad Pitt, Cadillac’s digital efforts campaigns have targeted the plugged-in, digitally savvy Weibo- and WeChat-using segment. Rather than just trying to convert older buyers, Cadillac has an opportunity to appeal directly to the post-80s driver who’s more open to suggestion when it comes to auto brands. That strategy is certainly working for fellow American brands Michael Kors and Coach, which are attacking the accessible luxury segment rather than aiming at the ultra-luxury consumer.

    Of course, all of this depends on whether Cadillac's marketing team in China can make their message consistent and clear this year -- something they've done with mixed success over the past several months.

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