By Ben Klayman
DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co's (NYS:GM) new Cadillac marketing chief believes it could take as long as a decade to build its reputation as a global luxury brand.
Uwe Ellinghaus, a former marketing executive with German luxury automaker BMW AG (GER:BMW), will assume his duties on January 1, but was introduced this week as the person responsible for shaping Cadillac's image around the world.
"I have a really, really realistic chance to establish Cadillac to what it never was, a really global premium brand that is on eye level with all the other premium competitors," the 44-year-old executive said in a telephone interview on Friday.
GM's drive to make Cadillac a global luxury brand took shape after the company's 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring. Pre-bankruptcy, the Detroit company lacked the financial clout to boost demand beyond the small numbers sold outside the United States.
Cadillac sales globally fell 2 percent last year to around 196,000 vehicles, but are up 30 percent so far this year. Today nine of every 10 Cadillac sales take place in the United States and China.
Ellinghaus, who was most recently a sales and marketing executive with Montblanc International, a maker of luxury pens, watches, jewelry and leather, said Cadillac has a strong history and great new vehicles to offer, including the CTS and ATS sedans, but lacks the "overarching message" to tie it all together.
"People know Cadillac, people like Cadillac, but they don't find Cadillac always particularly relevant," he said. "This is something that communication ... can easily overcome. It just takes time."
Ellinghaus called building Cadillac into a global premium brand a "mid- to long-term brand strategy" that will take a couple of years in the United States, five years in China and as many as 10 years in markets where the brand has a small presence.
"It's not too late," he said. "The brand has a cachet and a prestige that is already a good prerequisite for building its emotional character even further."
In the short term, however, his focus will be the world's two largest auto markets, China and the United States.
In China, whose luxury car market is expected to eventually surpass that of the United States, Ellinghaus said Cadillac has the products but needs to build brand momentum.
GM Cadillac chief Bob Ferguson said in March that he expected the brand's China sales to rise two-thirds to about 50,000 this year and triple from last year's total to about 90,000 by 2016. However, research firm LMC Automotive forecasts that the brand will only have topped 80,000 sales in 2018.
In the United States, where Cadillac ranked No. 4 in luxury sales last year, Ellinghaus said it will take five to 10 years to compete for segment leadership. In August 2012, Cadillac officials said that in a few years the brand could be a contender for the top spot in the U.S. luxury market, a position it has not held in 16 years.
In Europe, where Cadillac is more a niche brand, Ellinghaus said Cadillac did not need to have large sales volumes to be a credible global luxury brand. He said Cadillac lacks diesel engines, which are far more popular in Europe, and probably needs more of a presence in the largest European cities.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)