With Cadillac tweaks, GM heeds China taste for models with curves

Mon Nov 5, 2012 4:36pm EST
 
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By Fang Yan, Ben Klayman and Hui Li

BEIJING/DETROIT (Reuters) - Chen Dong, the 42-year-old owner of a cellphone wholesale business in Beijing, is a big fan of Hollywood movies and the Chicago Bulls basketball team, and sends his daughter to college in the United States.

He thought of stretching that love of all things American to his car, but instead opted for a new black Audi A6 sedan over a rival Cadillac - underscoring the challenge facing General Motors Co as it seeks to promote Cadillac in China and transform it into a fully-fledged global luxury brand.

"The Cadillac SLS was one of our options, but we thought the look was just way too aggressive," said Chen, who also called in at BMW, Volvo and Infiniti showrooms. "The Cadillac's (exterior) lines were not smooth."

GM's Cadillac problem is that many other car buyers in China feel the same as Chen: that Cadillac's edgy look, with its sharp, angular lines and creased edges - inspired by the design of American stealth military planes - is a turn-off, say analysts and, indeed, Cadillac marketers' themselves.

The U.S. automaker now seems ready to phase out the angular look to woo more buyers in China, the world's biggest market for cars and a beacon for global luxury brands - where a Mercedes S-Class 300 sedan can set you back $157,000.

GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson wants Cadillac sales in China to reach U.S. levels by 2015 or 2016, part of a broader push to globalize and revive the brand from decades of neglect and turn it into a serious rival to BMW.

"Successful global automotive companies must have a major global luxury brand that ... wins around the world, and in China," Akerson said at the Beijing auto show earlier this year.

Focusing on China with Cadillac is a must for GM. Demand for luxury cars in the world's second-biggest economy is forecast to grow to 2.7 million cars a year by 2020, overtaking the United States as the world's leading luxury car market.   Continued...

 
A model stands next to a Cadillac ELR at Auto China 2012 in Beijing April 24, 2012. General Motors expects sales of its Cadillac models in China to match U.S. sales levels by 2015 or 2016, the company's chief executive said on Monday. REUTERS/Jason Lee