Cadillac’s Small Car, the ATS, Is Coming

October 27th, 2010

Cadillac ATS rendering

There has been talk for months about a new compact Cadillac to compete with the BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and lesser vehicles of Asian origin. Now, GM CEO Daniel Akerson will announce tomorrow that the Grand River assembly plant in Lansing will build the new ATS (rendering above) there.

Cadillac’s track record in building smaller cars is not good. Witness the Catera, and who can forget the Cimarron? The latter topped one website’s list of “The 5 Worst Cars Ever Sold” earlier this year, and if you ever drove one, you’d agree.

But there should be happier days ahead for the ATS. In coupe, sedan, and (coming later) convertible styles, it will share the Alpha platform with the larger CTS. We get differing information on engines: Some say the base engine will be a turbo four, and options range all the way to a less-than-likely V8. The 3-liter twin-turbo V6 is a more plausible option.

Look for a probable 2012 launch now that we have a dedicated plant.

Motor Trend told us about the platform changes some months ago. The Alpha, they said, would coordinate and provide a “global platform” for the two Cadillacs (ATS and CTS) as well as the Camaro. This could enable the Camaro to lighten up and better compete with the Mustang.

GM’s commitment to rear-wheel-drive cars has now spread across three important vehicles. Alpha has its development roots in Holden’s TT36 concept project, a good backbone for developing a high-performance car, and there has been much praise for the platform, which will serve as the backbone for a whole range of GM cars.

Whether a car like the ATS can actually steal business from BMW is finally not so much a matter of engineering as marketing. After a lot of years looking at the behavior of car buyers, I think they are influenced not so much by engineering and technical achievements as by the intangibles of branding, reputation, style, and status.

Whether Cadillac can make a real break from the past with its new cars is still an open question. It’s going to be a tough slog to beat the Germans.

Would a car like the ATS be a candidate for your “buy list”?

—jgoods

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