Saving Cadillac

By Gary S. Vasilash

John F. Smith worked at General Motors at the same time that John F. Smith worked at General Motors.* The latter was to become GM CEO. The former was appointed by the latter to a number of executive positions within GM.

Perhaps the most notable was in 1997, when he was named head of Cadillac.

Things weren’t great at that brand back then. Hard to believe, but there was something that is now intrinsic to Cadillac that was absent: the Escalade, the massive truck-cum-SUV that has had visual presence on the road for a little more than two decades now.

The original Escalade. (Image: GM)

The Escalade was to come to be under John Smith’s period at Cadillac, helped into existence by the other John Smith, who was known as Jack.

John Smith talks about his career at Cadillac in this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” as well as a book he has recently had published about some of his adventures in the auto industry, Fin Tails: Saving Cadillac, America’s Luxury Icon (see how important Escalade was/is?).

Also on Smith’s resume are positions including vice president of Planning at General Motors International Operations in Zurich as well as president of Allison Transmission. Which is to say that he has a broad perspective on the auto industry, one broader than just Cadillac.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Smith spends the hour talking with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Doron Levin, who, among other things, writes about the auto industry at Saving Alpha and me.

And you can see it here.

*Given that “Smith” is the most common surname in the U.S., and “John” has been in the top 10 until 1987, this isn’t exactly surprising.

Cadillac Supercharges the Escalade: Seems Strange for the Company Going EV

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although Cadillac is purportedly going to be an all-EV brand by 2030, between now and then it will continue to offer things like this: the Cadillac Escalade-V.

Rory Harvey, global Cadillac vice president, says, “Customers and enthusiasts have asked for an Escalade-V, and we’re thrilled to bring this high-performance SUV to market in the year of Cadillac’s 120th anniversary.”

Supercharged, 682-hp V* is hardly the stuff of environmental awareness, is it? (Image: Cadillac)

The vehicle is powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 682 hp and 653 lb-ft of torque.

The Escalade-V, which has a starting MSRP of $149,990 (including destination), will go on sale later this summer.

As of now there are no EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers. However, the numbers for a more-typical 6.2-liter in a non-V Escalade are 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway.

Somehow this makes any green cred that Cadillac may be interested in gaining for itself all that more difficult.

Still, they have to somehow pay for the development costs of the EVs. . . .

It is worth noting (although those paying +$150K may not care) that premium is required for the V engine. According to AAA, the current national average for a gallon of premium is $5.03.

So if you’re filling the tank of the Escalade-V it would set you back $120.72.

The Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing & CT5-V Blackwing: Yes, “Cadillac”

If when you think “Cadillac” you think of something big and lush and lumbering like the Escalade (no offense to the SUV, but it is 211 inches long and weighs up to 6,015 pounds, a.k.a., three tons), then the 2022 V-Series Blackwing vehicles are going to absolutely upend that notion: The CT5-V Blackwing is powered by a hand-built (think about that for a moment) 668-hp. 6.2-liter supercharged V8 mated to a six-speed manual TREMEC transmission; the sedan has a top speed of over 200 mph.

Then there’s the CT4-V Blackwing, which is smaller, a subcompact, and is certainly no slouch, as it is fitted with a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 such that it has an estimated top speed of 189 mph. Equipped with the optional 10-speed automatic (which is also available for the other car), it has an estimated 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds.

2022 CT4-V Blackwing (left) and CT5-V Blackwing (right): engineered to perform. (Image: Cadillac)

Of course, when you go fast you also need to, well, stop, so there are serious Brembos deployed, with the CT5-V Blackwing featuring the largest factory-installed brakes in Cadillac history: 15.67 x 1.42-inch front rotors and 14.7 x 1.1-inch rear rotors. (There is also a lightweight carbon-ceramic brake package available, which is helpful in track situations, in particular, as it reduces unsprung mass by 53 pounds and rotating mass by 62 pounds.)

At this point you might be wondering why these vehicles are being named with their full names. That’s because you can go to a Cadillac dealership and buy a CT4 or a CT5. Or you can buy a CT4-V or a CT5-V.

The Blackwing execution is a whole different thing.

