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Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen’s overhaul of the General Motors Co. luxury brand is heating up as Cadillac prepares an onslaught of new vehicle launches at the end of 2018.

Cadillac ended 2017 on a strong note in the Chinese market, the world’s fastest-growing automotive market, with sales up 50.8 percent compared to 2016. De Nysschen placed special focus on China about four years ago and said Tuesday that Cadillac is poised to break the 200,000 unit mark in China in 2018.

“I think it’s safe to say that phase one of our strategy is proceeding according to plan,” de Nysschen said during a presentation at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. “If we could achieve that level of growth that quickly with a relatively old product portfolio, you’ll understand that we’re highly optimistic about our prospects for when we start launching our new products.”

The XT4, a compact SUV, will be the first new entry to the U.S. market. Its launch begins a flurry of new vehicles that will come at neckbreaking speed, with a new product every six months through the end of 2020.

“At the conclusion of this first phase of the plan, Cadillac will be armed for the first time with a family of premium crossover vehicles, positioning us well to exploit market preferences,” de Nysschen said.

Cadillac’s sedan-heavy lineup has dragged the brand down for years in the SUV and crossover-driven U.S. market. The luxury brand’s U.S. sales were down 8 percent in 2017, but worldwide Cadillac achieved its second-highest sales total in the history of the brand, resulting in a 15.5 percent increase in global sales last year.

A longtime automotive executive with an extensive resume that includes stints at Audi and Nissan’s Infiniti brand, de Nysschen was brought to Cadillac in 2014 to lead an overhaul of the brand to boost its global footprint. He has worked to create a new brand attitude for Cadillac in an attempt to restore its sense of luxury among customers. He convinced GM to allow Cadillac to distance itself from other GM brands, establishing its own headquarters in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo neighborhood in 2015.

It appears de Nysschen has begun to achieve something of a consumer sentiment change; at his , presentation Tuesday, he said roughly 50 percent of Cadillac customers are Gen X and millennials.

“I often hear that Cadillac is a brand for retirees or old people,” he said. “Of course it annoys the blazes out of me.”

At the same time that de Nysschen leads Cadillac’s image makeover and product changeover, he is also leading the brand into the future with initiatives like the car-subscription service Book by Cadillac and the implementation of Super Cruise, a semi-autonomous hands-free driving system.

“When I pause to consider the state of Cadillac’s transformation thus far, I see a picture of a brand emerging that’s not simply being modernized, but one that is capable of reshaping luxury consumption as we know it,” de Nysschen said. “I see a brand and an organization that has learned, and sometimes the hard way, that transformation is not a singular event, but rather, must become a way of life. Three years into our journey of transformation we are making progress and we are confident that we are on track.”

NNaughton@detroitnews.com

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