Marketing Veteran Returns to Autos in Effort to Revive Cadillac

03/06/18 10:14 AM EST
By Mike Colias 

General Motors Co. has tapped a former McDonald's Corp. executive to give the auto maker's Cadillac brand a shot in the arm.

Deborah Wahl, whose resume includes other auto makers including Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus, will take over as Cadillac's chief marketing officer later this month. The move comes 10 months after Ms. Wahl left the same position at McDonald's amid a management shakeup aimed at reviving the burger chain's fortunes.

Ms. Wahl replaces Uwe Ellinghaus, a former BMW executive who led Cadillac's marketing efforts for nearly four years before leaving in December. Cadillac is expanding rapidly in China, but its plans for a comeback in the U.S. have not been as successful.

Once the dominant luxury brand in the car business and a prominent symbol of American success, Cadillac now trails far behind BMW AG, Lexus and Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz. Cadillac has lost U.S. market share each year since 2014, even as its sales in China--the world's biggest auto market -- have tripled over the same period.

A Detroit native, Ms. Wahl spent six years at Lexus, where she worked to take the brand more upscale, including the introduction of its first $100,000-plus offering, a hybrid sedan. She left Lexus to take the top marketing job at Chrysler, where she spent about 18 months before the company's 2009 bankruptcy. She later worked as marketing chief for home builder PulteGroup, and spent time at Ford Motor Co.

Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen, hired in mid-2014 to lead Cadillac's turnaround, has downplayed market share. Instead, he is focused on improving Cadillac's bottom line by eliminating tactics that harmed the brand's image for years, such as sales to rental companies and steep end-of-the-month discounts.

Cadillac's dealers, stung by sluggish sales, have expressed frustration with the marketing and have pressed Mr. de Nysschen's team for a new direction, according to people familiar with the matter. Although it is experimenting with subscription services and semiautonomous features, Cadillac isn't often credited for being in a league with Tesla Inc. or Volkswagen's Audi AG.

Ms. Wahl's appointment comes as Mr. de Nysschen prepares a string of new-model introductions to fill out a thin product lineup, a problem that has exacerbated the sales slump. Cadillac will launch five new models over the next two years, starting with the XT4 crossover SUV later this year.

Mr. de Nysschen also wants better service at Cadillac's 900 U.S. dealerships. In an October interview, he said the brand's primary challenge is getting luxury buyers to consider a Cadillac, which has improved its vehicles but has a tough time getting a serious look from Audi or Mercedes owners. "Great brands are not built over night," he said.

Write to Mike Colias at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 06, 2018 10:14 ET (15:14 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.