Mark Phelan: Cadillac moves, but doesnít get anywhere

Nov. 5, 2018


Cadillacís been on the move for the last few years. Not its sales or image. The brandís physical address keeps changing, with little to show for it.

Caddyís latest move is the most perplexing yet, particularly considering that General Motors just delayed badly needed updates to its design and engineering centers to save money.

I didnít complain when Caddy moved its headquarters to New York, though I saw no need and foresaw precious little benefit. Nor when the brand recently announced it was returning to Michigan, without giving any reason that wasnít cited as a reason not to make the move in the first place: being closer to engineering is more efficient and costs less than an ego-stroking Manhattan address.

But the more I learn about Cadillacís homecoming, the less I understand. Cadillac HQ will be in the office building occupied for decades by the Campbell Ewald advertising agency in Warren, across the street from GMís Tech Center. I mean no disrespect to Warren. Like a lot of suburbs, itís gets a lot cheap shots it doesnít deserve. The city hosts thousands of GM employees who engineer and design terrific vehicles. Itís a fine community, with a leading role in Americaís industrial history and future.

But seriously, the old Campbell Ewald building?

ĎMad Mení and a coney

Cadillac just spent three years and beaucoup bucks on the theory that a cool location leads to forward-thinking decisions and cool vehicles. Now itís moving into the building that was among the inspirations for ďMad Men,Ē TVís hymn to the 1960s, three-martini lunches and the days when men were executives and women got the coffee?

The Campbell Ewald ad agency itself cited an environment more conducive to creative work when it left the building in favor of downtown Detroit in 2013.

By contrast, Ford plans to spend $740 million dollars turning the old Michigan Central train station into a showplace for new ideas and vehicles. Ford sees the hopping Corktown district as a recruiting tool for creative young workers. The Campbell-Ewald building wonít ever be that, its proximity to Olive Garden and National Coney Island notwithstanding.

The revitalization of Detroit is a cause cťlŤbre. The city seems a natural spot to launch Cadillacís latest comeback. Is there no vacant building in Detroit waiting to become an breathtaking office and event space for Cadillac? A showcase for the brandís inspired thinking, luxury and advanced technology?

Does nobody at GM have Dan Gilbertís phone number? He canít be that hard to find; heís rich, not invisible.

The Cavaliers play the Pistons in Detroit Nov. 19. Heíll probably be down front.

GM says returning to metro Detroit will help Cadillac by moving its executives closer to the Tech Center, where new vehicles are designed and engineered. Plus GM owns the old CE building. GM says the building wonít need much work, a promise familiar to every homeowner who ever lied to themselves because the prospect of moving is so exhausting.

It may seem reasonable that product development should be less than 600 miles from the bossís office, but that wasnít a concern when Cadillac moved to New York in 2013. Even if GM learned that was a mistake, the 18 miles from downtown Detroit to the Tech Center is Warren isnít a problem for Chevrolet, Buick or GMC. One would think Cadillac can overcome it.

Updates to design center on hold

The move gets even harder to swallow given that GM just delayed improvements at its tech and design centers in Warren and Pontiac to save money. Cadillac will continue to pay for its Soho pied-Š-terre through the end of its lease ó reportedly in 2025 ó unless it manages to sublet.

A massive expansion of GMís Design Center in Warren is on indefinite hold. Thatís particularly unfortunate, since the look and feel of GM interiors may be the companyís greatest shortcoming today.

The work that the Tech Centerís engineers and designers do means more to Cadillacís future than whether a few execs have a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Ambassador Bridge or an overpass on I-696.

Cadillac achieved nothing when it relocated to New York.

Thereís still time to make the move home meaningful, or even to stay put and concentrate on getting critical new vehicles right, rather than trying to figure out which packing box the stapler is in.





  McClatchy-Tribune Information Services