General Motors Co is turning to a redesigned, longer CTS mid-sized sedan to make its Cadillac luxury brand more competitive against German rivals.
The new "right-sized" CTS will debut this fall as a 2014 model, joining the smaller ATS and larger XTS sedans that the U.S. automaker introduced last year as part of a push to make Cadillac relevant far beyond its home market. It showed the redesigned CTS on Tuesday evening at an event ahead of the New York auto show.
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"This third generation of CTS is really the harbinger for our global aspirations and where we're headed overall," said Don Butler, vice president of marketing for Cadillac.
"Our big thing that we're driving for is cultural relevance," he added. "We still have a big challenge to be thought of and spoken of in the same breath as BMW and Mercedes ."
GM's drive to make Cadillac a global brand took shape after the company's 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring. While Cadillac has been sold around the world, a pre-bankruptcy GM lacked the financial clout to boost demand beyond the small numbers sold outside the United States.
The new CTS, which is 5 inches longer than the current model, will more clearly differentiate the car from its smaller sibling, the ATS, which industry media named North American Car of the Year in January. The idea is to more directly compete with the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class.
The current CTS was introduced in late 2007 and helped upend Cadillac's image as a brand for older consumers. However, sales of the car fell 14.6 percent last year to 46,979 vehicles as it aged and was squeezed between the ATS and XTS.
CTS has been Cadillac's "backbone" since it was first sold in 2002, brand design chief Mark Adams said.
However, analysts said the Cadillac brand still trailed its German competitors.
"The new CTS is an impressive vehicle, but Cadillac still remains under the radar of premium luxury car buyers," LMC Automotive senior analyst Joe Langley said.
"While Cadillac is finally getting their house in order and could make some inroads," he added, "the dominant German brands continue their march forward into a wide range of new niches."
LMC expects Cadillac's global sales to more than double to surpass 410,000 vehicles in 2020, while CTS sales should rise by almost a quarter to about 64,000 in that time. The slower increase is due to CTS's transition from the brand's main sedan to part of a more complete portfolio.
Cadillac executives have aggressive plans, saying last year that the brand would introduce 10 all-new or significantly refreshed vehicles globally over the following three years.
People familiar with the company's discussions with suppliers previously said Cadillac might double its vehicle lineup to as many as 10 models over the next four years as part of GM's strategy to turn the brand into a global power. Besides the new ELR plug-in electric coupe due next year, the plans may include a flagship sedan, a small crossover and a smaller car to take on BMW's 1-Series.
In addition, Cadillac officials said last summer that the brand in two years should be challenging foreign automakers for the top spot in the U.S. luxury auto segment, a position it has not held in 15 years. Officials said U.S. sales of the brand should be double the 2010 total of about 147,000 within a couple of years.
Cadillac's U.S. sales fell 1.7 percent last year to 149,782 vehicles. The United States accounts for about three-quarters of the brand's global sales, which totaled about 200,000 in 2011 and 2012, down from 241,000 in 2007.
Cadillac already has come a long way. The average age of the brand's drivers last year was about 56, down from about 63 in 1995, according to CNW Research. That compares with 52 for BMW and 59 for Mercedes.
The success of the current CTS, whose drivers are mostly in their 40s, along with the Escalade SUV's reception from hip-hop artists, helped upend Cadillac's "geezermobile" image. CNW President Art Spinella said he expected that trend to continue with new models like the 2014 CTS.
At 195.5 inches, the new CTS is longer than its rivals. GM officials said the new design, which Adams touts as "longer, lower, leaner," was an evolution of the angular "Art and Science" exterior styling the brand has embraced since the late 1990s.
Dave Leone, Cadillac's executive chief engineer, said the current CTS was meant to allow GM to attract buyers who were also looking for a smaller car, but the company "right-sized" the new version to make it more compatible with the ATS and XTS.
The new CTS also has new features GM hopes will lure more buyers, including a twin-turbo V6 engine with 420 horsepower and an eight-speed transmission - both firsts for the brand.
Cadillac designers and engineers also cut 7 percent of the curb weight from the current base model's 3,800 pounds, partly through the use of more aluminum and other lighter-weight materials. For instance, the four aluminum doors allowed GM to eliminate 55 pounds.
GM has said pricing for the new CTS would be up from the current model, which sells for $40,000 to $68,000. Cadillac's Butler said the increase would be similar to what happened when the brand transitioned to the current model, whose average transaction price rose $8,000 from the first generation.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)