was Americas fastest-
growing luxury car
brand. Love it or hate
it, the new right-hand
drive Cadillac BLS
saloon is on sale in the
UK now. So, are you a
leader or a follower?
CADILLAC, once the 'must-have' luxury accessory for film stars, starlets, rock icons, US politicians and corporate moguls has, after years of falling sales, achieved a renaissance over the last five years in its home market. And now it's expanding into Europe.
Cadillac's annual sales in the US have risen quickly to 253,322 vehicles in 2005 to make it America's fastest growing luxury car brand ahead of BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Lexus. Some achievement.
Spurred on by this commendable domestic success, GM Corporation officially re-entered the European market with Cadillac last year, when they sold 2,145 cars a substantial sales increase of 73 per cent.
A very small number of Corvettes were also sold.
The BLS four-door saloon range with one diesel and three petrol engine options is the key product for Cadillac. They expect it to 'grow' their worldwide market potential four-fold from 750,000 annual sales to three million.
Cadillac and Corvette Europe Limited part of the Dutch run Kroymans Group are now running things in 28 European countries. They have uniquely appointed one of the world's largest dealer groups, Strat-stone-Pendragon, to distribute and sell both model ranges in the UK, from May 2005.
Supporting the dealer group, Cadillac and Corvette Europe Limited do have a small UK liaison operation based in Bracknell, Berkshire, headed by Malcolm Wade, Director of Sales Cadillac Europe and Managing Director for the UK.
2005 saw the return to the UK market of the Cadillac brand after a break of three years. Initially sales started in 1998 through 11 Vauxhall dealers selling Cadillac Seville, Chevrolet Blazer and Corvette models. The prices were too high, the driving qualities were not up to European requirements and even huge discounts did not lift sales much above 3,000 units in nearly five years. But that was then. Lessons learnt:
this is now.
Cadillac Europe admit that in the UK the biggest problem is to convince customers this time round that the brands are here to stay and that the products are now engineered, equipped and priced to meet European requirements.
Currently, the Cadillac and Corvette brands are represented by a mixture of right- and left-hand drive model ranges: the executive CTS, the SRX monster 4x4, the STS touring saloon, the XLR two-seat roadster and the Corvette C6 sports car.
But the key model to their success in Europe is the new BLS 'premium' mid-sized saloon designed in Europe and built in Europe for Euro-peans at GM's Saab factory in Trollhattan, Sweden. The BLS fits into GM's European range above Saab, and its main competitors will be the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4 and Lexus IS.
The BLS goes on sale in the UK from 8 April and at the UK media introduction currently taking place, Malcolm Wade said that the new model range would more than double the brand's sales volumes in Europe during 2006.
European BLS sales are expected to be around 10,000 units this year but the UK's target was not forthcoming. However, industry pundits believe 1,500 BLS sales in the UK this year would be realistic and, depending upon market conditions, 2,000, to 2,500 in a full year should definitely be achievable.
Malcolm Wade added: "With the American Cadillac heritage but with the BLS designed and built in Europe to meet European requirements we are promoting Cadillac as an aspirational brand. It's a Cadillac.
The BLS is aimed at customers who want something different. They don't need it but they want it. It has all the driving sophistication and specification of a European luxury car but with Cadillac's distinctive bold styling. We acknowledge it will be a love or hate decision for some potential customers."
In the region of 75 per cent of UK customers for the BLS models are expected to be business and corporate sales.
With prices ranging from £21,473 to £32,398, the BLS range has four turbocharged engine options each with the choice of a manual or auto-matic transmission. Prime seller will be the 150bhp 1.9TiD advanced common-rail diesel models which are expected to account for two thirds of all BLS sales in the UK.
Three petrol engines are on offer. At launch it will be the 255bhp 2.8-litre V6 followed in six to eight weeks by two all-aluminium 2.0-litre petrol engines one with 175bhp and the other with 210bhp. With a manual transmission, acceleration to 62mph takes 8.5 seconds (175bhp engine) and 7.7 seconds (210bhp), while top speeds are 137 and 146mph. Fuel consumption on the combined cycle is 37.2 and 33.2mpg respectively. All these powerplants come from GM's European family of brands.
Stratstone-Pendragon is currently expanding its Cadillac and Corvette UK dealer network. Five new locations have recently been announced as well as confirmation that at least seven more will be added by the end of the year to bring the total number to nineteen. The very recent takeover of the Reg Vardy dealer group by Pendragon plc has resulted in more sales and service sites for the two GM brands now becoming available.
The current and future dealer locations confirmed are: Park Lane London, Birmingham, Cheltenham, Reading, Derby, Leeds, Newcastle, Hagley, Luton, Cardiff, Manchester, Weybridge, Leicester, Edinburgh, Northampton, Poole, Nottingham, Glasgow and Plymouth. Open points are East Anglia, the North West, Bristol, Lincolnshire and Kent. Stratstone is also offering UK customers a collection and delivery service for their cars to any of their 22 service centres.
