Cadillac: How an Original Luxury Brand Maintains Relevance

An interview with Mahmoud Samara, managing director, Cadillac Canada
March 14, 2017 Updated: March 15, 2017

Familiar, established brands hold a place in history. Luxury, premium brands that have been around for more than 100 years in the highly competitive and ever-evolving automobile marketplace are rare.

One such quality marque is Cadillac. In fact, Cadillac is among the oldest automobile brands in the world, second in North America only to fellow General Motors marque Buick.

Founded from the remnants of the Henry Ford Company in 1902, this iconic brand was named after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French explorer and adventurer who was actually the founder of what became the City of Detroit in Michigan. And, here’s a bit of trivia for fans: the ubiquitous Cadillac crest is based on his family coat of arms.

Cadillac Escala concept (Courtesy of David Taylor)
Cadillac Escala concept (Courtesy of David Taylor)

Cadillac is a name familiar to most. The brand, as stated, has been around for almost 115 years—and yet, it has continued to not only survive, but remain relevant to the car-buying public. Somehow, almost in spite of itself, the badge continues to be perceived, by some, as aspirational.

How is this even possible?

Epoch Times sat down with Mahmoud Samara, managing director, Cadillac Canada at the recent Canadian International AutoShow for an informative and enthusiastic conversation on all things Cadillac—past, present, and of course, the future.

Epoch Times: As an individual responsible for the general direction of a mature, almost venerable brand in this country, you have been tasked to take Cadillac to the masses, present the brand and its vehicles as viable alternatives to a car-buying public who could, likely, purchase and drive any one of the mass-produced luxury brands available. Just how do you and Cadillac Canada, present the relevancy of this mature brand to younger potential consumers who may have the impression that this marque is not for them—considered, by some, to be the vehicle that an older family member might drive?

Cadillac CT6  (Courtesy of General Motors)
Cadillac CT6 (Courtesy of General Motors)

Mahmoud Samara: Since joining General Motors in 2004, I have been fortunate enough to experience many sides of the company’s business, gaining experience and exposure as opportunities continued to present themselves. Let’s be clear: at the outset I was never what anyone would or could call “a car guy”. I’m not a gear head. I’m not a designer. Not an engineer. When I signed on, I was likely the definition of a non-technical employee. My background and my degree is in marketing. That was an area I understood. I worked in different parts of the world with this well-established brand and with each move, was able to experience new and different facets of this automotive manufacturer’s make-up. Fast forward to 2011. I came to Canada and went into the manufacturing division. A far cry from marketing but it was here that I literally learned about nuts and bolts, sheet metal, and practically every phase in the production aspect of General Motors vehicles as they came down the line.

Dare Greatly

Epoch Times: So you were being immersed in the process and the deep-rooted culture of General Motors?

Mr. Samara: Absolutely! It was fascinating. Intriguing. I learned so much from so many people. It was like returning to school in some ways and there was a payoff. I was able to see the end result before my eyes. In fact, I have had the great, good fortune to work in over 19 countries on three continents. Not only have I learned about various processes, I have met and worked with some unbelievable people who challenged. However, like our brand (Cadillac), I, too, continue to evolve!

Epoch Times: In the spring of 2014, there was an event which occurred which challenged you—and Cadillac—when the global leadership team made a bold, daring some might even refer to it as life-changing decision to position Cadillac as a global, progressive luxury brand. You were presented with the opportunity to lead Cadillac in Canada as managing director toward new and heretofore uncharted waters.

Cadillac CTS-V Sedan (Courtesy of General Motors)
Cadillac CTS-V Sedan (Courtesy of General Motors)

Mr. Samara: Now we had a need to better deliver on the substance of the brand—the product. We needed to look beyond what Cadillac had become. Many considered the brand to build large, boat-like, comfortable vehicles which gained popularity as a luxury limo-type mode of transport, moving well-heeled executives from one meeting to another. From an airport terminal to downtown. What made this perception hard to swallow was that as a manufacturer, we had already, successfully, we believed, introduced smaller, “tighter” performance-oriented cars which demanded they be driven under new badges—the ATS and CTS. 

As a unified team, with a single purpose, we determined we needed to be more things to more people. What does my car say about my lifestyle, my principles? What does the car say about me? We needed to learn and deal with real and perceived competition. It was all about returning Cadillac to the pinnacle of premium.

