Cadillac Loses Another Top Exec

Turmoil at the top as sales bottom out.

by on Jun.19, 2014

Bill Peffer becomes the third U.S. sales chief to leave Cadillac in less than two years.

This was supposed to be a big year for Cadillac as it rolled out new models like the CTS and updated Escalade, and solidified the gains of other recent models, such as the compact ATS and big XTS sedans. But instead of growth, the brand has been wracked with turmoil, losing a procession of senior managers as sales have unexpectedly tumbled.

Cadillac’s only recently hired U.S. sales chief has left the company for supposedly personal reasons. Whether he fell short of expectations, General Motors isn’t revealing, but the luxury brand’s volume was down 2.3% for the first five months of the year, a sharp disappointment considering Caddy had been anticipating double-digit sales growth in 2014.

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The departure of Bill Peffer, who joined GM just last autumn, is the latest in a series of executive departures, a list that includes former Cadillac global strategic development chief Don Butler, who left the company last August, and Peffer’s predecessor Chase Hawkins, who was fired as sales chief for “violating a company policy.”

One-time rising GM star Susan Docherty tendered her resignation last year as head of European operations for both Cadillac and Chevrolet – a move soon followed by the decision to pull Chevy out of Europe entirely.

GM has had a number of other major personnel losses over the last several years, including the notorious, headline-generating ouster of Joel Ewanick as global marketing chief.

(Caddy rival Lincoln tops new Vehicle Satisfaction Index. Click Here for details.)

Further complicating matters for Caddy, its global boss, Bob Ferguson, has been distracted by GM’s recall mess. He is spending a major portion of his time, he recently told, working with CEO Mary Barra on strategy related to the carmaker’s problems, pulling him away from Cadillac.

But loosing Peffer as the third sales chief to leave the brand in barely two years is an unsettling situation for a brand that has unexpectedly lost direction at a time when it thought it was gaining momentum.

With the addition of the XTS and ATS – the latter being named North American Car of the Year in January 2013 – Caddy was able to score an impressive 22% sales increase last year. The ATS initially helped attract younger and first-time luxury buyers as an American alternative to such import stalwarts as the BMW 3-Series.

Peffer was urgently recruited last autumn after Hawkins ran afoul of internal GM regulations, joining the maker from his prior post as CEO of Nissan Australia. Why he left hasn’t been said beyond the traditional references to “personal” matters. But his brief tenure hasn’t shown very solid results.

Not only has Cadillac seen its overall U.S. sales drop 2.3% so far this year, but demand for the ATS and XTS models were down by about 20%.

Caddy is currently ramping up its new CTS, a finalist for this year’s North American Car of the Year – which instead was won by the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. The 2015 Cadillac CTS grows larger and more luxurious, providing more of a gap between it and the compact ATS, while now more directly targeting the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.  Meanwhile, the maker has redesigned its long-popular Escalade full-size SUV. While it no longer dominates that profitable segment it is second only to the Mercedes GL.

(Escalade named one of the highest-quality models in new J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. Click Here to learn who else led the list.)

While Caddy is still hoping to build demand with the new CTS and Escalade, its other new 2015 model, the plug-in hybrid ELR, may already be DOA, generating just 52 sales in May and a mere 293 since going on sale earlier this year.

Cadillac’s sales decline comes as GM copes with its worst recall crisis ever, the maker announcing dozens of service actions since the beginning of the year involving nearly 18 million vehicles. While Caddy has had a few models, such as the CTS covered by the flurry of recalls, ironically, the Chevrolet brand at the center of the biggest safety-related problems, has scored a significant increase in sales this year.

(Cadillac CTS one of many models covered by six new GM recalls. Click Here for details.)

Cadillac is now looking for a new sales chief to replace Peffer. For the time being, GM’s U.S. sales director Kurt McNeil will handle Caddy duties, as well – a position he held until 2012.

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