Q&A with Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen

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It was just more than 24 hours after Cadillac’s “Dare Greatly” advertising campaign showcasing the new top-of-the-line CT6 gloriously debuted during the Oscars broadcast, the oft-irreverent auto industry Web log scored a precious hour of the Caddy boss’ time — it was an indeed rare opportunity of window for proud owners of Cadillac, luxury-brand enthusiasts, curious onlookers and spectators and even a dealer or two to get unfiltered and uninterrupted access to a top brand executive.

Johan de Nysschen was peppered and bombarded with a questionnaire which comprised of all kinds of questions and queries — some were really thoughtful and gave you the sense that the asker had put in a shift of study before coming out with those words, some were sharply pointed and brought about an awkward silence nonetheless Johan dodged a few but most he answered quite meticulously enough, some tongue-in-cheek — about the “Dare Greatly” campaign, about the mighty and at the same time argued decision to move Cadillac’s headquarters to New York, its criticized pricing strategy, current product, future product plans, stunning concepts that didn’t make production, the brand’s naming conventions and more. All the topics were well covered and that session of questions and answers gave a real insight about the company’s upcoming expeditions.

While de Nysschen, quite obviously and understandably owing to his very busy schedule,  couldn’t answer and respond to all of the overwhelming amount of questions, he reverted back to as many as possible. On occasions he would give it back to some smart alecks. He thought on his feet and gave smart retorts seeming he had an ace up his sleeve. For an instance, Q: Will the next gen ATS and CTS have a usable backseat? A: Depends what you want to use it for! Such incidences came like embellishments and lightened the whole mood of the audience compulsing smirks out of the onlookers.

How much response did Jalopnik generate with the Q&A? As of 2 p.m. today, 2 hours and 15 minutes after it went live, more than 380 comments.

Those weren’t just some mere words or thoughts, they represented and highlighted the mentality, work process and objective of the Organisation as a whole. The passionate response underscores the marketing challenges facing Cadillac — a brand whose most recent products have received critical praise but are struggling to compete against its luxury counterparts for demanding, brand-conscious customers.

Falling sales

Cadillac, once the king of luxury for in the U.S. for decades, saw its annual sales fall 11 percent in 2014 amid concerns about overproduction and high pricing. Audi — whose turnaround in the U.S. was engineered by de Nysschen. Yes, he was the man at the apex and he headed the major revolutionary changes that took place and brought back the wheels on track. Subsequently, passed Cadillac for the first time last year, making Caddy the No. 5 brand in the U.S.

In addition, Cadillac’s line is narrower than those of BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, etc. It doesn’t have a small luxury crossover in what’s been a white-hot segment, nor does it have an entry in the small, niche wagon or convertible markets — points responded to by de Nysschen today.

It was clear today that Cadillac has people rooting for it, but many of them disappointed with the brand’s direction. To be fair to de Nysschen, he hasn’t been at the helm for long — only since Aug. 1 of last year — and he has made it clear that Cadillac’s turnaround won’t happen overnight. He saw further evidence today that he has his work cut out for him.

De Nysschen deserves credit for putting himself out there. It was a situation tailor made by reporters and journalists, wherein the person in the limelight was on the back foot and it was a podium for them to flurry him with awkward questions and eventually make him uncomfortable. Not many executives of a struggling brand would expose themselves to potential ridicule that has become far too typical in such online forums. And, perhaps, this was an exercise in gathering the valuable marketing data he needs to get Cadillac back on track — and back on people’s shopping lists.

Q&A sampling

Here’s is a sampling of reader questions and de Nysschen’s responses.

And, if you wanted to ask him anything, what would it be?

Let’s first take a look at this sneak peek which would help you to gauge how the company will function in the next few years.

On the CT6 preview during the Oscars:

The Oscars has a sophisticated audience, and it’s a convenient opportunity to reach them. The new Cadillac brand campaign is a statement of our brand values — it’s about attitude, mindset and philosophy. It explains who we are and what we stand for. We are a bold and confident American icon with a proud heritage. We will continue to innovate and push boundaries and not shy away from taking risks. The CT6 reflects this attitude and we wanted to offer a tantalizing glimpse of the future.

On Infiniti’s alphanumeric naming scheme created under his leadership there, and Cadillac’s future naming conventions:

I don’t really feel like explaining Infiniti’s naming scheme, but I’ll do it anyway. Q is for cars and coupes, QX for crossovers and SUVs. The bigger the number, the more expensive the car. Simple.

As far as Cadillac is concerned, we are planning a dramatic expansion to the future Cadillac product range, and we simply could not find room to create names for these cars within the existing Cadillac naming convention.

On Cadillac’s “frame of mind” in deciding to move its HQ to New York:

I’m very fond of Detroit. This is where I first came to when I moved to the U.S.; I even got married here. The decision to move to New York has nothing to do with my personal preferences. Quite frankly, I’d be quite happy to stay in Detroit, myself.

We are establishing Cadillac as a more autonomous, separate business, and we need to create some space to the General Motors Corporation. If we don’t have geographic separation, then processes and the way of doing business will not change and we run the risk of continuing to apply successful strategies aimed at mainstream brands to the Cadillac business as well. The majority of our operations will, in fact, remain in Michigan.

On diesel plans:

We will have four-cylinder and six-cylinder diesel engines, but not before 2019.

On future plans for a convertible:

I think it’s time that Cadillac gets a convertible back in the lineup, but it will take a few years. We are working on many different projects.

On the lack of a manual-transmission wagon:

Apart from you and me, and a handful of huge enthusiasts, there are not too many eccentric souls demanding a high-performance, manual-transmission wagon. So we have many other priorities. I’m pleased to remind that we are driving enthusiasts at Cadillac, and so ATS and ATS-V are available with stick shift. Awesome driver’s cars!