Servicing is clearly covered for new Cadillac owners. Before that,
they will want a test drive. So what's the new Cadillac really like to drive? Underneath the skin the Cadillac BLS is, as you might expect from being built alongside Saabs in Sweden, very much a GM European product. Apart from its looks it could be a Saab 9-3 or a Vauxhall Vectra. And that's good news on the performance front because it handles like them as well. In true American style it has a generous standard equipment specification. Another plus point.
Externally, it's the Cadillac's traditional 'hard' styling lines, 'stack' head-lights and grille that immediately set the BLS apart from its European cousins. It's a look that will, as Malcolm Wade rightly says, either be liked or not and I agree with him. If you want something different, this is definitely your car. Even today the Cadillac name still has a desirable ring to it and I can just see quite a few private hire and executive chauffeur companies offering Cadillacs to their customers.
With no great aspirations for huge sales numbers, Cadillac BLS
models should not be overly discounted so residual values should be reasonable not as good as those of a Mercedes or Audi perhaps,
but not a financial disaster either.
Although none of the 2.0-litre petrol engines were available for the media to drive at the pre-launch test drive event, the 1.9-litreTiD four-cylinder turbodiesel unit was as too was the new aluminium 2.8-litre V6 turbocharged petrol engine.
Common sense says buy diesel. We already know the GM 1.9-litre engine is a good one, providing a muscular 236lb ft of torque from 2,000 to 2,700rpm and 150bhp to give a top speed of 131mph and
0-62mph acceleration in 9.5 seconds. Most impressive features were the low engine noise level inside the car and the fuel economy of 39.5mpg achieved during a realistic 100-mile test drive over a variety of typical Wiltshire roads. Official figures suggest an excellent 46.3mpg can be achieved overall. More plus points.
However, I was even more impressed by the performance of the new aluminium 2.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine. It was very quiet, smooth, and lively and gave the car the performance you expect from a Cadillac with 255bhp on tap. Part of a new generation of engines used globally by GM, this V6 offers plenty of power in all driving conditions thanks to a maximum torque figure of 258 lb ft generated at a low 2,000rpm. With a manual transmission, acceleration to 62mph takes 6.7 seconds and the top speed is 155mph.
Fuel economy does not seem to be its strong point. My test car only achieved 22mpg over the same test route we drove in the diesel Cadillac says automatic transmission models should see an average consumption of 26.2mpg. If I was a private buyer covering only a limited annual mileage I might just go for this engine as it just felt more in tune with the image of owning a Cadillac.
The Cadillac BLS brings nothing new to the compact executive car market except its name and rarity value. At a time when it seems like there's a 3 Series on every other drive, the Cadillac's rarity factor is an important trump card. Interior quality is well up to European standards, although some of the plastic finishes could be better. That said, the leather upholstery looks particularly smart.
The multi-adjustable front seats have a wide range of movement and the BLS cabin will seat up to five adults in considerable comfort. Adjustable head restraints and three-point seatbelts are provided for all five occupants. The boot capacity of 425 litres can be increased by folding forwards part or all of the 60:40 split rear-seat backrest.
Three trim levels are available SE, Luxury and Sport Luxury and
all provide generous standard equipment levels. The standard SE trim includes 16-inch alloy wheels, three-spoke leather steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, climate control air-conditioning, one-touch front and rear electric windows and a seven-speaker audio system with CD player.
The intermediate Luxury trim level has all of the above SE features and in addition gets 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, auto rain sensor/ wipers, driver and passenger eight-way adjustable powered heated front seats with memory, dual-zone climate control, leather trim and red walnut wood veneer interior trim.
The top of the range Sport Luxury trim level has even more standard equipment including 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/45 R18 tyres,
sports suspension, bi-xenon headlamps and a nine-speaker Bose audio system.
The BLS comes equipped with a comprehensive range of safety equipment including front, side and curtain airbags, 'active' front seat head restraints and head restraints and three-point seatbelts for all five seats. There are also pyrotechnic seatbelt tensioners and force limiters on the front seats as well as on the out-board rear seats.
An all-disc brake system features state-of-the-art electronic aids including and fitted as standard on all UK-market BLS models
the StabiliTrak electronic stability system.
In the past, cars with 'love me/hate me' looks have often proven to
be a winner. Thankfully, not everybody wants to drive the same car as everyone else. If you like the Cadillac BLS (you won't have to think about it because you'll know how you feel at first sight and for the record, we rather like it), then about the only other thing you'll want to satisfy yourself about before writing the cheque will be the relatively low number of UK dealers. Just remember that's never stopped people buying Aston Matins or Ferraris! David Miles
Cadillac BLS Luxury 1.9 TiD | £25,073
Maximum speed: 131mph | 0-62mph: 9.5 seconds
Test MPG: 39.5mpg | Power: 150bhp | Torque: 236lb ft
Visit Cadillac's website