Cadillac doesn’t have a new marketing chief quite yet, Uwe Ellinghaus will officially start on January 1, but Uwe is already giving interviews. What is making headlines around the world is that Uwe told Ben Klayman of Reuters that “it could take as long as a decade to build Cadillac’s reputation as a global luxury brand.” That may shock some at GM who hope Uwe would be finished sooner, say, can you do it before the end of the current quarter? Keep hoping, because it keeps you from finding out that Uwe is on crack.
The last time someone took a brand that was as despised as Cadillac is today, and turned it into a global luxury brand, it took some forty years. The brand was Audi, and it would still be a car driven only by German accountants who wear hats and suspenders, and who display in the rear window a roll of toilet paper under a tasteful crocheted cover, would not Ferdinand Piech, out at Porsche, have taken a perverse liking to the wretched brand. Even then, Audi would probably sell worse than Cadillac (imagine that) would Ferdi not have taken over Volkswagen and fired anyone who harbored the slightest doubt in Audi’s eventual great future. Audi was Piech’s power base, and if Audi would have failed, it would have been forget it, Ferdi. The secret of Audi’s success is not a clever marketing trick. The secret are Ferdinand Piech, a lot of money, many decades of time, and a good deal of luck, none of which GM has.
Other than Audi … if you carry the title Chief Marketing Officer, you should know how Lexus, Infiniti and Acura are doing globally, and it is not for a lack or product, or trying. Lexus started more than 20 years ago in the U.S., with a big bang, and a great strategy, and it still is a global nobody.
According to Reuters,
“Ellinghaus called building Cadillac into a global premium brand a “mid- to long-term brand strategy” that will take a couple of years in the United States, five years in China and as many as 10 years in markets where the brand has a small presence.”
That must have been a big toke from the crack pipe. Cadillac sold 117,000 cars this year in the U.S., the only place in the world where Cadillac has some standing, where it has home advantage. The U.S. is one of the few countries where the head of state is still driven in a Cadillac, others are Canada and the Cayman Islands, and that’s pretty much it. Globally, the head of state demographic skews towards Audi A8, Mercedes S-Class, and BMW Siebener. At the same time, BMW sold 213,000 units in the U.S., Mercedes sold 233,000. Good luck to come anywhere near that in “a couple of years.”
Ellinghaus said Cadillac has a strong history and great new vehicles to offer, so no need to change that. What Cadillac lacks, advertising agencies take note, is the “overarching message” to tie it all together, Ellinghaus said, and he went on to say:
“People know Cadillac, people like Cadillac, but they don’t find Cadillac always particularly relevant. This is something that communication … can easily overcome. It just takes time.”
Uh-oh. Akerson simply adores to hear that history and cars are just fine, and that all Cadillac needs is a new ad campaign. He will ask for it on January 1. Akerson doesn’t know anything about cars, he will believe that all that needs to be changed are the ads. Ellinghaus is supposed to have more experience than Akerson.
In China, where Ellinghaus wants to be done in five years, Cadillac sold 36,000 cars so far this year, while Audi sold more than ten times as many, 399,330 to be exact. If Susan Docherty – remember Susan Docherty? – was right, then Cadillac will remain a nobody in China until it has cracked the European market. Dochterty famously said:
“If a luxury brand is successful in Europe, whether that brand is Chanel or Prada, or Mercedes or BMW, people in parts of Asia look to see what Europeans validate as true luxury, so we have to get Cadillac rocking and rolling in Europe to get it going in China.”
That may have been one of the biggest pearls of wisdom from Susan, because it simply means that it won’t happen. Cadillac sales in Europe, one of those markets where Caddy has “a small presence,” are homeopathetic. In 2012, Cadillac delivered all of 2,274 Caddys in Europe, including Russia, where a large Escalade still has some cachet with a certain set of customers.
If, while at BMW, Ellinghaus would have said that in 10 years, Cadillac will have ascended to global luxury brand heights in Europe, his colleagues would have – unless they were immediately overcome by a heart attack – opined that he looks a bit pale around the nose, and to take some time off, because manager burnout is a menace. Speaking of which:
After holding “various positions in the field of brand strategy and market and trend research” (BMW), boyish Ellinghaus was put in charge of Global Brand Management at BMW in 2010. He also led BMW Group Marketing Services, a fancy name for the advertising department. He didn’t last long in that job. Two years later, he was selling fountain pens. On November 15, 2012, Ellinghaus started as VP of Marketing and Sales at Montblanc International, the marketer of high-priced writing implements. When Ellinghaus left BMW after two years on the job, the company said that “his successor will be named at a later date,” usually code for a somewhat less than amicable separation.
The selling of pens didn’t go so well. Less than a year after Ellinghaus started at Montblanc, he was already out of the door. According to Germany’s Manager Magazin, Ellinghaus didn’t get along with Montblanc’s new boss Jerome Lambert. “After their first encounters, it became clear that the two managers have different opinions of the strategic direction” of Montblanc, Manager Magazin writes, using the agreed-upon euphemism for the two hating each other’s guts.
In management circles of European carmakers, especially the snooty ones, going to GM and Detroit is about as attractive and career-enhancing as a Siberian gulag. The survival rate at gulags probably is longer than at GM. In that regard, Ellinghaus could have prophesied 5 years for Cadillac to gain global relevance. Nobody will complain to him when it won’t happen, because he won’t be there. The “this is something that communication … can easily overcome” will be remembered, and it will end his career.