Special Report

UAW logo2007 UAW
Labor Talks

Cadillac’s future has come into sharper focus following General Motors Corp.’s tentative labor contract with the United Auto Workers union, in which the auto maker is committing to new product programs at a number of assembly plants.

Among the potential models that could join the luxury marque’s stable is a cross/utility vehicle pulled from the Theta Epsilon platform that underpins the latest Saturn Vue; a small rear-wheel-drive car based on an all-new architecture; and a fullsize RWD sedan derived from the Australia-designed Zeta platform that will spawn the upcoming ’09 Chevrolet Camaro.

An expanded CTS line also is in the cards, according to a document detailing GM’s plant plans leaked last week on a dissident UAW website.

Cadillac sales have been on the rise in recent years, thanks mainly to the addition of light trucks. Although U.S. sales are down 8.8% through September, overall Cadillac’s domestic demand has been growing, reaching 227,014 units last year, up from 178,507 in 1999.

But the brand has been surpassed in its home market by foreign luxury marques such as Lexus, BMW and Mercedes and it continues to struggle to establish a beachhead overseas. A broader lineup may be needed to better position Cadillac against those rivals both in the U.S. and abroad.

“We absolutely need to expand our portfolio,” Cadillac General Manager Jim Taylor noted at an event in August.

GM’s Lansing (MI) Grand River plant, current home of the Cadillac CTS, STS and SRX, will undergo serious changes in 2009, as production of the SRX and STS are discontinued to make way for additional CTS models and the new Zeta products, according to the UAW document.

GM officials have been quoted as saying the current Cadillac STS and DTS would be replaced by one large sedan at the top of the lineup, and the introduction of Zeta to the LGR facility appears to confirm that notion. Sales of the DTS and STS have been a disappointment for the brand, totaling just 52,912 through September, down 18.0% from year-ago.

The UAW document indicates Zeta will launch at the plant in 2011, following the build-out of the current DTS and Buick Lucerne at GM’s Hamtramck, MI, assembly plant.

Two Zeta products will be assembled at LGR, according to the contract proposal. In addition to the fullsize Cadillac, candidates for the second model include the Pontiac G8, which initially will be imported from Australia for sale in the U.S. beginning early next year. Production was expected to shift to the U.S. after two years, but there have been indications the car’s Australian run could be extended.

Analysts say a fullsize RWD Buick to replace the Lucerne may be a more likely second Zeta model at LGR. Buick officials have been debating whether the brand should add a RWD sedan or stay focused on front-wheel-drive cars. If Buick does opt for a large RWD sedan, one option would be to import the Zeta-based Buick Park Avenue from China, where the car already is in production.

In addition, Zeta-based vehicles will be sourced from Oshawa, ON, Canada, with the launch of the Camaro there in 2008. Chevrolet also could get a fullsize sedan from the platform to replace the FWD Impala, currently built in Oshawa.

Just prior to the Zeta launch, LGR will add a long-rumored CTS wagon and coupe into the mix beginning in 2009.

GM will put an all-new platform, dubbed Alpha, into production at its Lordstown, OH, plant beginning in 2011. The Alpha reportedly is a small, rear-drive car architecture that combines elements of the existing Kappa platform used for the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky roadster and the new Zeta platform.

Alpha is expected to be the basis for a new Cadillac positioned below the CTS in size. It would replace the European-built BLS, based on the FWD Epsilon architecture shared with such cars as the Saab 9-3 and Chevrolet Malibu.

Alpha will result in two models at Lordstown, the contract agreement states. Other candidates to get the car include Pontiac, which could use the RWD Alpha as an eventual replacement for the FWD G6, and Buick. Saturn reportedly also could receive a version of the car to sell alongside the FWD Aura. The Saturn would share styling with Alpha-derived Opel and Holden models for Europe and Australia, reports suggest.

Local union officials say they have not been briefed on what Alpha is or how it will be added into the mix at the Lordstown plant, which also is slated to produce a small car off the FWD Gamma platform beginning in 2010. The current Gamma platform underpins the Chevrolet Aveo built in South Korea. Lordstown currently makes the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5, based on the Delta platform.

With a fullsize Zeta-derived model, the broadened CTS range and the Alpha, Cadillac would be better positioned to go head to head with the BMW 3-, 5- and 7-Series lineup or Mercedes-Benz’s C-, E- and S-Class models.

“If we don’t add as much (product as the German luxury brands), the gap between us will widen,” Taylor told Ward’s in late August. “We have to put adequate capital in Cadillac to keep pace.”

That will be a tall order. BMW AG last week revealed plans to expand its lineup further with an eye toward achieving global sales of 2 million vehicles annually by 2020.

With the SRX ending production at LGR in 2009, Cadillac will need a new CUV. Press reports have signaled the division’s interest in switching to a FWD platform for the next-generation model, and the 2011 launch of a Theta Epsilon CUV at the Spring Hill, TN, plant could fill that need. Theta Epsilon currently is the basis for the Vue, built in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, and could underpin a new Saab CUV, likely to be called the 9-4 and reportedly due in 2009. Analysts say Buick also may be a candidate for a Theta Epsilon CUV.

The SRX replacement is expected to be positioned against the BMW X-3 and feature a more rounded rear hatch, a wide range of interior color schemes and a pop-up navigation system, Motor Trend reports. It may be offered with hybrid and diesel powertrains, the latter aimed primarily at Europe, the magazine says.

Also noted in the UAW document is the continuation of the Cadillac XLR roadster, the next-generation of which joins an all-new Corvette in production at the Bowling Green, KY, plant in 2012.

dzoia@wardsauto.com