Founded in 1902, the Cadillac Automobile Company was purchased by the General Motors Company in 1909, one year after GM was formed. Early on, Cadillac was known as “the standard of the world” and has long served as GM’s luxury brand. Today, this iconic American brand is shaping a revived GM.
Named for the founder of the city of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the Cadillac brand was founded by Henry Leland who took over the failed Henry Ford Company, itself replaced by the successful Ford Motor Company. In 1908, GM was formed with Buick and Oldsmobile as its cornerstones; Cadillac was acquired the following year.
In its earliest years, the Cadillac brand offered a number of distinctions that helped maintain its place among the elite manufacturers of that era. Soon after GM took over, Cadillac introduced its first car with no crank in a bid to make driving appeal to more women. The marque also developed the first mass-produced water-cooled V8 engine.
In the 1920s, the Cadillac LaSalle was released, the first vehicle designed by a stylist instead of an engineer. In the 1930s, Cadillac introduced the world’s first V16 engine, following that with a V12.
After World War II, Cadillac styling added tail fins, a trend that soon spread to other brands. Cadillac also began racing its V8-powered models, with its fastest car finishing in third place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Cadillacs were made larger and powered by huge engines, including an 8.2-liter V8 in its Eldorado. However, by the mid-1970s smaller Cadillacs, including the compact Seville, were introduced in response to higher fuel prices. That downsizing trend continued through the 1980s and by the 1990s, most Cadillac models had switched from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive.
At the start of the new century, GM set in motion a plan to help Cadillac recapture its glory years. New designs, based on its Art and Science visage, were first shown in its Cadillac CTS, later joined by the smaller ATS and the slightly larger XTS. Dramatic grilles, muscular shoulders, chiseled lines, advanced technologies and high-end interiors were introduced in a bid to help Cadillac compete with the industry’s leaders. Those leaders include Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus; the changes also helped GM set Cadillac apart from Lincoln, its one-time arch-rival.
Today, Cadillac is composed of sedans, coupes and SUVs, the latter category represented by the Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac SRX. A high-performance V-Series is also available, which is a rival to BMW M, Mercedes-Benz AMG and Audi Sport. Infiniti, Jaguar, Volvo, Acura, and Land Rover are among the marque’s other noteworthy competitors.