Lansing-built Cadillac ATS unveiled at Detroit auto show

Jan 12, 2012

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit opens to the public on Saturday. Hundreds of thousands of people will attend the show at Cobo Hall to see prototypes and the new car and truck models.

Earlier this week, General Motors showed off the new Cadillac ATS to the media. The ATS will be built in Lansing. It's aimed squarely at the lucrative compact luxury car market.

Talking with a couple of Cadillac executives about the 2013 ATS coming out this summer, you get the feeling that they've been trained to stay on-message.

"This is a small, quick, vehicle." "We like to say that this product is going to be quick." "A vehicle that's very nimble, it's very dynamic." "It's going to be nimble." "That's fun to drive." "And it's going to be fun to drive."

Meet Don Butler and Kurt McNeil, Cadillac's vice presidents for marketing and sales and service respectively. They're excited about taking on BMW's 3 series in the small luxury car market. 370,000 compact luxury cars were sold in the United States last year, and 93,000 of them were BMW's 3 series models.

Marketing vice president Don Butler sees the Cadillac ATS biting into that.

"Let's just say we plan to take a big chunk," Butler says. "We plan to take more than our fair share, and we do expect that this will be the highest volume Cadillac within our franchise."

GM spent $140-million to retool the Lansing Grand River assembly plant to build the ATS here. The investment translates into 600 jobs at the plant, and hundreds more at nearby suppliers.

Sales and service VP Kurt McNeil says the plant's track record is a big part of his confidence in the ATS.

"The quality and reliability of our CTS products, whether it's the sedan, the coupe or the wagon, are industry leading," McNeil states. "We continue to win awards with those products. We have every reason to believe that this ATS will be exactly that same type of quality and reliability."

Cadillac's track record in the compact luxury market isn't good. In the 1980s, the Cimarron was built on a platform shared with the low-end Chevrolet Cavalier, and its reputation suffered as a result.

Cadillac's vehicle chief engineer Sheri Hickok says when design work on the ATS began, GM took a different approach.

"We challenged our questions," explains Hickok. "We challenged our best practices. We went after lightweighting. We went after risk taking, to really push our knowledge and our experiences to the limit, to get the most nimble, fun, aggressive luxury-based car out for that segment."

There's that word nimble again.

Part of being nimble is the car's curb weight of less than 3,400 pounds and what GM calls a near-perfect 51-49 front-rear weight distribution.

Along with the BMW 3 series, the compact luxury car market includes the Mercedes C-Class and Audi's A4.

The market-leading BMW 3 series is now in its sixth generation, with three models.

Oliver Ganser, product manager for the 3 series, calls it the core of BMW's brand.

"Oh, we're taking every competitor serious," Ganser proclaims. "So, we'll also keep a close eye on the unveiling of the new Cadillac ATS, of course."

Pricing for the Cadillac ATS hasn't been finalized, but sales and service VP Kurt McNeil says the ATS is designed to go head to head with BMW, Mercedes and Audi and win.

Hundreds of Lansing autoworkers hope he's right about that.