January 14, 2019 / 8:50 PM / 9 months ago

GM electric vehicle strategy last chance for Cadillac's success: executive

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co’s (GM.N) strategy to make its luxury Cadillac marque its lead electric vehicle brand is the automaker’s final opportunity to turn the unit around and make it a success, a top executive said on Monday.

Members of the media look at General Motors 2020 Cadillac XT6 SUV after it was revealed on the eve of press days of the North American International Auto show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

“We don’t have any chances left with taking Cadillac to a really new place,” newly appointed GM President Mark Reuss told Reuters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show. “This is pretty much it.”

“So we really have to hit the ball here,” he added. “It’s my job to make sure we do.”

In a move first reported by Reuters, GM said on Friday that a Cadillac would be the first vehicle built on the No. 1 U.S. automaker’s “BEV3” platform to challenge electric carmaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O).

Tesla’s market capitalization is higher than GM’s, even though Tesla has never posted a full-year profit.

Reuss did not elaborate on what would happen if the multi-year effort to make the Cadillac brand more profitable failed.

But GM has demonstrated repeatedly over the last two years a willingness to exit unprofitable markets and kill weak car lines in North America. In November it put five North American factories, including four in the United States, on notice for closure and cut almost 15,000 jobs.

GM has struggled for years to make Cadillac more competitive. Last spring the automaker replaced veteran auto executive Johan de Nysschen as head of the Cadillac brand. Appointed in 2014, he outlined bold plans to reshape Cadillac’s lineup with a $12 billion product program.

He moved Cadillac’s headquarters to New York in 2015, saying the brand’s executives should be closer to the urban customers who had for years shunned it.

In a belated bid to catch up with rapidly shifting U.S. consumer preferences, Cadillac said in 2017 it would shrink its lineup of sedans and add sport utility vehicles and hybrid and electric vehicles.

Cadillac U.S. sales fell more than 1 percent in 2018.

Late Sunday GM unveiled its new 2020 Cadillac XT6 SUV that goes on sale later this year and will be built in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

GM said in 2017 it planned by 2021 to introduce a new dedicated flexible electric vehicle architecture and an advanced battery system to support the development of at least 20 new models in the United States and China. Much of Cadillac’s future growth is expected to come from China, the world’s largest car market.

Reuss said “one of the first” fully electric Cadillac models using the new platform would be on the market around 2022.

He said it was too early to tell how long it would take for Cadillac’s entire lineup to become electric, but he anticipated a combination of electrified and combustion engine models “for quite a few years” to come.

“All I’m focused on is what we’re doing right now…” Reuss said, “and getting momentum back in Cadillac.”

Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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