A brief history lesson: there once was a time when America built the world’s finest luxury cars. That key word, of course, was once. Around the 1970s, when American cars slowly became caricatures of themselves, 17 feet long and dripping with chrome, came the notion that a small, well-built, (relatively) economical but still-comfortable Mercedes, the Sarah, Plain And Tall of the automotive world, could actually be a viable option to an opera-windowed Brougham Landaulet. And when BMW came around with the Neue Klasse (shown above, furtively), well, the mold was set. All luxury cars would now follow in this European vein: small, tight cars with decent driving characteristics, straight-laced and dour, one car available in three sizes and three different alphanumeric names—and death to the land yachts!
Today, BMW is the fastest-growing luxury brand in the American market. And Cadillac, which once built a 19-foot-long car with a perfume dispenser in the dashboard, is working on a “sports sedan” to rival the 3-Series whose wheelbase wouldn’t even stretch past the trunk. European luxury is the mold that American cars have tried to aspire to for the past 30 years. Is it working? If you’re to believe statistics, unwavering in their finality, then no—no, it hasn’t.
Sales of Cadillac fell by 24 percent this year—bolstered by the deaths of the STS and the venerable DTS, which in fact is the last Cadillac to be built in the old Cadillac mold. The only other American luxury brand, Lincoln, is an equally storied nameplate in dire need of revision; its sales have never really climbed, instead dropping in year-to-date sales by about half a percent.
Meanwhile, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes are running away with soaring sales. So far this year their sales have climbed at least 15 percent; BMW’s by 15.7, Audi by 15.8, and Mercedes-Benz at the head of the pack by 18.4. Industry pontificators like yours truly cite the Germans’ ability to swarm heretofore-unknown niches like the fastback-sedan Audi A7, the four-door coupe Mercedes CLS, and the coupe-SUV BMW X6 as examples of vehicles you thought you didn’t need until they came out.
But there’s some optimistic developments for the Cadillac/Lincoln duo: a new XTS and the aforementioned ATS will tackle both ends of the Cadillac lineup in terms of size, and the new Lincoln MKZ promises to be…well, promising.
The Germans have the luxury segment locked down for now, but the Japanese brands aren’t resting. Acura is banking on strong sales of their RDX mini crossover to take off, and a new flagship RLX that the company says will handle better than the BMW 7-Series, the perennial champion in the large sedan market. Lexus is owing its future successes to a new GS and an ES, with more exciting F-Sport models to follow. And Infiniti is hoping its large JX crossover will fill up private school parking lots
And the similarities between these companies? They all promise high levels of sportiness and driver involvement—just like the Germans. There’s nothing more revolutionary, sweeping, or successful than the European mold.
Source: Detroit News