Why a Canadian Moved Cadillac Back to Michigan

When Steve Carlisle first took the reins as the global president of Cadillac a little over a year ago, his office was in New York City.

Within six months of his appointment, the news broke that he’d soon have a different commute: the brand’s top brass would be vacating Cadillac House in SoHo and returning to the General Motors ancestral home of Detroit – more specifically, the suburb of Warren, Michigan.

“It was a necessary step,” Carlisle said at a small gathering with Canadian journalists last month in connection with the launch of the new Cadillac CT5 sedan. “We can’t afford the inefficiency of distance and time.”

That last statement refers to the fact that Cadillac has ambitious plans for the next few years. The brand intends to launch a new product every six months through 2020 – its SUV line-up is complete with the three-row XT6, two-row XT5, and subcompact XT4, but it’s been confirmed that a small CT4 sedan and a redesigned Escalade are set to be revealed in the near future.

Electrified powertrains will also be integrated into the lineup with the first fully battery electric vehicle slated to arrive in three years, according to Carlisle, which leads to an educated guess that we’ll see launches based on the new modular EV platform announced this year in Detroit arrive sometime in 2021, likely as 2022 model year vehicles.

The move to New York City happened under Carlisle’s predecessor, Johan de Nysschen – whose abrupt departure led to Carlisle’s promotion from his role as president and managing director of GM Canada, which he had held since November 2014 – although Carlisle confirmed that the foundations for the shift were put in place before de Nysschen was hired.

But Carlisle succeeds a line of Cadillac leadership parachuted in from European and Japanese luxury brands, and as a lifelong resident of Southern Ontario with a 35-year-plus career at GM under his belt, Carlisle brings a different perspective.

He was born and raised in Woodstock, ON; earned a degree in systems design engineering from the University of Waterloo; and then started as an industrial engineering co-op student at the Oshawa truck assembly plant in 1982. He also holds an M.B.A. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has held senior roles with the company in Canada, the US, and Southeast Asia.

In other words, he’s had his finger on the company’s pulse for a long time. And as far as he’s concerned, the heart of General Motors beats in Michigan.

But that’s not to say that the brand’s time in New York was completely without value.

“It was time well spent,” Carlisle said. “We learned a lot and brought in some new people with new perspectives.

“(But) to realize who you are, you need to go back to where you started.”

The reasoning behind the move to SoHo was that New York City is seen as being the epicentre of the new American luxury paradigm that Cadillac aims to represent. But Carlisle said it’s less important to be in a place that’s archetypal of those values than it is to be based in the place where they were conceived of in the first place. New American luxury is present in New York, he said, but it’s also happening in Los Angeles, in Austin, in Silicon Valley and Seattle, and even in Toronto, Vancouver, Beijing, and Shanghai.

There’s a spirit found in Detroit, though, that Carlisle said embodies “tenacity, innovation, scrappiness, and drive,” the traits that he said will best direct Cadillac through its next phase of rejuvenation.

“There’s only one home,” he said. “We’re not going to lose our lessons, (but) you’re always going to be at your best when you’re home. And we’re home.”

Bringing the brand back home. 5/27/2019 8:00:00 AM