GM is pulling Cadillac back from its bold luxury experiment by dismissing division boss

David McNew/Getty ImagesOutgoing Cadillac chief Johan de Nysschen.
  • General Motors announced that Johan de Nysschen would depart as head of Cadillac.
  • Cadillac has struggled to directly compete with BMW,Audi, and Mercedes-Benz.
  • De Nysschen was replaced by Steve Carlisle, who had been running GM Canada and has been with the carmaker since 1982.

On Wednesday, General Motors announced that Johan de Nysschen would be replaced as head of the carmaker’s Cadillac luxury division by Steve Carlisle, a relative unknown who started at GM in 1982 and had most recently been running Canadian operations.

“We appreciate Johan’s efforts over the last four years in setting a stronger foundation for Cadillac,” GM President Dan Ammann said in a statement.

“Looking forward, the world is changing rapidly, and, beginning with the launch of the new XT4, it is paramount that we capitalise immediately on the opportunities that arise from this rate of change.” Ammann, who is GM’s unofficial chief change officer, added. “This move will further accelerate our efforts in that regard.”

De Nysschen came to Cadillac from Infiniti, and before that, Audi. He pushed Cadillac in a more overt, luxury brand direction, going so far as to relocate its sales and marketing operations to New York City to be close to the pulse of global luxury trends.

“There’s no question Johan is a visionary automotive leader, but given GM’s conservative culture he may have pushed things a step too far,” Jessica Caldwell, an executive analyst at consumer auto site, said in an email.

“The appointment of Carlisle, a GM-bred executive with a strong pedigree of global expertise, product planning acumen and history of building relationships with dealers speaks to the company’s desire for a more back-to-basics, comfortable approach,” she added.

Cadillac XT5Benjamin Zhang/Business InsiderThe XT5.

Playing catch-up with the Germans

Caldwell expressed a view held by many in the industry: that De Nysschen’s preoccupation with “chasing the German brands instead of embracing Cadillac’s unique heritage” undermined the brand’s mojo.

“Over the last six months Cadillac has watched its cross-town rivals at Lincoln debut SUV after SUV to rave reviews, a script-flip few in the industry saw coming,” she said.

In De Nysschen’s defence, Cadillac launched a full-size sedan, the CT6, just as US sales were shifting to SUVs. A mid-size crossover, the XT5, arrived in 2016 and had sold briskly, but it launched with what some – including Business Insider – considered an engine that was underpowered for the segment. And Caddy’s full-size Escalade continues to rule the segment, despite an upsurge in Lincoln Navigator sales.

But the clock was clearly ticking for de Nysschen, signalled by the departure of Uwe Ellinghaus as Caddy’s marketing chief late last year. The South African-native De Nysschen was a cheerfully demanding executive, hardly a GM company man, easily identified due to his height, his clipped mustache, and his two-tone Breitling wristwatch.

De Nysschen also presided over the effective debut of Cadillac’s Super Cruise hand-free highway self-driving feature, which now challenges Tesla’s Autopilot as the best semi-autonomous consumer system available.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.