“We appreciate Johan’s efforts over the last four years in setting a stronger foundation for Cadillac,” GM President Dan Ammann said in a statement. “Looking forward, the world is changing rapidly, and, beginning with the launch of the new XT4, it is paramount that we capitalize immediately on the opportunities that arise from this rate of change. This move will further accelerate our efforts in that regard.”
De Nysschen, in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg News, said he left amicably and declined to go into details on what prompted his departure.
“We agree to disagree and we move on,” de Nysschen told Bloomberg. “There wasn’t a fight. Let’s call it philosophical differences.”
The abrupt change, according to two people familiar with the decision, was a result of de Nysschen’s reluctance to accelerate product and operating plans and capitalize on current U.S. market conditions, where industry sales remain healthy. GM executives, the sources said, acknowledge that it takes time to rebuild a brand but there needs to be more commitment to the here and now, rather than the future.
De Nysschen’s tenure as head of Cadillac was controversial among American dealers, who had raised concerns about Project Pinnacle, a program aimed at boosting dealer performance. Project Pinnacle launched in April 2017, and de Nysschen had signaled a willingness to alter the program after many dealers missed targets last year, a welcome sign to many dealers who attended the brand’s annual make meeting in Las Vegas in March.
De Nysschen, who had previous stops at Audi and Infiniti, also oversaw the brand headquarters’ move from Detroit to Manhattan and the launches of Cadillac’s SuperCruise system and the XT4, Cadillac’s first compact crossover. He also made a major push into China, where its 2017 sales surged 51 percent from a year earlier. De Nysschen has said Cadillac was on pace to sell more than 200,000 vehicles in China in 2018.
"There’s no question Johan is a visionary automotive leader, but given GM’s conservative culture he may have pushed things a step too far,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds, in a statement. “The appointment of Steve Carlisle, a GM-bred executive with a strong pedigree of global expertise, product planning acumen and history of building relationships with dealers speaks to the company’s desire for a more back-to-basics, comfortable approach.”
SALES SURGED UNDER CARLISLE
Carlisle took the helm of GM Canada on Nov. 20, 2014. Under Carlisle, GM Canada sales grew to 302,826 vehicles in 2017, up 21.2 per cent from the 249,800 units sold during 2015, his first full year as president of GM Canada.
Carlisle, 55, will be at least the fifth head of Cadillac since GM’s emergence from bankruptcy in July 2009.
Carlisle, who will report to Ammann in his new role, takes over a brand that has seen its U.S. sales decline in recent years. According to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit, Cadillac sold 156,440 vehicles in 2017, a year-over-year decline of eight per cent. Year-to-date sales in 2018 through March were up 8.1 per cent to 36,727 units.
“The potential for Cadillac across the globe is incredible and I’m honoured to be chosen to be a part of mapping that future,” Carlisle said in a statement. “I look forward to building on our current momentum as we continue on our mission to position Cadillac at the pinnacle of luxury.”
Carlisle, born in Woodstock, Ont., got his start with GM in 1982 as an industrial engineering co-op student at the now defunct Oshawa Truck Assembly Plant in Ontario. Before taking over as head of GM Canada, Carlisle held positions in the United States as head of U.S. sales operations in 2010, president of GM’s southeast Asia operations from 2007-10 and as vice president of global product planning from 2010-14.
CARLISLE’S STEADY LEADERSHIP
He took over GM Canada in 2014, when the company was in the midst of a class-action lawsuit from more than 200 Canadian dealers who said they were unfairly pressured to terminate ties with the company. GM on Tuesday praised Carlisle for having “reestablished key relationships in Canada with retailers, employees and government officials.”
As head of GM Canada, Carlisle led the automaker through two labour negotiations with the Canadian union Unifor. The first, in 2016, ultimately led to a new contract with most GM Canada workers and, eventually, a $500 million retooling of the Oshawa, Ont., plant, which now does final assembly of Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks on one of its lines.
The second round of negotiations, in 2017, was contentious, ultimately leading to a month-long strike at GM’s CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., which builds the top-selling Chevrolet Equinox. GM threatened to close the CAMI plant and shift output to Mexico before reaching a deal with Unifor days later.