General Motors elevated its top public-policy executive, Bob Ferguson, to vice president, global Cadillac, as the automaker pumps up efforts to globalize the luxury brand.
The former AT&T executive will lead worldwide marketing, sales and retail strategy for Cadillac and will report directly to CEO Dan Akerson.
With a refreshed lineup of vehicles, GM hopes Cadillac will undercut luxury competitors like BMW, Audi, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.
"The new products are being reviewed very well and initial sales are quite good," Ferguson said in an interview. "It seemed like the right time to put a focused management team on Cadillac and go hard at building sales and share domestically but also with the overriding idea of making Cadillac a global luxury brand."
Vice President of Communications Selim Bingol will assume Ferguson's public-policy duties, but will still be based in Detroit.
Ferguson's appointment comes as GM has introduced two major global products in 2012: the Cadillac ATS compact sedan and the XTS large sedan. In 2013, the automaker plans to reveal the redesigned Cadillac CTS midsize sedan and the all-new ELR luxury electric vehicle. A new Cadillac Escalade is also on the way as GM aims to double global Cadillac sales.
"They have a great opportunity to gain share and to be taken more seriously as a premium brand," Polk Automotive analyst Thomas Libby said.
Still, Cadillac sales have fallen 8.6% this year as the company reduced less-profitable fleet sales and ended production of the DTS and STS vehicles.
The new Cadillac products have earned positive reviews. But GM needs to develop "marketing campaigns that cut through the noise" to overcome "remaining perception issues" and reach younger buyers and women, Ferguson said.
"We need to expand the demographics so that a broader segment of luxury buyers consider Cadillac," he said.
Bill Spadafora, owner of Indiana, Pa., dealership Spadafora Cadillac and a friend of Ferguson's for the last 15 years, said it'll take time to revolutionize Cadillac's brand image.
"We've been trying to attract the younger buyer it seems like forever. We really have," Spadafora said. "It's very, very hard to penetrate that import market. That's a hard nut to crack, but they seem to be making some headway."
Ferguson spent 10 years as an executive at telecommunications provider AT&T, including a stint as CEO of 10,000-person AT&T unit SBC Enterprise Business Services. The Cadillac role is his first automotive sales and marketing job.
"He's not a stranger by any means to sales, marketing, having a customer focus," said Jim Kahan, who worked with Ferguson as a corporate development executive at AT&T.
Ferguson's promotion comes as GM is hunting for a new global chief marketing officer to replace Joel Ewanick, who was fired in July over his handling of a European soccer sponsorship. GM sales executive Alan Batey is serving as interim CMO. GM spokesman Greg Martin said the new hire would focus more on Chevrolet marketing.
Ferguson and Bingol joined GM in 2010 at the behest of former AT&T CEO and then-GM CEO Ed Whitacre.
In Washington, Ferguson helped GM repair its relationships with many influential figures, boosted GM's flagging political action committee, led the automaker's participation in fuel economy regulation talks with the Obama administration and upped GM's focus on state-by-state regulatory issues.
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