It seems that lots of your ears pricked up at Renault’s very interesting comment that its future cars, starting with the new Renault Clio 4, needed to be “German first and French second”.
Well, it’s a theme of the industry at present, it seems. I’m just back from watching the unveil of the new Cadillac ATS on the eve of the Detroit motor show, a General Motors back-slapping exercise where there wasn’t a single star or stripe in sight. Instead, Germany was the country of the lips of every GM executive.
Essentially, GM believes that if Cadillac is ever going to hold a candle to the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes, then its cars need to be ‘German first and American second’.
GM’s North American chief Mark Reuss gave a rousing speech where he declared that the ATS was the car that will “take on the Germans at their own game and win. It will meet or beat the best competition in every single way”.
Rousing stuff indeed. Reuss wasn’t the only one. Cadillac’s marketing chief, Don Butler, essentially conceded that Cadillac had never been taken seriously in the executive segment as “the only cars that have had sustained success there are European – and German”. “Seriously competing in these segments is a major challenge,” he added.
So, haven’t we heard this all before? A car has never been launched without it being accompanied by a speech from an executive claiming this to be the best thing since the last best thing they launched, which probably was a failure.
But there was a sense throughout the evening that GM was saying: “Okay, we may have said our stuff was good before, but this one really is good.”
It’s almost as if GM looked at the 3-series and said: “We have to have everything that car has on our car.” So there’s double wishbone front suspension and multi-link for the rear. The two cars are very closely matched in size and weight. Both are rear-drive, with all-wheel drive optional. The Nürburgring played a big part in the development. The list goes on.
Where GM may struggle though is pinning down the ATS’s unique selling point. If it’s trying so hard to be a German car, then why not just buy a German car in the first place? You wouldn’t find BMW saying it made sure it covered the Cadillac ATS before trying to raise the bar even higher . Personally, I hope the market takes to the ATS, and it initially strikes me as such a thoroughly all-round decent package that I’m confident the US market will. But no matter how bread-slicingly brilliant the ATS may be, or what GM may think, it will never succeed in Europe without a decent four-cylinder diesel as that’s simply what the BMW 320d-dominated market demands.
Let’s hope GM puts as much care into that engine development as it does the rest of the ATS if it is to be remembered as the GM car that was German first and American second.