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GM gives new Cadillac flagship sedan the OK

After much internal debate General Motors has apparently agreed to give Cadillac the resources it needs to give serious chase to its European competitors, notably by approving a new 7-Series competitor that will serve as the domestic maker’s flagship sedan.

As TheDetroitBureau.com recently reported, the new model – which will be heavily influenced by the recent Cadillac Ciel Concept – will be joined by a wide range of additional new Caddy products, including a downsized crossover and a V-Series version of the new ATS entry-luxury sedan.

The new model will also cap Cadillac’s push to finally become a truly global brand.  Though insiders tell TheDetroitBureau.com the Ciel-based flagship is likely to develop particularly strong demand in China, Caddy also hopes that it can provide a halo in Europe, where the brand has long struggled for traction.

The Bureau has been told that a concept version of the new premium luxury model could appear as early as next January’s Detroit Auto Show.

The formal go-ahead for the new model was reported by Automotive News, apparently based on comments senior Cadillac officials made during a preview of the new ATS.  Brand insiders had indicated a decision was near when they met with TheDetroitBureau.com during an earlier ATS ride-and-drive last month.

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The challenge, a source said, was freeing up the necessary resources to cover the broad range of products Cadillac needs to take on its import challengers.  Last week, TheDetroitBureau.com reported, both BMW and Mercedes-Benz plan significant expansions of their own product portfolios.

Cadillac gave a clear sense of its goals when it unveiled the Ciel concept at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last August.  The striking convertible featured a bold design that harkened back to the big Caddies of the 1950s and ‘60s but introduced striking new design cues and featured over-the-top materials and details such as a retractable scarf for rear seat passengers.

The flagship is not expected to be quite as bold as Ciel but will push for a level of “premium-ness,” according to one company source, that would be more in line with ultra-premium brands such as Bentley.

Cadillac has been longing for a 7-Series competitor for years and first hinted at what it might do with the introduction of the Caddy Sixteen concept introduced at the January 2003 Detroit Auto Show.  That design was tabled, in part, because GM didn’t see the potential for a 16-cylinder engine like the one used in the prototype.

Nor will the maker adopt a 12-cylinder powerplant like some premium models.  It is more likely to anchor the new model with a V-8 that can compete with the likes of the BMW 750 or Mercedes-Benz S550.  A smaller and more fuel-efficient V-6 is a likelihood and may came in turbo-only form.  A new 8-speed gearbox is reportedly in the works.

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Whether the Detroit maker would also offer a V-Series entry to compete with the likes of the Mercedes S63 AMG is uncertain.

The platform for the new flagship is reportedly based on a modified version of the Omega “architecture” used for the current CTS and the now-abandoned Cadillac STS.  It would be stretched but also undergo steps meant to both lighten and stiffen the platform.

(The next-generation CTS, meanwhile, will migrate to the same Alpha architecture used for the compact ATS – even though the mid-range model will actually grow slightly larger when it debuts in 2014.)

Cadillac hopes to have the new flagship model in showrooms shortly after the mid-decade mark.  It will have a lot more company on dealer lots than Caddy currently offers.  This year brings the launch of both the ATS and the bigger XTS.  Once described as the brand’s new “flagship,” Caddy officials dropped that phrase for the XTS when they began to think the Ciel-based model would win approval.  Instead, the XTS is being targeted at a more conservative segment of buyers who might have traditionally opted for the likes of the old DTS.

A V-version of the ATS, meanwhile, is apparently under development, and Cadillac designers are now working up various convertible designs.  Sources declined to say which model might go al fresco, suggesting several alternatives are under study.  But a ragtop is clearly another priority, despite relatively light demand because of the halo potential.

Among other products under development, Cadillac is working on one more crossover-utility vehicle to slot under the current SRX and an even smaller CUV might follow considering the broadened and downsized range of European offerings, such as the BMW X1, X3 and original X5.

Meanwhile, after some debate about dropping the long-running bling-mobile, GM has authorized the funds to keep the big Escalade going, with a replacement due mid-decade, as well.