Moving upmarket at just the right time. By John McElroy WardsAuto.com, Jun 30 2003 In the course of my career I’ve watched Cadillac try to climb back to where it used to be, time and time again. For a brand that was the standard of the world for nearly 70 years, the last quarter century has been pretty rough on Henry Leland’s baby. Cadillac’s problems actually started at the peak of its success. Back in the 1970s then-General Manager George Elges started Cadillac on a tear that eventually saw sales double to 350,000 cars a year by 1978. It was a remarkable accomplishment, but it destroyed the brand’s aura of exclusivity. By the early 1980s Cadillac was struggling to sustain its sales volume. Almost every move it made was a fiasco. There was the Cimarron, nothing more than a lightly gussied up Chevrolet Cavalier. There were the “downsized Cadillacs,” something of an oxymoron. There was the V-8-6-4 engine and 5.7L V-8 diesel with their driveability and durability problems. There was the Allante, a handsome car done in by early quality glitches and an eye-popping price tag. And most recently there was the forgettable Catera, which featured a cartoon duck in its television ads. So now, to break with the past, Cadillac has gone in for a full makeover. Yet this time I think they really have a chance. I’m not a big fan of the new hard-edged styling. But I’ll say this for it: People can spot a new Caddy from 500 hundred yards away. The new names have me totally confused. CTS, SRX, XLR, EXT, ESV, STS, DTS. I can’t remember what’s what. But the incomprehensible model names put all the more emphasis on the brand: Cadillac. And it’s the technology and engineering on these new cars that convinces me Cadillac finally is serious. The new Northstar engine, Magna Ride, radar cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, OnStar and XM Radio are just a few examples of features that either match or surpass the competition. Moreover, the competition is making it easier for Cadillac. With the Maybach, DaimlerChrysler essentially is telling its customers that Mercedes is no longer the best brand. And the $26,000 C-Class hatchback tells them just about anyone can buy a car with a 3-pointed star. The same goes for BMW with Mini, Rolls-Royce and the 1-Series. They’re opening the door wide for Cadillac to waltz right in. The challenge will be handling the transition. Imagine the showroom scene where old Maury creaks in with his walker to buy his last plain DeVille, while Buffy bounces by to lease her first CTS, and some Eminem wannabe saunters over with his dogs and their bling-bling to purchase another ’Slade. Sounds like a sitcom in the making. But will GM really stick to the program? Look what happened at Saab and Saturn. Keeping Cadillac going will take a steady influx of investment for new product and technology. If it gets that, Cadillac can stand proud on top of the mountain with its flag unfurled for all to see. If not, bring back the duck.