Cadillac’s recently-appointed brand chief Johan de Nysschen has made some controversial decisions in his short time with the American luxury automaker. The long-time auto exec comes from Infiniti, where he moved the brand’s headquarters and renamed their entire product lineup, much like he’s now done with Cadillac. One automotive industry expert, Keith Crain, already wrote an open letter decrying de Nysschen’s decisions, but he’s not the only one that has a bone to pick with the South African native.
Retail automotive industry expert Jim Ziegler has worked as a salesman, sales manager and trainer for 37 years and is well poised to speak on the Cadillac situation. He wrecently wrote an editorial published by Ward’s Automotive expressing his concern that de Nysschen plans to “disenfranchise many of its dealers.”
Ziegler says Cadillac’s attempted revival in the late-1990s to 2005 made it exciting and edgy, helping it to capture a younger demographic. However now he believes the company “has lost its energy and its unique identity as market share continues to drip away,” and foreign luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW dominate in sales.
GM’s strategy now, in Ziegler’s words, is to “build a flagship sedan to compete with BMW and Mercedes. Then (GM’s) going to hire South African marketing genius Johan de Nysschen and give him a lot of power.” A similar plan worked for Audi, which under de Nysschen’s leadership experienced a jump in U.S. sales of 60,000 units in three years, but Ziegler thinks it also entails cutting the number of dealers.
“The strategy is clear. Isolate the brand headquarters. Move it away from the corporate culture of the parent company, then reduce the number of dealers, create scarcity of product by cutting production, which ultimately allows the brand to increase transaction prices,” he wrote.
Like in Crain’s op-ed on the Cadillac situation, Ziegler disagrees with de Nysschen’s new naming convention for Cadillac. He says American cars “have names and brand identities, not numbers and letters,” like German cars. The naming convention appeals better to younger buyers and translates better in foreign markets, but this chasing of a younger demographic will “destroy the owner base,” according to Ziegler.
Time will tell if Crain and Ziegler’s assumptions about Cadillac are right. We can’t predict what will happen better than anyone else, but we have trouble faulting Cadillac for wanting to chase a younger customer base. We also have trouble blaming de Nysschen for coming in and implementing change, after all, that’s why he was hired in the first place.