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Cadillac gets its own engineering team
Luxury status

By Dave Guilford
Automotive News / June 16, 2003

DETROIT - General Motors has given Cadillac something that none of its other divisions has: a dedicated engineering team.

The move comes as GM completes a decade-long consolidation of its vehicle engineering staff. That effort, part of former Chairman Jack Smith's drive to eliminate overlapping staffs, dissolved the independent engineering operations of its divisions in 1995.

But Jim Queen, vice president for North American engineering, led an effort to give Cadillac a special unit as it moves into higher priced luxury competition. The 100-person Cadillac team will remain part of engineering, unlike the divisional engineering staffs of the past.

The decision was hotly debated by GM's North American Strategy Board. It represents an exception to the "run common" company ideology that has guided much of GM's consolidation since 1992, Queen says.

"The question was: Do we treat all brands the same?" Queen says. "Going in, the answer was yes."

But he says that as GM benchmarked competing luxury brands it concluded that competitors achieve top quality by giving those brands special attention. Tear-downs of high-ticket vehicles showed different equipment and specifications.

Reviving rwd

Queen says he decided Cadillac needed specialized engineering to compete against brands such as Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. As Cadillac moves to a predominantly rear-wheel-drive lineup, GM also needs to revive its rwd expertise after decades of favoring front-wheel-drive vehicles.

GM's North American Strategy Board approved the plan early this year - but not without a struggle.

"We had the debate, and it was a hell of a debate," Queen says.

GM has specialized units for the Chevrolet Corvette and for performance vehicles, he says. But, Queen says, he doesn't expect to create a special engineering team for any other division.

The Cadillac team will be charged with satisfying the luxury customers Cadillac seeks as it markets the $76,200 XLR roadster. Buyers at that price level - and in the six-figure range, where Cadillac says it wants to go - are demanding, he says.

Jeff Schuster, director of North American forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates, says a Cadillac engineering unit will involve some added expense and could raise some internal political issues if other divisions feel slighted. But he agrees about the need for a special effort to please top-end consumers.

"Someone spending $75,000 is really expecting the best of everything," Schuster says. "That buyer is definitely a high-maintenance buyer."

Critical point

Cadillac is at a critical point, he adds. It is beginning to be shopped against brands such as Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, but it's still at the early stages of a brand rebirth. Any stumble in quality could jeopardize its progress.

Cadillac will require special processing, materials and craftsmanship, according to Denny Mooney, executive director of vehicle integration. Cadillac will continue to be the brand in which GM first uses many new technologies, as it did with magnetic ride control in the 2002 Seville, Mooney says. Cadillac will offer several by-wire features in coming years.

Mooney wants the Cadillac team to stay together. GM is changing compensation plans to encourage top hands-on engineers to stay in their jobs, rather than move on in search of promotions, Mooney says.

"We're looking for some of our top guns in engineering - engineers who are pretty aggressive and very experienced," Mooney says. "I don't expect to see turnover. We want to see stability."

This would only be news at GM. Some things die way too slowly. The idea that a luxury brand would get special attention is a no-brainer. People actually faught this idea? :banghead: Its no wonder that those of us on the outside watched at Cadillac went from the a standard of luxury to a joke. People on the inside not only didn't have a clue...some still don't!

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The problem on the "inside" was, (and is I'm sure) that everyone has their own agenda and it generally has little to do with product quality. Most guys in power that I ever met were usually more concerned with their retirement and would do anything to avoid "rocking the boat". So consequently, there were usually a lot of individuals doing their own thing and nothing got done.
But a whole lot of guys retired rich, and continue to do so, regardless of their performance.
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