And so to that end, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Tony Roma, chief engineer of Cadillac V-Series Blackwing, provides a deep dive into the features that they’ve brought to the vehicles in order to make them track-capable vehicles straight out of the dealer’s showroom.

Roma talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET and me.

Roma says that their objective was to make a vehicle that is “light, nimble and precise.”

Which is arguably what some people might not think about when it comes to Cadillacs.

Then McElroy, Paukert and I discuss a variety of other subjects, including Cadillac’s electric future (Roma is also the chief engineer for the forthcoming, ultra-luxury Celestiq electric vehicle), the agreement between Google and Ford and the whole issue of data monetization, January sales and a whole lot more.

And you can see it all here.–gsv

2020 Car Sales: Goodbye Affordability (Unless You’re Rich)

Auto sales plummeted by one-third in the second quarter of last year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, and at the time it felt the like tip of disaster for the car business. The global pandemic stifled demand as the supply side was strangled by shuttered factories and parts and components that couldn’t be shipped to automakers.

General Motors had to shut its Chevrolet Corvette assembly plant for several weeks, but this turned out to be more a supply problem for the automaker than a demand problem, as consumers on the $60,000-plus end of the sports car market generally weren’t the people losing jobs and income.

This gets to a drum I’ve been beating for years. The idea of building brand-new cars and light trucks for working class and middle-class Americans, the very model incubated by the Curved-Dash Oldsmobile and brought to life by the automated assembly lines of Henry Ford’s Model T, the car that put America on wheels, is over.

Latest proof is the comeback of new vehicle sales from those dark days at the end of the first quarter in 2020 and through the second quarter, into much healthier third and fourth quarters. Calendar year 2020 vehicle sales in the U.S. dropped 14.4% from 2019, to 14,645,049 cars and light trucks says Automotive News, but that’s far better than anyone expected from that second quarter drop.

2021 Cadillac Escalade. Big. Powerful. Tech-intensive. Expensive. (Image: Cadillac)

Even with a pandemic that most economists say created our most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression 90 years ago, the 14.6-million sales number is far more palatable to the industry than the 2008-2009 Great Recession, when sales dipped below 11 million at its nadir. With the current pandemic, the auto industry mirrors the economy in general, in which college-educated professionals, management and executive-level employees and their employers spend their workdays in home offices, seeing their colleagues and clients on Zoom rather than in person.

Presently, of Americans who can work at home, unemployment is 3.9%, but for those who have to report to a work site, the rate is 8.9%, KMPG chief economist Constance Hunter told The Washington Post. (Jan. 28, 2021).

About the same time that auto sales fell by one-third, the April 2020 U.S. unemployment rate reached 14.8%. By December 2020, auto sales climbed to near-pre-pandemic levels, but the U.S. unemployment rate was still high at 6.7%, compared with just 3.5% for January and February 2020, according to The rate for Black and Hispanic Americans is significantly higher, and the Congressional Research Service singles out heavy job loss in the leisure, hospitality industry and restaurants. Your favorite waiter or waitress at the local Olive Garden isn’t shopping for a new Kia, let alone a new Cadillac these days.

Meanwhile, tech barons and big-time investors in tech stocks like Amazon, Facebook and Apple are buying new cars, if the strength of the luxury market is any guide.

In its sales report issued the first week in January, General Motors boasts the all-new 2021 Cadillac Escalade that launched in the middle of the ’20 calendar year—when shutdowns and job losses were growing–“retook market leadership” in the fourth quarter, meaning it began to outsell the Lincoln Navigator again. And here’s the kicker: GM noted that 43% of the new Escalades have “a transaction price of more than $100,000.”

Clearly it was more supply problem and less demand accounting for the 14.4% dip for the year which included phase-out sales of the last of the old model as well as the new, ’21 ‘Slade. Before the pandemic, the average new car transaction price hovered around $38,000, already up significantly from the low-$30s earlier in the ‘10s. The current average is now $40,573, according to Edmunds. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the median household income was $68703 (latest figures). Yikes.

