Cadillac Airlifts Vehicle Over Manhattan in Launch Stunt

Luxury Brand Also Announces New Fashion Partnership

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Cadillac XT5
Cadillac XT5 Credit: Cadillac

It's a bird … it's a plane … it's a Cadillac?

Don't worry , New Yorkers, the city is not being attacked by a fleet of luxury cars. That vehicle zooming over the west side of Manhattan on Wednesday evening is actually part of a marketing stunt introducing Cadillac's new XT5 luxury crossover.

The XT5 -- the first in a new series of Cadillac crossovers -- was scheduled to be airlifted over an event space at Canoe Studios on Manhattan's lower West Side beginning around 8:30 p.m, giving invited guests -- including fashion journalists -- a first glimpse of the vehicle. It's part of an unorthodox launch plan that includes a partnership with up-and-coming fashion design firm Public School, which is creating a collection of designs that Cadillac says will be inspired by the crossover.

Chief Marketing Officer Uwe Ellinghaus said the goal is to gain the attention of fashionistas, rather than cater to car buffs, auto journalists and other petrolheads. Because in his view, younger customers are less interested in the technical details of cars, and don't read car magazines as often as they used to. But "they are very interested in fashion. They are very interested in design," he said.

The event comes as Cadillac settles into its new global headquarters in SoHo. It also continues a push by Mr. Ellinghaus to elevate Cadillac's profile in the coasts, especially Los Angeles and New York. Public School -- which specializes in men's fashion and was the subject of a lengthy profile last year in The New York Times -- is also based in New York.

New York is "our home now, and New York is as much a fashion town as it is a luxury town," Mr. Ellinghaus said. "The spirit of New York is very simple: Never stand still. Always move on. And this is exactly what I want in the Cadillac brand."

To accommodate the event, the West Side Highway was expected to be closed for roughly 10 minutes. And the flyover represents the first time in 15 years that cargo will fly over Manhattan, according to Cadillac. Agencies involved include the mayor's office of media and entertainment, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Coast Guard. Cadillac, apparently aware that the disruption might cause some hassles for its new neighbors, planned to release a statement apologizing to New Yorkers for "the inconvenience of this evening's traffic interruption."

The XT5 won't actually touch down at the event, which will include appearances by Cadillac executives and Public School partners Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne. Instead, the 4,600-pound vehicle -- which will be illuminated while in flight -- will be suspended 150 feet above ground for viewing by Cadillac guests on the 14th floor of the Starrett-Lehigh building. Cadillac arranged for 44 cameras to cover the stunt.

The full preview won't take place until early November during the Dubai Motor Show. But even then, Cadillac is taking a nontraditional approach by showing the car in the Dubai arts district rather than at the motor show grounds. Cadillac has invited fashion journalists to the event in which Public School will unveil its pre-fall collection. Public School has also created an "XT5-inspired capsule collection."

The collection will not include Cadillac branding. That is the "opposite of what we want," Mr. Ellinghaus said. Rather, the goal is to show "two partners coming together that really share the same values and are totally convinced that stylistic individuality is what drives purchase decisions more than anything else."

The marketing value is the "content that hopefully the attending people create from the event," he said. "We have a higher chance to be heard and be part of the editorial side, rather than just putting an ad in a lifestyle magazine, which everybody can do for money." He added: "You know how highly skeptical younger generations are to overt marketing messages."

Cadillac began accelerating its men's fashion push earlier this year when it launched The Cadillac Capsule Collection curated by Nick Wooster and sold exclusively on Gilt.com

Traditional advertising for the XT5 won't begin until early 2016, as the vehicle hits dealers, Mr. Ellinghaus said. Ads will continue Cadillac's "Dare Greatly" campaign by Publicis.

The XT5 is the successor to the current SRX midsize crossover. The XT5 begins a new series of crossovers all using the "XT" designation. SRX sales in the U.S. jumped 15.4% in the first 8 months of the year to 43,863 vehicles, according to Automotive News.

Trucks and SUVs, including crossovers, continue to drive sales in the auto market as gas prices remain reasonable. Mr. Ellinghaus said there is still a perception that an SUV is the "last car you would want to drive in Manhattan" with all the congestion and tight parking spots. But "if you look around here and see the numbers it proves you wrong."

He added: "The mere fact that you sit higher on the road than the people in the cars surrounding you at every red traffic light makes you feel a little better," as well as the "perception of enhanced safety."

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