Last year, General Motors’ Cadillac luxury brand had its best year since 1986 in terms of global sales volume, moving approximately 309k units – an 11-percent increase over 2015 – thanks in large part to strong demand in China.
According to Automotive News, the reason for Cadillac’s popularity there is quite simple: heritage. Status-minded Chinese consumers are aware that “people who own, or are at least chauffeured in, a Cadillac are part of an elite 115-year-old club,” writes AN‘s Hans Greimel. It’s quite similar to how Buick has managed to find a captive audience in the world’s largest auto market – except that instead of China’s first president, Sun Yat-sen, and the country’s last emperor, Pu Yi, Cadillac has an entirely different selection of celebrities it can leverage.
In fact, at China’s biggest Cadillac dealer, Shanghai Brilliance Hutong Auto Sales Co., a “wall of honor” is decorated with the names of famous people who once owned or were driven in Cadillacs: Barack Obama, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Queens Elizabeth II, and others.
Granted, the luxury brand still has a ways to go in order to catch up to German rivals Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi. Mercedes sold 473k units in China alone last year, Automotive News says, to BMW’s 516k, and Audi’s 592k. Cadillac sold 116k units – a 45-percent increase over 2015, but still a mere fraction of what the German luxury brands sold. Of course, those makes all beat Cadillac to establishing local manufacturing bases; the GM luxury marque opened its first factory in China last year.
That new plant should go a long way in helping Cadillac narrow the gap a bit, and possibly toward driving global brand sales past their 1980 peak of 360,000 units. The factory is currently only operating at about half capacity, and should reach its full 160k-car max in two years, says GM Executive Director of Chinese Manufacturing Paul Buetow.