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Cadillac aims for top spot in U.S. luxury auto sales

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General Motors hopes the ATS model will make an impact in the compact sedan luxury market, which appeals to younger customers.

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BIRMINGHAM, Mich. -- General Motors Co.'s top Cadillac executive said Tuesday the brand should be challenging foreign automakers for the top spot in U.S. luxury auto sales in two years, a position it has not held in 15 years.

Don Butler, vice president of marketing for Cadillac, said sales for the brand should be double what they were in 2010 "within a couple of years" as it rolls out cars in segments where it has not competed for a long time.

"It's my goal that we are slugging it out in the right way for No. 1 in the U.S. within a few years," he said. "Why not? We've been there before."

GM has said it intends to build Cadillac into a global brand. Cadillac's U.S. sales in 2010 were about 147,000 vehicles. The last time Cadillac was the U.S. luxury sales leader was in 1997, when it sold 182,624 vehicles.

Right now, the brand is strongest in the United States with a small but growing footprint in China, Europe, and the Middle East.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand had been No. 1 in the lucrative U.S. luxury market for 11 straight years until last year, when an earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to a sales decline.

Bayerische Motoren Werke took the top spot last year, followed closely by Daimler AG's Mercedes brand. Lexus was third.

Through July this year, Mercedes held the U.S. sales lead at 159,412, followed by BMW at 147,801, and Lexus at 126,367.

Mr. Butler emphasized seizing the top spot was a goal that would result from rolling out new and redesigned vehicles that it has in the pipeline.

GM expects to boost sales in large part because of the appeal of its soon-to-be-introduced ATS model, which will be Cadillac's smallest and least expensive. GM sees the ATS as a challenger to BMW's 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-class cars.

"If I had told you five years ago that we will develop a vehicle that will be spoken of in the same breath as the BMW 3-Series, you probably would have been very skeptical," Mr. Butler said.

The ATS is Cadillac's first attempt at making a small luxury car since its Cimarron in the 1980s that Time magazine in 2007 called one of the 50 worst cars ever built.

The ATS will begin hitting U.S. dealers in the next few days with a starting price of almost $34,000.

GM has lacked a small luxury car in recent years -- a segment that accounts for 60 percent of the luxury market and one that attracts younger buyers.

In all, the company plans to introduce 10 all-new or redesigned Cadillacs within the next three years.

Within the next year, the company plans to show off a redesigned production version of the CTS sedan and the next generation of the Escalade sport utility vehicle, Mr. Butler said.

The 10 vehicles, which were not all disclosed, include the all-new ATS compact sedan and XTS large sedan already introduced this year.

The list does not include a refreshed SRX crossover, which is to be introduced later this year.

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