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Cadillac throwing around big numbers

Published February 25, 2004

Only a few years ago Cadillac was holding on by its thumbs.

In 2000, the one-time king of the luxury-car segment languished in the No. 5 sales spot behind Lexus, Mercedes, Lincoln and BMW.

Thanks to new vehicles and a new design, people who had forgotten where the nearest Cadillac dealership was can now cite address, phone number and ZIP code.

In '03, Cadillac sold 216,000 vehicles, best number since 1990, as it climbed a notch to No. 4.

Cadillac now is talking about adding a model that could carry a six-figure price tag.

A $100,000 Cadillac? Maybe a $300,000 Caddy, too.

Cadillac feels it has cause to consider that territory now that people are standing in line with $80,000 in hand to buy a 2004 XLR roadster.

"We've been looking at what we call an ultraluxury sedan for Cadillac," Bob Lutz, vice chairman of product development for General Motors, said in an interview.

"We have the capital to do it, to create a flagship that shows what GM is capable of producing, something along the lines of the Cadillac Sixteen [1,000-horsepower concept of two years ago]," he said.

Actually, Lutz said, GM is investigating a trio of ultraluxury sedans to determine which one--or more--might be best.

Lutz says Cadillac is considering:

- A sedan larger than DeVille with all the amenities, a V-8 engine, rear- and all-wheel-drive, priced from $60,000 to $70,000. It would build 4,000 to 5,000 units worldwide.

- A rear-all-wheel-drive sedan with a V-12 engine that would sell for about $120,000. Production would be about 2,000 worldwide.

- A sedan with a supercharged V-12 or V-16 engine priced at about $300,000 with sales of about 200 to 300 units worldwide each.

"It would be like offering a choice of `fine,' `finer,' and `finest' sedans," Lutz said.

One car offering a choice of three engines, three prices, three sets of amenities, and three different exterior designs in limited-edition numbers would be feasible and profitable.

Don't look for such a car, or series of cars, at the dealership near you too soon. But don't rule out one or all of those models.

"Rick [Wagoner, GM chairman], Gary [Cowger, president of GM's North American automotive operations], Mark [Hogan, executive vice president, advance product development] and I all have a strong willingness to do this," Lutz said.

Another Mark, Cadillac general manager Mark LaNeve, has been lobbying corporate powers for such a vehicle for two years.

"It may be some years yet into the future, and we're only in the sketch and scheme phase now, but it's important to have a vision for what you want to do because nine-tenths of this business is planning for the future," Lutz said.

"We want a vehicle that would radiate over the Cadillac brand. We may have to modify our vision, but we have a clear vision of where we want to go," Lutz said.

While rivals usually don't welcome competition, at least one current maker of ultraluxury sedans with $200,000-plus window stickers says it isn't bothered a bit.

"Anything that lifts people's heads, gets them thinking about our market sector and forces them to compare cars in the sector is healthy for the sector," said Alasdair Stewart, chief executive of Bentley Cars of North America.
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