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Cadillac attack!

Caddies to watch: (Clockwise from top left) BLS, CTS, SRX, XLR.

Holden confirms Caddy launch is close as GoAuto spies several cars in testing

25 May 2005

HOLDEN has confirmed that it will make its decision to introduce Cadillacs on our roads within 18 months.

If the brand gets the green light, and it looks very likely given the signals from Holden management, GoAuto understands that four models will initially be launched, among them the Commodore-size CTS sedan, the XLR coupe and BMW X5-fighting SRX four-wheel drive wagon.

A surprise inclusion in the line-up could be the Saab 9-3-based front-wheel drive BLS sedan, which was unveiled at the Geneva motor show earlier this year.

Holden chairman and managing director, Denny Mooney, told GoAuto last week the BLS could be a perfect fit depending on "pricing and content".

He refused to divulge the investment – believed to be millions – Holden is making to bring the premium General Motors brand to Australia, but maintained Cadillac cars "would be priced well above Holdens" and not threaten prestige Australian-built cars such as Calais and Caprice.

Instead, his intention is to rival offerings from the likes of Lexus, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

As shown in exclusive photographs taken last week, GoAuto can reveal the development program for the brand is well advanced with left-hand drive engineering mules of the CTS and XLR spotted around Melbourne.

Mr Mooney confirmed last week that Holden engineers were testing a range of Cadillac product for Australian consumption, and that Holden executive director marketing and sales Ross McKenzie was well down the track on a marketing and dealership strategy for the brand.

He said Cadillac vehicles would be sold through select stand-alone dealerships, rather than in Holden showrooms, and that substantial investment – from the dealers, with possible assistance from Holden – would be required at these retail sites to ensure facilities were at BMW or Mercedes-Benz levels.

"We’ve got to have that kind of buyer experience and (Cadillac cars) will be up in those kind of prices," he said.

He said the brand would be launched "when we think we have enough right-hand drive products and when we can support a dealership network ... (of) maybe two or three in a major metro area and just one in small areas." "What surprises me is how many really low-volume vehicles are sold in this market but they just make sure they have enough margin," Mr Mooney said.

"They’re not doing volume. I might only sell 1000 of them but if I’ve got enough margin I make a profit." Holden is still to confirm the starting line-up, however GoAuto understands a "broad spread" of vehicles will be offered, with pricing aimed squarely at the premium European and Japanese offerings in each segment.

Prices are expected to start around $70,000 to $80,000 for the CTS, $80,000 for the SRX and more than $150,000 for the XLR roadster.

The BLS sedan will compete against the BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS models and Mercedes-Benz C-Class with a circa-$55,000 starting price.

The BLS is based on GM’s Epsilon architecture and has a Holden-built 2.8-litre V6 engine and Fiat-GM Powertrain 1.9-litre turbo-diesel among the available powerplants.

Two 2.0-litre four-cylinder versions are also expected to be available in Europe when it goes on sale there next year.

 center imageWhile the CTS (Left: Spied in Melbourne last week) is at present the sole Cadillac available in right-hand drive, General Motors has confirmed that the BLS will be built in RHD and it is known that GM is engineering other models, including the SRX, for RHD production as well. The XLR is a candidate for local RHD conversion.

This latter program could see the Statesman-sized STS sedan also introduced at later date.

Along with BLS, the CTS will be a critical model for Holden. The 190kW 3.6-litre VVT V6 version is a clear rival for the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-class. It is also available in the United States with a 156kW 2.8-litre V6 as well as six-speed Aisin manual or sequential auto.

Like its siblings the CTS comes well equipped with eight airbags, handling electronics, sports-tuned suspension, premium stereo, climate control air-conditioning, leather trim... and so on.

At 4829mm in length, the sedan is just 47mm shorter than the Commodore, the same height but slightly narrower. The 2880mm wheelbase is also longer than the Commodore’s 2789mm.

Meantime, the SRX will hand Holden a long-overdue 4WD wagon better able than Adventra to compete with premium entrants such as the Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90 and Mercedes M-class. In the United States, the SRX is available with either a 190kW 3.6-litre VVT V6 or 238kW Northstar 4.6-litre VVT V8. Both are mated to five-speed sequential automatics.

Cadillac is also known to be working on a diesel engine, due around 2007, for both the SRX and some of its passenger cars.

SRX equipment levels are expected to be generous, high-end models in the United States offered with magnetic ride control, xenon headlights, third-row seating, rear entertainment units, sunroof and more sophisticated handling aids.

Mr Mooney admitted that establishing the Cadillac brand here "would not be easy".

"I’m not saying it’s like falling off a log," he said.

Cadillac’s impending arrival was also a consideration in Holden’s decision to change its company name to GM Holden Ltd, restoring a reference to parent company General Motors, which had been part of the Australian for all but nine years of its ownership of Holden since 1931.

Mr Mooney said the name change was important as "we do more than just Holden business".

Currently about 40 per cent of the company’s Australian cars were not badged Holden vehicles.

"They’re badged Chevrolets going to the Middle East, Buicks going to China, Daewoos going to Korea and Pontiac GTOs going to the US," Mr Mooney said.

"If you’re a Holden employee in South Australia, you’re not only building Holdens but lots of other General Motors cars." Mr Mooney said the name change would, in part, strongly reinforce the fact that Holden was now part of a global business.

"Holden is still our primary brand though," he said.

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