ELKHART LAKE, WI – The launch of the compact Cadillac ATS has been more successful than originally hoped, with 50% of all buyers new to General Motors and 70% of those new to Cadillac, says Hampden Tener, the brand’s product director.

Even more important, 96% of buyers report they are happy with the car and 80% say they now have a higher opinion of Cadillac than before, Tener says in an interview during the Midwest Automotive Media Assn.’s spring new-car rally held at the Road America racecourse here.

"We've earned the respect of people and gotten new buyers into our compact-luxury offering,” he says. “And we’ve earned the respect of the media, with the ATS having been voted North American Car of the Year. We're No.3 in compact luxury cars behind the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3-Series.”

With sales of more than 11,500 units in the year’s first four months, Cadillac intends to capitalize on the momentum generated by the ATS and expand the model lineup.

“It was always our intention to expand the variety of model offerings as we grew our sales volume, and an ATS coupe would be one of those being considered,” Tener says. “And I'd love to have a convertible in the showroom.

“When you look at it rationally, the demand for one wouldn't be overwhelming, but you'd want one in your luxury wardrobe and every luxury customer should have one in the garage,” he says with a smile.

There’s no stopping there, with the next-generation CTS coming this fall and the ELR extended-range electric vehicle out early next year.

Tener also responds to speculation about a top-of-the-line flagship sedan referred to by some as the ZTS that will join the Cadillac lineup as an asprational model for XTS owners.

"If we are serious in our goal to be a global Tier 1 luxury car maker, we have to move our product range up, and that's been a constant part of the talk here and to clear room for it,” he says.

“Our consumer surveys show that people still respect Cadillac as representing the best of the best so, of course, a high-end sedan would be perfect for us. Despite some missteps over the years, we've always held on to our prestige image and we have a lot in the development pipeline to attract more new customers to Cadillac."

A WardsAuto new-product forecast calls for the ZTS to join Cadillac’s lineup in the ’17 model year.

As for the global market, Tener says adding a high-mileage diesel “is part of our growth plan for the ATS in Europe, but there's no date yet. After that we'll look at the ATS diesel in other markets, but Europe gets it first and it's not in the short-term plans for the U.S.”

Cadillac still is committed to high-performance V-class cars in its CTS series. Asked if the ATS might get a high-performance V, he responds, “We have nothing to announce about an ATS V, but we are committed to the V and growing and extending that line.”

Even with the ambitious growth plans, Cadillac will have no capacity problems. "We can always leverage General Motors’ production footprint. We have plenty of places to build and no constraint problems. The recent plant announcement in China helps handle capacity as well.”

Cadillac also intends to strengthen its position in California, where imports have long dominated.  "We've been under represented, especially in the Bay area,” Tener says. “With smaller, youthful products like our ATS, it will help us go head-to-head with the Europeans because these are the type of luxury cars people are more familiar with and can relate to.”

As for the electrified ELR, Cadillac has more than 30,000 hand-raisers from consumers expressing interest in the car coming out early next year. “We won't sell 30,000, because we can't build 30,000,” he says. “It will be a pretty exclusive car.”