EXCLUSIVE: What Price ELR? Cadillac Boss de Nysschen Gives Us His Take on the Hybrid Luxury Coupe and Its Future

Nov 25, 2014 08:54 AM EST | Jeff Jablansky

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Since Johan de Nysschen was named as president of Cadillac in July 2014, the South African-born executive—formerly of Audi and Infiniti—has toiled to begin a total repositioning of the American luxury brand. In turn, de Nysschen has to bear the brunt of decisions made toward that end. He's made news for his defense of the brand headquarters' upcoming move to New York, a full-scale renaming of the product line, and his vision for Cadillac's competitive set.

But de Nysschen has remained cautiously quiet about the ELR, Cadillac's first foray into the plug-in hybrid market that has failed to deliver particularly strong sales. Critics chide the ELR for being priced out of the realm of affordability in the hybrid market-even among most luxury cars-with a starting price of $75,000 before electric vehicle incentives. As of October 2014, Cadillac only managed to sell 1037 ELR plug-in hybrids.

At the Los Angeles auto show, we sat down with de Nysschen for his direct take on the ELR, its future, and the dealer network charged with its success.

In de Nysschen's own words:

Had he set the original positioning for the ELR: "If we were to have launched the technology into ELR first, and if we had positioned ELR as a segment competitor to a Tesla, which is today so far the premium electric car; and we were to have presented this car as an EV, with the ability to get you home when the charging infrastructure isn't there to support you; and to overcome a major impediment to people adopting EVs in a widespread basis, which is range anxiety; and we produced this car with the usual Cadillac craftsmanship, technology, and quality of execution, nobody would've thought that the car was too expensive. The fact that people do is as much a reflection on, I suppose, our bad, in how we positioned this car.

"With all that said, if we were to reprice ELR, to the point where somehow we found a point that people would buy it buy the thousands, then all we would achieve is, the more cars you sell, the more money you lose. There's no point in that. It is where it is."

On the future of plug-in hybrids in the Cadillac lineup: "I absolutely believe that we need not only a successor to ELR but more vehicles of that caliber and they will be part of our future. We must not give up on the car. I cannot have 50 priorities at the same time. The team and I will get around to working on ELR, but it is clearly going to be a niche car."

On the ELR's value-added factor: "It's priced as a luxury car. It's a Cadillac. There's a lot of technology and equipment in that car, by the way, that you won't find in a Tesla. There's 30 grand worth of value right there. All of that, combined, you have a very small segment of buyers remaining."

On the Cadillac employees charged with the ELR's success: "I don't think our dealer network is yet of the mental paradigm to sell cars of that ilk. I shouldn't just blame the dealers; it's our own sales and marketing people as well."

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