When Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen agreed to answer reader questions for Jalopnik recently, it didn't take long for readers to ask him about the brand's controversial new naming scheme. His response wasn't terribly surprising, and as a result, my suggestion to him might not be either. But here I go anyway.
First, let's quickly go over the skinny for those of you who don't keep up with automotive industry news like the rest of us nerds do. Nerds: here's your cue to skip the next paragraph.
Starting with its new CT6 flagship model entering production soon, Cadillac is adopting yet another new naming structure. In short: all coupes and sedans will use the "CT" prefix followed by a number, and all crossovers and SUVs will use the "XT" prefix followed by a number. Unless we're talking about the Escalade, which will remain the Escalade because it's the Escalade.
Confused, yeah? Well, take a ticket and hop in line. It starts wayyyy back there. In any case, de Nysschen was quick to defend the decision during his Q&A session, saying:
Cadillac also is going global, and so we have to use names that resonate with customers around the world. And it is now an entrenched phenomenon that luxury car buyers expect alphanumeric names to indicate the hierarchy of models. We will use CT2, CT3, CT4, et cetera for the sedans and coupes, and we will use XT2, XT3, XT4 et cetera for the crossovers and SUVs, besides Escalade, which continues unchanged. We considered the romantic, historical names, such as Eldorado, DeVille, et cetera, but these names struggled to gain traction with our international audience and our conclusion was that we already have a romantic, emotional and historical name in Cadillac.
Then de Nysschen further elaborated on the new naming scheme when he returned briefly to Jalopnik to answer a few questions he left unaddressed:
We like real names for cars too. But what works in an English-language market like the US, does not necessarily work elsewhere. The Germans discovered this a long time ago. Eldorado conjures up romantic memories here in the US, in China people are uncertain how to pronounce it. Luxury brand buyers, especially in foreign markets, also like to know the position of a particular model in the line up of a manufacturer. Alpha numeric names make this easy, they are international. Escalade is sold primarily in the US, so its easy to keep the name here. CT6 seems odd all by its lonesome self. When a full line up of cars, in escalating sizes and price points are expressed in CT2, CT3, CT4, CT5, CT6, CT7, CT8 and CT9, it becomes a lot more logical, even if its not particularly romantic. Hopefully the awesome cars will provide emotional inspiration. And we have an exceptionally well-known, respected prestigious and emotional name — Cadillac.
Alright, so let's take a moment to boil that down. Cadillac is using its new CT/XT naming scheme because it is planning to aggressively sell more cars outside of America soon. The Escalade keeps its name because it's not going anywhere outside of the US. Alphanumeric names, like CT6 or XT6, are easier for foreign markets to recognize and understand. It doesn't matter if a buyer lives in France or in China, simple names that follow a system of hierarchy instantly denotes to them a particular model's rank and file. That, in turn, makes buying easier and theoretically increases sales.
Or to think of it another way: alphanumeric names sort of work like the combo menu at McDonalds. It doesn't matter if you go to a Mickey D's in Louisville, Kentucky or San Francisco, California. You can tell the cashier you want a "Number One" and get a BigMac meal, guaranteed. If a buyer wants a large Cadillac, he simply can ask for a CT6 regardless of where he lives and what language he speaks. Joke all you want, but having to remember names like "Deville" or "Seville" and which one is the bigger car can be downright confusing.
I understand de Nysschen's reason, and 98 percent of me actually supports it. It makes sense after all, and it's worked for Audi — a brand that de Nysschen himself once helmed — and BMW for years.
But that other two percent? Well, it sees a place for those "historical" and "romantic" names — like Eldorado or Deville — he believes wouldn't work well outside of America. I'll elaborate in just a moment, but I'll have to shift gears for just a second and talk about Mercedes to do so. Let's all hunker down for a minute.
At next month's Geneva Motor Show, Mercedes will pull the wraps off of its ultimate flagship sedan. Based on the stalwart S-Class sedan, it's called the Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman. It's a hell of a lot of car, and it carries on the legacy of not one, but two of Mercedes' most storied names: Maybach and Pullman.
I think some of you can already see where I'm going with this. But let me continue.
Pictured: The 2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman. The original Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman lurks in the shadows.
Maybach and Pullman are both nostalgic names that carry a lot of clout. When bling culture ruled a pre-Great Recession America, Maybachs were aspirational and symbols of affluence. When Saddam Hussein ruled a pre-9/11 Iraq, Pullmans held that same distinction.
But, see, here's the odd thing: those names have no chance of standing on their own successfully. In fact, sales of the last stand-alone Maybach model completely sucked. The Pullman was never a separate model from the old Mercedes 600, but I'd imagine it wouldn't fair any better than the last Maybach if it had been.
But what if you attach one or both of those glitzy names to your established flagship car, like Mercedes have done with the S600 Pullman? Well, that changes the game a bit. Your flagship car is suddenly no longer just your flagship. It's now a halo model for your flagship and your entire brand, too. It's the cream of the crop, the supreme of the supreme. I don't have to tell you that speaking English isn't even close to being a prerequisite for wanting the best.
Going back to Cadillac, there will be models above the new CT6 in the future. de Nysschen has pretty much
confirmed that. And that's where I can see an opportunity for the Eldorado or even the Fleetwood name to return Cadillac. If "historic" and "romantic" names are used very sparingly and confined to your best models, I fail to see how they could confuse buyers. I can only see those names helping to make those cars stand out even more.
Sure, calling a new Cadillac model "the Fleetwood" and leaving it at that may not stick with luxury buyers on the other side of the world. But a long-wheelbase, top-drawer Cadillac CT6 needs to be designated a "Cadillac CT6 Fleetwood" in the worst way possible. And, you know, I think the rest of world might would agree with me on that.
Image credits: PR News Wire, Mercedes-Benz
Author's note: Since originally writing this piece on the spur of the moment, I have revised it for clarity. My apologies. This is the last time you'll see me write a message like this. There's no excuse for sloppy editing. — Blake
Hi! I'm Blake Noble and I refuse to glorify myself in the third person. So instead, I'll depreciate myself in the first person, like a normal human being. I am a student studying journalism at Eastern Kentucky University, and I once spent half a year writing confused nonsense. I also wrote an article for Cheers and Gears once that pissed off the entire Chrysler 2.2 fanclub. I drive a Dodge Dart because I was told its really an Alfa Romeo, and I do a decent podcast that maybe two whole people listen to. I am currently available to hire for children's parties because no self-respecting publication will ever pay me.