To Boost Slow Cadillac ELR Sales, GM Offers $5,000 Test Drive Incentive to Dealers

Test driving a new car at the dealership is an integral part of the new car buying process. If carried out in the correct manner, it can even make the difference between buying or not buying a car, so it’s logical to assume that auto dealers would want to go out of their way to offer as many different cars for test drive as possible, marking one of each car they sell as an official test-drive vehicle.

2014 Cadillac ELR

GM is struggling to sell the luxury plug-in Cadillac ELR range extended EV.

Yet it appears that doesn’t always ring true, so much so that General Motors is paying out a bounty of $5,000 to any dealer willing to offer test-drives in its Cadillac ELR range-extended luxury EV.

According to Automotive News (subscription required) GM is trying to combat slow sales of its luxury plug-in coupe by rewarding dealerships who are prepared to designate one of their Cadillac ELRs an official test-drive vehicle.

But why is Cadillac struggling so much to sell the ELR?

Starting at a base price of $75,000 before Federal and local incentives, the Cadillac ELR isn’t exactly cheap. In fact, its sticker price puts it in the same price bracket as the Tesla Model S.

Yet the Cadillac ELR’s specifications don’t compare well to the Model S. Based on the Chevrolet Volt extended range electric car, the Cadillac ELR has an all-electric range of around 35 miles and a 0-60 time of just under 8 seconds. For less money, it’s possible to buy a 60 kWh base-model Tesla Model S, which manages 0-60 in 5.9 seconds and manages 200+ miles on a single charge.

A premium car, the Cadillac ELR will never sell as well as the far cheaper mainstream Volt on which it is based. But the ELR’s poor sales figures to date aren’t just due to tough competition from the longer-range, Tesla Model S. It’s down to something far more frustrating for General Motors: dealer apathy.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Based on the Chevrolet Volt, the ELR retails for $75,000 before incentives.

In order to sell the Cadillac ELR, dealerships have to sign up for an estimated $15,000 of training for sales and service staff. Although the training is similar to that given for the Chevrolet Volt, the cost analysis is very different.

For a start, a premium $75,000 luxury car will never sell in the same kind of numbers as a $30,000 hatchback, meaning the amotrization of investing $15,000 in training takes longer for the ELR than it does for the Volt, despite the ELR’s far higher sticker price. Cadillac’s own ad campaign for the ELR didn’t help either, portraying ELR drivers as arrogant, self-made men who loathed taking time off work. 

Couple this with mistrust of electric vehicles among more traditional dealerships in areas without strong plug-in car support, and it’s no surprise GM is having to dig deep to encourage dealers to offer test drives.

With GM’s own inventory of the ELR now totalling 1700 cars — more than 725 days’ worth of supply in an industry where 60 days’ supply is considered healthy — something needs to happen soon.

Self-aggrandising self-made man? You want a Cadillac ELR, this ad seems to say.

We’re not sure if poor sales had anything to do with Cadillac’s terrible Poolside ad, but it might

General Motors has said that dealers have until June 2 to officially designate one or more ELRs in stock as ‘demonstration cars.’ If the dealership in question has less than 7 ELRs in its inventory, only one car may be designated a demonstration car, but if there are more than 7 ELRs in inventory, the dealership may assign two cars to demonstration roles.

In order to receive the funds, dealerships must complete at least 750 miles of test drives in their designated demonstration cars.

The incentives aren’t stopping there either. GM is offering customers up to $3,000 in purchase incentives for each and every customer, be they leased, financed or outright purchases.

But will it be enough to tempt people into the ELR? Or does the Tesla Model S simply outclass the ELR? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below


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  • CDspeed

    It was doomed from the start, anyone who knows anything about plug-in cars saw this coming before the ELR launched. It reminds me of the Fisker Karma not the Model S, it’s over priced, and slow, plus it’s incredibly easy to see that there are better cars for less money competing against it.

  • Chris O

    Franchise dealers not showing much interest in selling plug-ins is nothing new but in the case of the hopeless ELR they may have a point. The concept is just all wrong. Wonder why GM didn’t diversify its Voltec portfolio into some crossover instead. Improving utility over the sub compact interior Volt is the ticket to more sales, not bothering buyers of high end coups with a plug.

  • bobbleheadguru

    ELR is a great car that is $25,000 overpriced. Lower the price to $50,000 and it will sell. Period.

    • SpiderDan

      I think even at $60k it would be have a market. The interior and ride quality are top-class, and it’s one of the best looking cars on the market. At $50k it’s one of the best buys on the road.nnAt $75k it is not intended to sell.

