General Motors Co. named Johan de Nysschen, head of Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti, as president of Cadillac as the luxury brand tries to build on new products, boost its global image and recapture last year’s growth.
De Nysschen, 54, also a former executive with Volkswagen AG’s Audi, resigned earlier today as Infiniti chief executive officer after two years in the job. His Cadillac appointment, effective Aug. 1, follows yesterday’s announcement that Bob Ferguson, who had led the brand since 2012, would return to a public-policy role for GM.
“Johan brings to our company vast experience in the development and proper execution of luxury automotive brands,” GM President Dan Ammann said today in a statement. “With over 20 years in this exact space, especially in the development of the Audi brand, his track record proves he is the perfect executive to lead Cadillac for the long term.”
De Nysschen, who helped boost Audi sales in the U.S. 42 percent during his tenure, arrives at Cadillac as Detroit-based GM tries to elevate the brand in the U.S. and China to compete with Audi, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.
Cadillac, armed with some of its best products in a generation, increased U.S. sales 22 percent last year from 2012. The redesigned CTS sedan, named in 2013 as Motor Trend’s car of the year, is one of 10 new or redesigned Cadillac vehicles GM is bringing out in the U.S. by the end of 2015. The new ATS compact car won North American Car of the Year at the Detroit auto show in January 2013.
Even with the new products, Cadillac’s U.S. sales fell 1.9 percent this year through June. The GM brand’s sales ranked fifth in the market.
“Sales have been soft at a time when the overall market and the luxury market is up and they have new product,” Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at AutoTrader.com, said today in a telephone interview. “Cadillac’s problem, against at least the big three German makers, is it hasn’t gotten the strength of the brand and image as those do and that’s going to take continued work and product.”
De Nysschen joins Uwe Ellinghaus, a former BMW marketing executive, who was named in November to a newly created position of Cadillac chief marketing officer. He began Jan. 1. Other changes made under Ferguson, who had been GM’s top lobbyist before taking over Cadillac, included naming Interpublic Group of Cos.’s Rogue as the brand’s ad agency; hiring Steve Majoros from Campbell Ewald, where he was a managing director, as global marketing team director; and moving marketing executive Don Butler to vice president of global Cadillac strategic development in April 2013. Butler left GM in August.
GM rose 0.5 percent to $37.95 at the close in New York. The stock has declined 7.1 percent this year.
While running Cadillac in recent months, Ferguson also has been busy in Washington. He was a presence at the Capitol as CEO Mary Barra testified multiple times before congressional panels about why GM took more than a decade to recall 2.59 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars with potentially faulty ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths.
Ferguson’s new role as senior vice president of global public policy makes him responsible for GM’s federal, state and international government relations and public policy. Ferguson replaces Selim Bingol, who had led both public relations and public policy for GM and departed earlier this year as Barra made changes to her senior executive team. She became CEO in January.
GM, which exited bankruptcy in 2009, has gone to Volkswagen for several hires in recent years. For example, Tim Mahoney, head of Chevrolet marketing, ran VW’s U.S. marketing operations. Karl-Thomas Neumann, former head of VW’s China business, runs GM’s European operations. Tony Cervone, a former GM executive, returned to the automaker to replace Bingol as head of public relations. Cervone ran VW public relations in the U.S.
At Cadillac, de Nysschen will be responsible for all aspects of the brand, including marketing, sales, product planning, pricing, network development and strategic development, GM said in the statement.
“I have for some time now been impressed by how the new General Motors has been transformed into a formidable force in the industry,” de Nysschen said in the statement. “The combination of strong corporate leadership and exceptional engineering resources presents the perfect combination to restore Cadillac to its place among global premium brands.”
De Nysschen’s Infiniti resignation was announced internally today, said Stefan Weinmann, a spokesman for the Nissan brand. Andy Palmer, Nissan’s chief planning officer overseeing the Infiniti business, will head the luxury unit in the interim as the company searches for a successor, Weinmann said.
The departure comes as Infiniti, which moved its headquarters to Hong Kong to focus on the Chinese market, prepares to begin production in the world’s biggest auto market. Nissan, based in Yokohama, Japan, has an Infiniti target of 10 percent of the global premium market by 2020.
(An earlier version of this story was corrected after the company amended the executive’s start date.)