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I don’t know what the world is coming to, but Cadillac Live offers a hint

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

Before he died, my father, the late J.A. (Al) McDonald, used to say, “I don’t know what the world is coming to.”

I knew what he was saying, although what was coming was really just a variation of the theme, like watching baseball on television in the family room instead of sitting around a big ol’ Philco radio in the parlour and listening to the games.

Now I find myself saying those same words. The difference is that I really don’t know what’s around the corner. Things are moving so quickly these days. I know this: whatever it is will change the world as we know it. Guaranteed.

Some people find this sort of thing exciting. I did when computers and the world wide web came along. My late mother, Grace Dorothy McDonald, didn’t. She was an author (among other things). Get a computer, Mom, and write on that, I’d say. Research is at your fingertips. We’ll see, she’d reply. When she died, I found three brand new portable typewriters in her closet. She hadn’t heard a word I’d said.

What got me thinking about this ‘n’ that was a presentation I attended a week or so ago at a newly renovated house on a ravine in Rosedale that is — or was — on the market for $12 million. A gorgeous white Cadillac Escalade sat on a patio at the front of the house — a patio, incidentally, that was made, if I recall correctly, of faux hardwood, which goes a long way to explain the twelve-mill price tag.

I and several dozens of other automotive and lifestyle reporters and columnists had been invited there by the Cadillac Division of General Motors of Canada for the unveiling of a program called Cadillac Live. In a nutshell:

  • Consumers, more and more, are going online to shop for cars rather than going to dealerships.
  • Cadillac Live is a digital interactive showroom designed to empower consumers to shop on their own terms. Translation: Cadillac is going after those online shoppers.

Log on and explore the showroom. It’s a 3D experience. Ten vehicles that Cadillac has for sale will be on display at any one time. Questions? You can talk directly to an agent/ambassador, one-on-one. Like what you see and hear? You can book an appointment for a test drive at a dealership and buy the car there.

In short, Cadillac Live is designed to showcase cars and to give you information about them. Test drives and the final transaction will still be the purview of dealers. For now.

This story originally was published in Toronto Star Wheels on March 29, 2019

I urge you to give it a try. The “store” is open Sundays to Thursdays from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Eastern. The company stands ready to expand hours and ambassadors — eight will be on duty in the beginning — according to demand. If you don’t feel like talking to a Live Agent right away (Cadillac’s capitals), you can watch a pre-recorded session, book a live session at a later date or take a virtual tour of the Cadillac Live showroom.

This is Canada-exclusive at the moment, but Cadillac divisions around the world are keeping a close eye on it because Toronto, in particular, is a very diverse city. If it works here, it’s a good bet it will work just about anywhere luxury automobiles are sold. And you can bet that other manufacturers are taking a hard look also and will either be copycats or meeting in war rooms to figure out how they can go one-up.

Cadillac has fired the first salvo in what will soon be an interesting battle.

When I say what’s coming will change the world as we know it, I am not exaggerating. Despite assurances to the contrary, this sort of thing can’t help but have an effect on employment in the automobile industry. Not now, but eventually. If more and more people are going online to shop for whatever, but in this case a car, and they make their decision based on a conversation or conversations with an ambassador and they go and take their test drive at a dealership and then either write a cheque or use their debit or credit card or arrange for other financing to purchase the car, the middle person — in this case the salesperson — will be odd man out. There’s no way around it; they will not be needed any more. It’s inevitable.

And yes, I’ve heard the line again and again that while “old” jobs will disappear, “new” jobs will be created for those folks who’ve been furloughed and, in the end, everybody will live happily ever after. Except that’s not exactly true. At some point, there will not be enough “new” jobs to go around.

Dr. Brynn Winegard might not have all the answers, but she sure knows her stuff when it comes to explaining the direction the world is going. Cadillac had her on hand the other night to tell us why Cadillac Live has gone from theory to reality in just two years.

For companies to survive in this day and age, she said, they must have digital dominance. If they’re late getting into the game, they’re already out of it. This is particularly true in Canada.

Canada?

“Canadians on a global scale are very tech savvy,” she said. “Canadians are trusting, which means they are willing to transact online and to interact online.”

In fact, when Facebook was launched in 2007, Toronto formed the largest pocket of users, which is curious considering Facebook is an American invention.

It turns out, according to Winegard, that there’s a reason for this. Canadians trust what they’re doing online and trust where their data is going because, if they should ever need recourse, the government will step in to help them — they think.

An aside: I think that despite the face of Canada changing to where, for instance, recent immigrants make up more than half the population of the city of Toronto, there has to be something in the country’s DNA going back to the United Empire Loyalists that has its people convinced that come what may, the government will take care of them — hence the confidence in the unknown. I mean, what other explanation is there? Okay, back to our story. . .

Winegard also noted that Canadians are affluent. “We have a really big middle class. If people see value in something, a luxury car, for instance, they will spend money, even in an economic downturn.”

So value trumps price. But that’s changed too.

“In the old days, it was physical luxury,” she said. “Today, consumers want a luxury experience. In order to bring luxury shopping into a digital sphere, it has to be human, it has to be personalized, it has to be customized and it has to be highly transparent (which pretty much describes Cadillac Live). This is a trend we’re seeing in all luxury categories — certainly in automotive, which is a high-involvement category.”

How is it that Canada got to try this initiative first, I — and others — wondered?

“Cadillac in Canada has enjoyed a great deal of autonomy, so far as our marketing agenda is concerned,” said Hoss Hassani, managing director of Cadillac Canada. “Other manufacturers in Europe and Asia are very top-down but North Americans are decentralized. For us, it was never a question of did we have to go to somebody and run it by them. We’ve been working away on this and now we’re telling the world about it.

“As Dr. Brynn said, Canadians are a lot more digitally forward and tech savvy. So this is all about customer-driven marketing. Customer insight drove this behaviour. That’s why the idea for this originated right here in Canada.”

James Nava, marketing and advertising manager for Cadillac, was host for the evening and emphasized that Cadillac Live can be accessed from your smartphone as well as tablets, laptops and PCs.

And the company will not be satisifed to just have reporters spread the world. “We’re going to promote it digitally,” Nava said. “We’re not going to be content to let consumers just come across it.”

Added Hassani: “Look, we could do what everybody else is doing: create some content, push out some videos. But we thought: how can we reimagine this scenario and leapfrog the competition? Why not go further? That was the genesis of this.

“Most manufacturers are selling to their own customers. But there are 20 to 30 per cent who switch and they are the people we are all fighting for. So out of that came this. We thought, for instance, if video drives people, let’s go to interactive video.”

Cadillac is a luxury brand, remember?

“Today’s luxury consumers are increasingly time-starved and more discerning than ever,” Hassani added. “What if someone offered an experience that combines convenience and accessibility with a high level of personalization?

“Luxury is all about how many people you have servicing a customer, how quickly you’re servicing the customer and how you’re delivering on their needs in a very personal way.

“This (Cadillac Live) answers all of that.”

OK, I have seen the future and now I know what my parents were talking about. I plan to take my adult children out for lunch one of these days and tell them to fasten their seatbelts. Cadillac Live is a wonderful concept but it’s just the beginning of what looks to me to be a wild ride coming.