BMW was one of the few leading luxury marques that suffered a sales drop worse than the industry average in 2020, of 17.5%. Archrival Mercedes-Benz also had a sales decline, 8.9%, but that was better than the overall industry 14.4% decrease. Tesla was up 20.3%. Jaguar sales dropped 29.8% to 18,586 vehicles; its sister brand, Land Rover was down just—comparatively speaking–15.5%, to 80,034.

The boom in the SUV and truck market plays a big role in making luxury items of brand-new vehicles, even among the commodity brands. Small sedans and hatchbacks that many brands have cut from their lineups in the last few years were entry-level models. Small sport/utilities and crossovers generally are priced a size category up from their sedan counterparts. One surviving commodity compact sedan, the 2021 Honda Civic LX, starts at $22,425 (including destination charge), while the CR-V LX, a compact SUV sharing many of the Civic’s bits, starts at $26,525, and that’s with front-wheel-drive. Good luck finding a FWD compact SUV of virtually any brand on a dealer’s lot in the north. If you want an AWD CR-V, you must move up to the EX trim level, and that starts at $29,035 before adding floor mats, $6,610 more than the Civic LX sedan.

Toyota’s CR-V rival is the RAV4, America’s bestselling vehicle after full-size Ford, Chevy and Ram pickup trucks. Last year’s RAV4 sales were down just 3.9% to 430,387. Toyota’s luxury division undoubtedly more than made up for that dip with much higher profit margins on the 2,574-unit increase in Lexus GXes sold last year, up 9.9% to 28,519, a sport-utility that starts at $54,275. The Lexus GX was the only model among Toyota’s two North American-market brands to post a sales increase last year. The full Lexus lineup is off just 7.7%, compared with the Toyota brand’s 11.9% drop.

So what’s the average Joe to do? There’s always the used market, but even that is become a bit rich. According to Edmunds, in Q4 2020 the average monthly payment for a used car was $ 437, and that for a 68.1-month loan.—Todd Lassa

Freep’s Phelan’s Picks

Detroit Free Press auto critic Mark Phelan happens to spend more time driving cars than any dozen people you know—a dozen pre-COVID drivers. Somehow, the pandemic hasn’t inhibited Phelan’s seat time.

Each year Phelan picks what he considers to be the best vehicles introduced during the past year.

2021 Cadillac Escalade (Photo by Steve Fecht for Cadillac)

And his list has been revealed:

Cadillac Escalade: Utility of the Year

Ford F-150: Truck of the Year

Hyundai Elantra: Car of the Year

As for place and show?

For utes:

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Ford Bronco Sport

For trucks:


Jeep Gladiator Mojave

For cars:

Nissan Sentra

Genesis G80

Realize that these are vehicles that have been introduced during the past year, so it isn’t a rating of the best companies.

That said, it can’t be overlooked that Ford has not only a first-place win, but a full third of the list.

Hyundai Motor Group—which has Genesis under its awning—has a win and two vehicles on the list.

And FCA—soon to be Stellantis—missed first place, but had two on the list.


How competitive the industry is can be determined by taking a look at the list of the semifinalists that were announced by the jury of the North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year. (Full disclosure: Mark Phelan and I are both jurors.)


Acura TLX

Cadillac CT4/CT4-V\Genesis G80

Hyundai Elantra family (includes N Line and HEV)

Kia K5

Mercedes-Benz E Class Sedan, All-Terrain, Coupe, Cabriolet

Nissan Sentra

Polestar 2


Cadillac Escalade

Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban

Chevrolet Trailblazer

Ford Bronco Sport

Ford Mustang Mach E

Genesis GV80

Hyundai Santa Fe

Kia Seltos

Kia Sorento

Land Rover Defender

Mazda CX-30

Nissan Rogue

Toyota RAV4 Prime

Toyota Venza

Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge


Ford Super Duty

Ford F-150

Ram 1500 TRX

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

The category finalists that NACTOY picked are not unlike Phelan’s, with a couple of exceptions:


Genesis G80

Hyundai Elantra

Nissan Sentra


Ford F-150

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

Ram 1500 TRX


Ford Mustang Mach-E

Genesis GV80

Land Rover Defender

The results of that will be announced on January 11, 2021.

Here’s one thing that can be said about all of those vehicles:

Tough crowd.