Cadillac president calms dealer fears

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

San Francisco – — Cadillac dealers on Saturday left a meeting with president Johan de Nysschen optimistic about his direction for the luxury brand.

The meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Association came a week after de Nysschen told The Detroit News Cadillac has "too many" U.S. dealers, and he hopes to convince smaller Cadillac dealers to create downsized, standalone "boutique" stores to improve the luxury make's image.

Dealers leaving the meeting Saturday said de Nysschen started the session by talking off-script and addressing his comments about the boutique stores. They said he made it clear to dealers he has no plans to downsize from Cadillac's 928 dealer franchises in the U.S. Instead, he'd encourage some dealers to invest in smaller, standalone showrooms featuring maybe two to five cars instead of Cadillac's entire lineup.

"This isn't some evil plot where he's dragging us off in the weeds; this is all very common sense stuff," said Howard Drake, a dealer in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "Going off script for the first 10 minutes was a powerful thing. He went a long way with the dealers."

De Nysschen told The News in a telephone interview Saturday night that he felt the meeting went well.

"I had no specific reason to think there were any fears that needed calming," he said. "Judging by the questions, I would say dealers are optimistic and feel confident we have a comprehensive plan. We know we have some heavy lifting to do but we also know how we're going to address those issues."

Dealers said de Nysschen didn't offer a timeline for building the boutique stores. Cadillac has said it will help finance, but did not offer any details.

"We need to elevate the dealership experience, there's no doubt about that," said Bob Ghent, a Cadillac dealer in Colorado. "I think that's probably necessary in the business if we really want to compete with the big guys. I thought the dealers responded very well to it; They were very happy with it."

Ghent and Drake both said de Nysschen told dealers to expect flat sales growth this year. De Nysschen wants Cadillac sales to hit half a million by 2020. Cadillac's sales fell 6.5 percent in the U.S. last year to less than 171,000.

"I think he's a very interesting leader of the brand," Ghent said. "I certainly hope the plan works. At least there's optimism in it."

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