  • BoldEagle

    The ads were really obnoxious, plus they left out (well dressed) women who being able to charge at home , would be only too happy to forgo the smelly, messy, sometimes creepy process of filling up at a gas station. The ads went negative instead of positive. Were exclusive in a mean way instead of smoothly, cooly, getting people to think ” Wow! I want one of those!” GM keeps getting off on the wrong foot with its plug-ins’ ads.

  • Phil Ressler

    As is usually the case with a controversial car, most commenters here seem to have not driven an ELR. I own a Volt and an ELR, so here’s an informed view.nnThe ELR is not just a Volt with leather and a badge. Is it worth 2X a loaded Volt? My answer is, yes. I actually get a little *more* range out of the ELR’s battery than the Volt’s (and both regularly exceed GM’s claim). The ELR handles significantly differently from Volt in ways that are uniformly better, including considerably more grip (and less drama) in close-to-their-limits driving. The ELR’s “total power” mode is more than ample with midrange power at speed in real driving conditions, and its 0-40 performance (where shove really counts on urban street driving) is quietly beautiful to experience. The paddle-accessible regen-on-demand is a useful branking control in active driving and it also promotes more regen in increments than shifting the Volt.nnMy Volt is loaded with factory leather and all options from 2013 except front-facing collision sensing. It’s a comfortable car that most people feel is an unexpectedly premium experience when they get in it. The ELR is far beyond it, however. The interior is executed to a craft level at home in cars north of $100,000. As with most modern coupes, the driver and front passenger have ample room and comfort while having the ensconcing wrap of a coupe’s interior intimacy. Rear seats are more than vestigal but less than fully accommodating. With some cooperation by the driver and front seat passenger, it is comfortable back there if you are 5’8″ or shorter; iffy if you are taller; impossible if you are 6’3″ like me. So pretty much like most coupes, though a little tighter because of the roofline. Well, they did essentially build the concept car and GM knocked it out of the park. This is why people buy coupes.nnThe Volt is an admirable mainstream car that happens to be an EV. It too is commonly misunderstood, so GM has to get people to drive it to know it. That’s the limiting factor — they haven’t gotten enough people to drive one. This is more so true of the Cadillac ELR. Both cars share the Voltec platform’s low center of gravity and extreme chassis strength. The ELR has a much improved front suspension with clearly better articulation, adhesion to the road and resistance to brake dive and squat. The addition of a Watts link to the rear beam axle gives rear suspension 80% of the characteristics of an IRS without the IRS’ intrusions in read space. The battery precludes IRS in these cars and that’s fine by me. Overall, the ELR tracks roads in a palpably more refined and planted way than Volt.nnThe ELR is also longer and wider than Volt. The driving experience is tactily and emotionally different as a result. It’s 80s BMW 6-series vs. that vintage 3 series coupe: planted, serene and cocooning against scrappy, nimble and jostling. The serenity of driving ELR is calming at the beginning of your day, and again at the end on your way home, without feeling isolating or ever pillowy.nnIn short, if you think ELR is just a Volt with leather and a badge, you haven’t driven them.nnThere are two remaining themes of attack on the ELR in the interwebz: 1/ ELR is indefensible over Tesla; 2/ ELR doesn’t perform like an $80,000 luxury car.nnELR vs. Tesla. Tesla S is a big 4-door sedan. If I wanted a big 4-door sedan I might have considered a Tesla, but I didn’t want that style of car. The coupe market is smaller, and a specialist market at any price, but a coupe buyer wants a coupe. There’s a specific experience to a coupe, whether it’s a Mustang, a Honda CRZ, an ELR, or a Bentley Coupe that not even a bastardized “4-door coupe” can emulate, let alone equal. So everyone has to decide what they want, experientially. If you think that makes a coupe a vanity car, fine. Any luxury car is a vanity car.nnMoreover, as a luxury car, the Tesla S falls short of luxury. This is subjective, but the Tesla S is not a high-touch design, and it lacks interior storage. It’s relatively spare inside, though what there is has been fitted well. Spend equal time in the ELR and in the Tesla S and this point should be apparent quickly. Whether you care about it or not is up to you. And while my career is in tech and I use screens every day, I’m not a fan of Tesla’s huge touchscreen UI, as currently implemented.nnBut the primary inhibitor to choosing a Tesla S over an ELR is the range problem. Tesla loyalists can pooh-pooh range anxiety all they want and cite the supercharger network ad infinitum. But there are three truths to be grokked: 