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For Cadillac, 2018 may be the Year of the SUV — but it’s also the Year of Performance.

GM’s luxury brand is playing catch-up to SUV-rich BMW, Mercedes and Audi with the first of three new crossovers to be introduced by 2021. But even as Cadillac announced this week the cancellation of its ATS sedan — billed as its BMW 3-series fighter — it also made clear that its goal to be the American alternative to the Teutonic threesome is about more than five-door family-haulers.

Despite the revamping of its sedan lineup and dismissal of product architect and CEO Johan de Nysschen, Cadillac says it has its pedal-to-the-metal on a long-term strategy promoting the brand’s athleticism.

Cadillac is accelerating its performance programs as it goes wheel-to-wheel against some of the world’s greatest track marques. The premium automaker has a new halo CT6 V-Sport sedan, new ad campaign and special Championship Edition V-series cars to celebrate the brand’s historic world endurance racing championship in 2017.

“We have an overall product ladder to continue filling out,” said Matt Russell, Cadillac’s marketing manager for racing and its V-series performance-car lineup. “But I want to make a clear statement that we are — particularly in the effect we get from motorsports and building sporty cars — committed to the sport-luxe compact car business.”

Continued Russell: “We may be entering a period of generation change for those models — particularly for the ATS sedan — but we are not walking away from those segments. Racing is an accelerant for conversation for our compact and midsize performance cars.”

As if to punctuate the point, Cadillac race driver Jordan Taylor campaigned the IMSA 2017 Championship Edition CTS-V across Michigan this week, leading up to the home team’s defense of its IMSA Weathertech Sportscar win here last year.

While the CTS is expected to get a name change (possibly to CT5, following Cadillac’s new nomenclature introduced with the full-size CT6 sedan in 2016), the current car has another year to run in its product cycle.

CTS is a poster child for how closely Cadillac’s engineers work with their racing programs. V-series development programs have translated racing technology to the street with features like traction-assisting Performance Traction Management.

Only 200 Championship Edition vehicles — encompassing the CTS-V, the ATS-V sedan and ATS-V coupe — have been made for sale in the U.S., Canada and Middle East. They are distinguished by special graphics including an outline of the sleek, IMSA DPi racing prototype that won last year’s championship.

And while the ATS-V Championship Edition represents the last hurrah for the small sedan, expect more performance cars like the 550-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 CT6 V-Sport unveiled at this year’s New York Auto Show.

Race-driver and Cadillac ambassador Taylor left Belle Isle in the Championship Edition CTS-V for Grand Rapids on Monday afternoon to wow dealers and customers. Cadillac says the racing program has attracted new customers and younger people. Twenty-somethings come out to see Taylor, 26, sign autographs in the “Cadillac Corral” at races like Detroit.

“There are a lot of similarities between the race car and street car,” says Taylor who arrived in Detroit fresh from a fifth-place showing Sunday at the the IMSA Weathertech series’ stop at Mid-Ohio race track. “They have the same wheel design, same push-rod V-8 and same rear camera mirror.”

The race car and CTS-V share center stage — alongside the new XT4 crossover and Super Cruise self-driving technology — in the new Cadillac ad campaign, “The Future is Here.” The DPi V.R racer and the CTS-V roar across the screen on a race track accompanied by blaring rock music.

Russell says the emphasis on racing is part of a conscious decision by GM to break the Cadillac mold.

“When you’re 116 years old, there are certain elements of your brand and product that are established,” he says. “People know we can do comfortable. So where do we stretch our legs? We demonstrate that we have engineers that compete with all other engineers when it comes to safety, connectivity and racing.”

Taylor and steed will return to Belle Isle June 1-3 for Detroit Grand Prix weekend. Acura, Mazda and Nissan have all joined the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar prototype class with similar winged 600-horsepower beasts. Troy-based Team Penske manages the Acura team that won its first race at Mid-Ohio. The series also features production-based GT cars from BMW, Audi, Lexus, Ford, Ferrari and Porsche. Chevrolet is a GT competitor but will miss Detroit as it ships its Corvette racers across the pond to June’s 24 Hours of LeMans.

Cadillac cut its teeth in GT racing back in 2004 before taking the leap to prototype racing last year.

“We had won so much on the GT front with the V-series, you can’t allow it to become old news that you are good at something,” says Russell of the brand’s successful move to the DPi format last year. “It’s a way to keep ourselves relevant using racing as that stimulant for our street car business.”

Taylor finds his new CTS-V Championship Series plenty stimulating. Indeed, the supercharged, 6.2-liter V’s 650 horsepower actually exceeds that in his race car (competition rules limit power to 600 ponies).

“It’s funny driving my street car around and lighting up the tires by accident, and then getting in the race car with so much (aerodynamic) down-force you don’t feel like you’re going anywhere sometimes,” Taylor said. “It’s awesome to see Cadillac developing this side of the brand again and using racing to develop it.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

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