Cadillac made a conscious and a quite strategic decision to shift our direction into a lifestyle brand: we determined that we needed to figure out what Cadillac stands for. As an organization, we hung this new approach on a marketing-oriented phrase: “Dare Greatly.”

Cadillac ATS Coupe  (Courtesy of David Taylor)
Cadillac ATS Coupe (Courtesy of David Taylor)

Epoch Times: OK, so there is a tag, a saying that’s a call to action for the brand. How does this, will this translate into a change in perception?

Mr. Samara: To be clear, it’s all about a state of mind—in everything we do as a company—by every person regardless of their function within this entity. Is it a culture? Sure. It’s about attitude. It’s about stepping outside our collective comfort zones and taking calculated risks. It’s about making changes and adhering to them. It’s about challenges. Basically, the word impossible is no longer in our lexicon. We state why not rather than question why. It’s the way we live our life, the way we interact with our friends and family. About how we think and how we act.

Cadillac has always been an iconic and often an aspirational luxury brand. We need to accomplish two fundamental things: we want to make sure that we position Cadillac as a contemporary marque which appeals to millennials and Gen Xs and Gen Ys—a delicate situation since we also refuse to alienate already loyal Cadillac adopters. The challenge was, is to continue to position Cadillac as a true lifestyle luxury brand. We want our next-generation luxury buyers to readily associate with our brand, with what it means and what it stands for. And then, we must deliver. We must fulfil that promise by delivering the best-designed and best-engineered vehicles in the world. Plus, we do not need to “out-German-the-Germans.” We can be Cadillac. Cadillac respects our earned brand integrity and must continue to look forward. To take charge and clearly define who and what we are. Period.

Cadillac Escalade (Courtesy of General Motors)
Cadillac Escalade (Courtesy of General Motors)

This is an Evolution–Not a Revolution

Epoch Times: Is there a target, an end date attached to this change, this evolution?

Mr. Samara: This is not an instant fix situation, something which will change everything we thought we knew about Cadillac overnight. This is a long-term program. It’s a cultural commitment. An enormous financial investment is part of the ongoing initiative—a commitment of 12 billion dollars has been made to allow us to take the Cadillac marque in the U.S., China, and Canada plus new growing markets in other parts of the world into all segments of the luxury car market.

Last summer, Cadillac revealed our new design language to the world. The bold and simply elegant design, inside and out of the latest Cadillac concept vehicle, the Escala. The Escala is a glimpse to the world of how daring and how bold the evolution of Cadillac’s design language is going to be. This boldness is a culmination of recent concepts, including the Ciel and the Elmiraj.  Before any drawings were rendered or clay models sculpted, the Escala team had a simple mandate: design a vehicle you would love to drive and would love to be driven in.

Cadillac Escala concept (Courtesy of David Taylor)
Cadillac Escala concept (Courtesy of David Taylor)

Epoch Times: Is the new motto, this embrace of a new credo, “Dare Greatly” having an impact on results within the company?

Mr. Samara: It would seem so, yes. We are seeing very positive sales—especially from what we refer to as conquest purchasers—customers who have previously bought or leased other premium luxury brands. They like what they see. They love the driving experience. And our associates within our dealer network are a huge part of this success story. They believe in the Dare Greatly concept. It makes sense to them.

Interestingly enough, in the Greater Vancouver and Toronto areas, we are seeing pronounced interest from the Chinese-Canadian community—especially with two recent vehicles, the XT5 crossover, and the new CT6, our luxury sedan. Further, our full-size SUV, the Escalade is also doing well in those same communities. It’s all about lifestyle!

Cadillac XT5 (Courtesy of General Motors)
Cadillac XT5 (Courtesy of General Motors)

Epoch Times: It sounds as if there is more on the horizon for customers of luxury vehicles from Cadillac in the near future?

Mr. Samara: Yes. More new innovative vehicles will be introduced by the end of this decade. It’s an exciting time for this brand. Going forward, Cadillac wants to predict trends—not follow them.

David Taylor is an independent automotive lifestyle writer, producer, and editor based in Barrie, Ontario who is fascinated by innovation and technology which enhance the overall driving experience. He’s also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and a Director of the Canadian Car of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @Omemeeozzie or on Instagram @hugoscaroftheweek.