1/ No one gets the range claimed by Tesla in each of the S’ three battery sizes. Real world ranges are less. Especially with speed and inclines in the mix. But even if the 85kWh battery achieved Tesla’s 265 mile range claim, I could not drive from LA to San Diego and back the same day (which I sometimes have to do) without worrying about whether a supercharger will be conveniently available. LA to Palm Springs and back, forget it. With ELR, I can do whatever I want.nn2/ The Supercharger network isn’t very extensive now, and when it is built, it will be in the wrong places. I don’t care nearly as much whether I can drive from LA to Phoenix on I-10 in a Tesla S, knowing a supercharger or two are available. If I have to go to Phoenix I’ll probably fly. For distances, I’m a lot more interested in driving, say, up US 395 to Mono Lake or Tahoe. Or staying off I-5 to go to San Francisco. Or if I were in the Northeast, in driving the many alternate routes between DC and Maine that keep me off I-95. Or I want a blue highways ramble in any state I am visiting. Superchargers are not going to be everywhere in a country of over 3.5 million square miles. And neither are battery swap stations.nn3/ The automobile is for freedom, not restriction. 82 mile range EVs are great 2nd or 3rd cars for local commutes only but they aren’t primary cars and don’t cost like it either. A 265 mile range EV is great some of the time. But when I want to go, I want to go where and when I want. If I’m paying $80K for a car, I want to drive it. Here’s where I’ll mention that getting all the ELR’s features (except for range extender) in a Tesla S pushes the Tesla to well over $100K.nnSo, while I like the idea of a Tesla S, and I like the car itself, its owners’ disdain for anything less pure EV is not endearing to the brand. I didn’t buy one for good reasons, and obviously most people who buy cars in Tesla’s price range for S models, buy something else.nnThen there is this matter of the ELR not performing like other $80K cars.nnDo I care? In a field of ICE-powered $80K cars where the selection and compete criteria are speed, Gs and “feel,” none of them perform like an ELR. I’ve had a series of high horsepower cars, one more expensive than the ELR. All fun. But so what? None of the competing cars in ELR’s price range have its driving serentiy and low eco footprint. Yet ELR has design that trumps most of them, and an interior that is fully sumptious and on or above their level. In other words, I don’t save on gasoline to save money. I simply want to burn less gasoline while still having a premium car. I live in a major urban driving environment where my last 556 hp car achieved an average speed of under 25mph on most tanks of gas. It’s nonsense. The shove of an EV motor is quite satisfying in a different way. I just bought my first refill of gasoline for my ELR after 9 weeks — all of 6.3 gallons. My lifetime fuel economy average for my ELR relative to miles traveled is 111. My Volt, after 17 months is at 108. When I use gasoline to run the cars’ generators, the Volt sees typically about 44mpg on gas alone, and the ELR so far sees about 39mpg on gas alone. There are no other luxury $80,000 cars that can do this. The difference to my LADWP electric bill barely registers. The main thing is, I am contributing far fewer pollutants than before, and I am doing far less business with the oil supply chain, its zone pricing and fast-rise/slow fall economics, than before. Both are wins.nnNet, no one who wants a top-motor Jag is looking at an ELR, and no one looking for true luxury eco is considering a 400+hp ICE Jag at $80K.nnGM marketing has been obfuscating the Voltec platform’s function and the driving/ownership experience it creates. It’s a nuanced idea that requires deft positioning and communication. Not getting it right is hampering sales. Double that for the ELR, where the education burden is complicated by the luxury overlay. Maybe they’ll fix the marketing; maybe not. But these similarly-powered but very different cars are outstanding performers for the right owners, and for the right owners really nothing else will do.

  • Lee Lee

    I’m a Caddy girl. I’ve seen the ELR at shows and the show room. It’s BADDDDDD… Very expensive. Cadillac will install the electrical device into your home max $3k. Including other cash incentives. I’d love to have it; but don’t understand all the technology. I’d have to do more research. I wish Cadillac would have re-designed the CTS Coupe after ELR body instead they discontinued it..So I bought another CTS Sedan. It’s my 3rd which is a 2014 CTS Black Raven with an Tan/Cashmere/wood/Suede interior. She’s a beauty. And Don’t believe the bad about the CUE. It’s way past it’s time. But if you’re looking for a bargin; look elsewhere. lol

  • Jim Deaton

    I bought an ELR 2 months ago. 100% totally satisfied. Comparing it to Tesla is silly. ELR blows it away. ELR is far far more advanced in the technology and styling departments. It no Volt, had one of those too.