Cadillac Has A Lot To Learn From Tesla

elr-commercialIn a recent interview with AdAge, Cadillac CMO Uwe Eillinghaus remains unapologetic regarding the controversial “Poolside” commercial starring the Cadillac ELR. And while he’s also an admitted proponent of vehicle electrification it’ll take a lot more than than a tarted-up Chevy Volt and a controversial commercial for Cadillac to compete with Tesla.

On Tesla, Ellinghaus said;

“Tesla teaches us a message: If you offer cars with an electric drive-train that have superb driving characteristics and a beautiful [interior], they find customers. What doesn’t work is to position a car for people who are tree-huggers and green-wash an entire brand.”

Gee, you mean all it takes to find customers is to build a great car? YOU DON’T SAY!

While I don’t necessarily disagree with Ellinghaus’s sentiment, though he seems to be missing a major point. The Tesla Model S appeals to both treehuggers and luxury car buyers, which is what has made it such a huge success. The polarizing “Poolside” commercial did the ELR no favors with the green crowd, espousing the virtues of hard workwhile deriding Europeans for taking a month off from work each year. As though spending quality time with your family is somehow wrong.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk is ready to offer free Supercharging stations powered by the sun to Tesla customers. That’s value and environmentalism, a one-two punch that has put Tesla on top in very short order. Tesla didn’t “greenwash” its entire brand, and neither is BMW by offering the i3 and i8 electric vehicles. Offering one hybrid does not a green brand make.

With less than 300 Cadillac ELRs sold through the end of May, Tesla has little to worry about from Uwe and the Cadillac brand, at least for now. While some ELR owners seem happy with their Chevy Volt-based hybrids, many dealerships are having to offer huge discounts to move the ELR off of lots. The ELR will not compete with the Tesla Model S in its current form.

The next-generation ELR, however, could prove to be a viable Tesla competitor if rumors of more range and more room are true. But this brings me to my next point; Cadillac is a brand obsessed with copying the success of other brands, and not just Tesla.

The Cadillac ATS was built to compete directly with the BMW 3-Series, even going so far as to do much of its testing on Germany’s Nurburgring. The Cadillac ELR was priced to compete with the Tesla Model S, even though it’s in no way a comparable car. How about an idea that is unique Cadillac, instead of a poorly-conceived (though well-executed) copy?

If Ellinghaus wants to embrace conservatism and relentless work ethic, then by all means that’s what Cadillac should do. But if they want to go after the Tesla crowd, they’ll need to temper their rhetoric with some good old fashioned tree-hugging. The reason the Tesla Model S is so appealing is that it’s a great car that also happens to be green, and Tesla anchors the Model S on both fronts. The Cadillac ELR is an OK car with green credentials that are never even mentioned. The only thing the two have in common is a price point, and nearly every publication agrees that the ELR is overpriced by tens of thousands of dollars.

I do think Cadillac can build a Tesla Model S competitor, but it will have to be a purpose-built electric or hybrid car, and not a thrice-worked-over Chevy Cruze.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.