On the surface, Cadillac's decision to redesign its logo may not seem like such a major event. But beyond the redesigned wreath and crest logo is a spate of new products planned for the next five years that may indicate the division finally knows where it wants to go. The question is whether it has the solid footing to get there.

Cadillac General Manager John Smith admits it will take a hefty dose of cash and new products, not just a new logo, to boost the division's image. And it will take a bigger commitment from dealers, as well. Cadillac is embarking on a plan to redesign its dealerships and launching a new advertising campaign in November.

“I like what we are doing,” says Mr. Smith. “Cadillac is changing.”

The first glimpse of the new dealership look will appear sometime during the next six months, and a full pilot dealership will be in place by the end of 2000. The division wants its vehicle showrooms to make a visual statement to reflect its new “art and science” theme and hint at the direction of future product design.

To improve the “retail experience,” Cadillac has hired Andree Putman, an internationally known contemporary designer, and two architectural firms to help with the dealership redesign. Ms. Putman, who operates from Paris, will focus primarily on the interior design. Booziotis & Co. of Dallas and Hillier Group of Princeton, NJ, one of the largest architectural firms in the country, will handle the exterior work.

The transformation won't come cheap. Just how many dealers will want to make the seven-figure investment isn't known, nor is it clear what incentives GM will provide to offset some of those costs.

“We are not just talking looks, but the entire customer experience in the showroom,” a Cadillac spokesman says.

These dealerships will be stocked with plenty of new products. Late next year, Cadillac plans to roll out an all-new Escalade sport/utility vehicle (SUV), which will be followed by a luxury SUV/pickup to compete with Ford's Lincoln Blackwood. The Blackwood doesn't go into production until December 2000, which means Cadillac could beat Lincoln to market with its still-unnamed vehicle.

The Catera replacement is due out sometime in late 2001, but it isn't likely to go on sale until January 2002. That will allow GM to call it a '03 model in order to get emissions certification for another year. Production of the vehicle is being moved to a new plant in Lansing, MI, from Germany. It will be the first vehicle built off of GM's new rear-wheel-drive platform, dubbed Sigma. There also is talk of dropping the Catera name and replacing it with an alphanumeric one.

Sources say the Sigma platform also will be the basis for a smaller luxury SUV — Cadillac calls it a “luxury activity vehicle” — that will compete with the Lexus RX 300 when it debuts in the fall of 2002 as a '03 model. The Seville will move to the Sigma platform in the fall of 2003 for the '04 model year, sources say, and may be available with optional all-wheel-drive.

The Evoq currently is scheduled to arrive sometime in 2002. Pricing hasn't been set, but Cadillac is said to be eyeing a sticker close to $70,000. It will be built at the Bowling Green, KY, assembly plant alongside the Corvette (see Ward's Automotive Reports — June 28, 1999, p.1). The Evoq will use the next-generation Corvette platform (C6), but GM also hopes to use some Sigma components, such as instrument panel supports and center stack cowlings to keep with the Cadillac look. Aluminum body panels, instead of the fiberglass used on the Corvette, also are expected to be used on the Evoq.