Economics may push GM to build J-size Caddy

When the new General Motors J-car hits the road next May, the corporation's top-line auto division, Cadillac, will offer its own version as well, but onlym for limited distribution.

To be known as the Cimarron, the smallest Cadillac of them all is merely a stopgap -- a Chevrolet J-car with a Cadillac facelift -- and no more. The project could, however, continue, according to Edward C. Kennard, general manager of Cadillac. In other words, there may be a real Cadillac J-car down the road as well.

"It'll take us a few years to 'Cadillacize' a J-type car to our own standards ," Mr. Kennard reports, explaining:

"We got into the J-car will replace the Chevrolet Monza and Pontiac Sunbird. Later, Buick and Oldsmobile will get their own versions, probably as 1983-model cars.

Why a Cadillac subcompact?

Simply, Cadillac sees a need to protect its family of exclusive dealerships -- those big-time dealers who sell only Cadillacs and nothing else.

"Our objective is to introduce the Cimarron at the same time as Chevrolet and Pontiac with about 200 of our dealers, all exclusives," asserts Mr. Kennard.

"Our exclusive dealers are the only GM dealers that do not have any downsized protection in the case of a severe energy crunch," he goes on.

The division's other 1,800 dealers also sell other brands, usually GM products, plus Cadillac.

However, introduction of the Cimarron will cause all kinds of marketing problems for Cadillac, Mr. Kennard concedes.

"If we don't give our big exclusive dealers some kind of protection, they'll be forced to go out and sign up with a foreign manufacturer in order to stay in business." It could be a Japanese brand, he suggests.

Until now, at least, Cadillac has not been known as a high-mileage car.

The exclusive new V-6-8-4 engine -- which shifts from 8 to 4 or even 6 cylinders depending on the load -- was introduced to avoid the gas-guzzler tax which was included in the energy bill a couple years ago. If a car gets less than 17 miles a gallon, the tax is $550.Next year the minimum mpg goes up to 18 1/2.

Thus, the 200 exclusive Cadillac dealers need to give the high-mileage-seeking customer a choice. If the nameplate says Cadillac, the division figures it's ahead.

But there is one problem: The division cannot advertise the new car nationally if it can be found at only 200 dealerships. "We may have to hand the dealers a package and say they've got to advertise the car themselves in their own markets," Mr. Kennard suggests.

Meanwhile, Cadillac will downsize its big-car Fleetwood and De Ville lines in 1983, with the front-wheel-drive Eldorado and Seville following later on. Whether or not the division follows up on the J-car depends, to a large degree, on the smaller dimensions of these two cars.

"The next generation of those two cars may not be any bigger than the J-car," according to the Cadillac general manager.

"We wouldn't want two car lines right on top of each other."

One thing seems sure, however. When the base-diesel-engine Seville finally is cut back in size, the shape will be much more traditional than the controversial bustle-back-trunk style of 1980-81.

The Seville buyer can count on a notchback.

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