1998 was a disastrous year for most automobile importers, with overall sales plunging 25 percent.

Of the top 20 imported brands in Japan, only six sold more vehicles than in 1997. One was Cadillac Japan.

“We brought new people to the Cadillac in 1998,” said David L. Smidebush, regional director of Asia-Pacific operations. Smidebush was appointed director of Cadillac Japan on Jan. 1.

Cadillac has generally been seen as an older man’s car. The newly appointed director of the General Motors unit, however, boasts that new marketing and brand-building efforts have attracted younger buyers.

Japanese TV commercials for the Seville, the first Cadillac targeted in global markets, feature a couple in their 30s, with the woman behind the wheel. “We saw a direct impact coming into our Yanase showroom after the advertisement ran,” Smidebush said, adding that Seville buyers are younger on average than drivers of any other Cadillac model.

Thanks to the successful launch of the Seville, unit sales for Cadillac Japan increased from 4,179 in 1997 to 4,384 in 1998, up 4.9 percent from the previous year, according to the Japan Automobile Importers Association.

Smidebush said Cadillacs feature superior technologies in addition to the luxury brand image he is trying to build here.

Cadillac will soon debut a Night Vision system that detects heat differentials and display an enhanced thermal image of the road ahead on a heads-up display, he said.

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