DETROIT --After a string of failed efforts, Cadillac is again pursuing a toehold in Europe. But this time it's approaching the world's most competitive luxury market with more humble ambitions -- and a new retail strategy that, if successful, could be transplanted to its home market as well.
Rather than expanding its meager dealership network of about 40 stores, Cadillac plans to open several test-drive centers, stand-alone service facilities and pop-up storefronts across western Europe.
The idea is to expose prospective customers to Cadillac products without forcing them to visit a dealership, which is "not really what they want to do given how limited their leisure time is," says Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac's global chief marketing officer.
Future of retail
He said elements of the retail model "clearly" could be adapted for the U.S. market. "I think the future of retail in the automotive industry is without bricks and mortar, at least compared to what we do now, which is invest multimillions in dealerships," Ellinghaus said.
That would give Cadillac the ability to "control not only the transaction prices better, but also the quality of the experience, of the dealer touch points," he said at the Geneva auto show earlier this month.
Other luxury automakers are rolling out alternative retail strategies in the United States as they adapt to shifting shopping habits, offering customers the chance to kick tires in an environment free of sales pressure or financing pitches. Test tracks, virtual showrooms and other automaker-operated spaces offer car companies a chance for the sort of direct customer face time that has mainly been the dealers' domain.