Always imported into France, at least since World War II, Cadillacs have always been an exception in the French and European automotive landscape. As demonstrative as they are, it must be admitted that they have never been particularly suited to our roads, our cities and even less to our fuel prices.
At Cadillac, in the late ’80s, though, we’d like to believe so. After all, on American soil, the brand competes with Mercedes, Audi or BMW, while containing the onslaught of very determined Japanese brands such as Lexus. Why couldn’t Cadillac compete with the Germans in Europe?
A brand established everywhere
At Cadillac, we have an asset with the General Motors group. The American giant is already widely present in Europe with Opel. Why not recruit certain dealers of the brand to offer them to add Cadillac to their portfolio?
Imported directly by Cadillac and sold through their own network, Cadillacs will be able to benefit from GM’s strike force in Europe and aftermarket service to match.
We spare no expense. General Motors buys advertising space in all specialist presses, prints generous catalogs and invites the press. The message is clear: watch out for the Germans, Cadillac is coming!
Allante, the quasi-European coupe
The Cadillac series is then based on models far removed from European considerations. The Eldorado, the Fleetwood Sixty Special 1989 or even the Deville are far too big, too greedy and offbeat to compete effectively with the Mercedes-Benz 500 or BMW 7 Series.
But Cadillac is already one step ahead with the Allante. A luxurious convertible, comparable to a Mercedes SL, and with a much more European design and DNA than the rest of the range. Cadillac will conquer the luxury market with the Allante, the time to design a real sedan adapted to Europe.
L‘Allante, a costly mistake
When it was presented, the Allante convertible made an impression with its elegance. Developed by Pininfarina, it is supposed to appeal to Europeans as well. Planned to compete with the Mercedes-Benz 560 SL or Jaguar XJS V12, the Allante will suffer from complicated industrialization. In fact, the bodies are produced by Pininfarina in Turin, Italy.
They are then shipped to Detroit on the Hamtramck assembly line. To transport them, GM is forced to use specially equipped Boeing 747s that can carry 56 at a time. The business press quickly nicknamed the car the “flying Italian Cadillac”. Air transport costs General Motors a fortune, which affects the selling price.
Allante costs twice as much as an Eldorado. Impossible under these conditions to send them back to Europe again. The Allante will only be produced in 21,430 units in six years.
Aurora, the global Cadillac
At the same time, GM officials set a clear target for Cadillac engineers. Design a “world car” that can stand up to the Lexus sold in the US, but also allow Cadillac to finally break into Europe.
In 1990, at the Detroit Motor Show, the brand sent a press release to French journalists: “Much more than a motor show attraction, the Aurora is a very serious attempt to present current and future Cadillac technology and determine what luxury car buyers expect from us”.
It now speaks of “Cadillac International” and insists on “Style without frills. European customers of this style of car appreciate the absence of chrome”. The message is clear, the Aurora will have to sell everywhere in the world.
The torpedoed sedan
We have to admit that the result is convincing, at least in terms of design. The Aurora is curved where Cadillacs are always drawn with a ruler.
In profile, we see the aerodynamics pushed to the maximum with a very advanced cab to get maximum space without having to extend the car too much. No chrome, no stops, Cadillac just reinvented itself and took a twenty year leap forward. Inside, the styling is also new, and the Aurora inaugurates a central screen, twenty years ahead of fashion.
On the technical side, we have a V8 Northstar capable of competing with German engines, mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. But this concept car is already too late.
The General Motors board does not believe in a victorious return of the brand in Europe. After a film appearance in a scene from Demolition Man, the Cadillac Aurora is recycled at Oldsmobile.
With only 200,000 sales in eight years, that won’t stop the brand from closing. Today, the Cadillacs registered in France each year can be counted on the fingers of one hand.