General Motors has maintained a low profile in Australia since the shutdown of Holden two years ago – with Chevrolet pick-ups and Corvettes – but the US auto giant is considering a roll-out of electric vehicles from its Cadillac luxury brand.
US car giant General Motors is considering an expansion of its modest Australian line-up – which today comprises Chevrolet pick-ups and Corvette sports cars – starting with the possible rollout of electric Cadillacs within the next few years.
Cadillac was due to relaunch in Australia in 2008 – after leaving the local market once General Motors established Holden in 1948 – but bailed out on those plans after the Global Financial Crisis sent GM bankrupt.
General Motors revived its Australian future model plans a decade later – telling Australian media in 2018 it was gearing up for another comeback – but then the global pandemic pulled the plug on Cadillac’s international expansion.
Now it appears General Motors is preparing its third Cadillac resurrection in Australia in two decades.
Senior executives at General Motors this week told a small group of media from Australia and New Zealand – invited by the auto giant to sample a selection of its latest vehicles in Detroit – that the electric-car era could fast-track plans to bring Cadillac to right-hand-drive markets.
It is prohibitively expensive to develop both left- and right-hand-drive versions of petrol-powered cars when a left-hand-drive vehicle sells in the millions overseas, but only in the few thousands in Australia.
With that in mind, it is for now unclear whether future electric General Motors models will be factory-built in right-hand-drive (as is the case with the low-volume, high-profit Corvette sports-car), or remanufactured locally (as is the case with the Chevrolet Silverado pick-up).
There is also the possibility that both could options are being considered.
One approach could be to offer a selected number of Cadillac electric cars that have been factory-built in right-hand-drive, alongside a selected number of electric Hummer or electric Silverado models that would be remanufactured to right-hand-drive locally.
Drive understands the higher profit margins in Cadillac, Hummer and Silverado vehicles – and the simplicity of electric-car designs – mean a factory-built right-hand-drive Cadillac is a possibility, but full-size pick-ups such as the electric Hummer and electric Silverado would likely be remanufactured locally.
If General Motors decides from the outset it wants to sell certain left-hand-drive models in right-hand-drive markets, engineers can “package protect” the structure of a vehicle, to make it easier to manufacture in right-hand-drive on the main assembly line – or at a remanufacturing facility after initially being built in left-hand-drive.
“The conversion between left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive becomes something we have to design and develop up front, but it’s much more simple than having an engine in front of you,” Shilpan Armin, General Motors Senior Vice President and President of GM International told Drive in Detroit.
“We have announced that beyond the (fully electric) Hummer truck, there is a Hummer SUV coming down the pipeline, but we do have a whole range of electric vehicle portfolios. There are applications across a broad range of brands and platforms along with that.
“It’s important for us to design and develop a scaleable platform, one we could use for electric Silverado for example,” Armin said.
“The development time with an electric vehicle platform is less than half what the development time was with (a petrol) vehicle.
“That means we can learn of a customer insight or pain point, and we can then design, develop and bring that solution to market much quicker.”
Cadillac will be the focus of GM’s push to an electric future markets outside North America.
Indeed, there will be no new petrol-powered cars developed for Cadillac after 2026. Existing models will still be sold, but all new-designed Cadillacs from 2026 will be electric.
“We are not doing plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, we believe in an electric future,” Christian Soemmer, President and Managing Director of Strategic Markets, Alliances and Distributors for Cadillac, told Drive.
“We believe we have a much stronger opportunity with our electric vehicles and we want to double down on electric vehicles rather than bridging technology.”
Soemmer was referring to plug-in hybrids and closed-loop hybrids, technologies he believes are only stop-gap measures.
In response to the current cost of electric vehicles relative to petrol or hybrid cars, Soemmer said he believes price parity will come.
“The Cadillac Lyric platform has a 40 percent cost advantage versus current battery costs,” he said. “I believe by 2030, there should be (price) parity.”
Despite General Motors executives providing a number of clues about the company’s plans to introduce right-hand-drive electric models as part of its global expansion – either as factory-built cars or locally remanufactured vehicles – representatives for GM in Australia would not be drawn of the likelihood of these plans coming to fruition, when the vehicles might be in showrooms, or what price bracket they might be in.
Given General Motors has had two failed attempts to relaunch Cadillac in Australia over the past two decades, it’s apparent the company wants the third attempt to stick – and isn’t ready to announce anything until after they’ve reached the point of no return.
Last time, General Motors sent the first shipment of about 100 Cadillac sedans to Australia in 2008 – and invited media to a test-drive launch – but suddenly pulled the pin in late January 2009.
The cars were shipped to New Zealand and sold there, and the Cadillac signage was sent back to GM before dealers had time to install the signs.
Joshua Dowling has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years, spending most of that time working for The Sydney Morning Herald (as motoring editor and one of the early members of the Drive team) and News Corp Australia. He joined CarAdvice / Drive in 2018, and has been a World Car of the Year judge for more than 10 years.