Something is afoot! Why did GM out-license the Cadillac brand to a line of $35 plastic shoes?

The lease on my GM-manufactured car was set to expire. And because this was a sensitive contractual matter that would require a diplomatic handover to a local GM dealer, I took the opportunity to drop by and look around the manufacturer’s showroom.

Chevrolet Volt: kinda cool, but practically impossible to purchase

I shot past my customary SAAB-Saturn-Hummer dealership, which was clogged with inventory of abandoned and about-to-be-abandoned lines, and scooted over to the Chevy store, a mile or two down the road. Test-drove the much-publicized Chevrolet Volt, a battery-powered car with a gasoline-engine assist. I liked it. It struck me as not-bad-looking, decently-appointed, plausibly-constructed, and, not least, a practical means of urging Dick Cheney and his secret international junta of evil petroleum executives each to bugger off and die.

But, man. Go ahead and even try to buy a car from General Motors. To begin, the poor salesman didn’t know when he’d have a model available to sell me. Perhaps in four or five months, but that was just an ETA, with no firm assurances.

And then he couldn’t tell me the asking price of the car.

He explained that there were generous government-provided financial incentives that would apply, but the details of the plan weren’t available to the public. Oh, and one more thing. The rates and terms of the leasing program had not yet been established by the GM brain-trust.

So, the salesguy continued to do what salesguys do, in good times and bad, and urged me to quickly hand him a cheque for a token thousand or two, as a goodwill payment to ensure that this priceless opportunity to drive a Chevy Volt would not be squandered. In turn, I did what a half-bright consumer might do, after undergoing the shopping process at a GM dealership. I headed directly over to the Subaru emporium, where I signed up for an Impreza — which isn’t battery-powered, nor especially appealing, but they did happen to have one for sale, at a price they could at least describe. The Impreza has never declared itself to be aggressively supportive of efforts to curtail global warming, or to reinvigorate the North American manufacturing sector. But neither did it propose that I should ride the bus for half the year, waiting for delivery of a car that might or might not ever show up.

Caddy logo: Never an admission of de feet

These events took place nearly a year ago. Since then, I’ve spent a few idle moments engaged in shaking my head and making tsk-tsking noises in response to the various nutty decisions and zany methods undertaken by GM management (several of the most dubious are outlined here.) But I’d somehow managed to overlook what has to be the most zany bit of zaniness ever perpetrated by any North American automaker, and that is… Cadillac Footware.

If you haven’t popped into a fine retailer such as V.I.M., or W.S.S., or D.T.L.R. (W.T.F; these places don’t have names?), or “Underground Solutions,” or “Shoe City,” then you may not realize you can spend less than 35 bucks on a pair of plastic running shoes that proudly flash the Cadillac name and logo.

It’s a shoe that thinks it’s a Cadillac. What else can be said?

Seems GM went and out-licensed its top-of-the-line marque, and accompanying intellectual property rights, to a clothing company named AL&S. The clothier explains on its website how it “produc[es] footwear and clothing for Cadillac, keeping true to the brands’ [sic] roots by blending luxury and intelligent design to create a premium line. Cadillac has led the luxury segment by offering must-have products that are professionally marketed and delivered through a premium retail channel at affordable prices.” Shoe City is a premium retail chain? Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman-Marcus, Lord & Taylor and Saks can only be eating their hearts out.

I did get the feeling that AL&S isn’t quite minting scads of money with their Caddy clodhoppers.

For one thing, the website is still showcasing the Spring 2011 lineup, which puts them at least 15 months behind the fashion curve. And if you’re thinking that the Cad fancier might favor being shod in the conservative manner of Nunn-Bush or Clarks wing-tips or brogues, befitting the old, rich white dudes who dodder into the Caddy showroom, you could not be more wrong. Cadillac shoes be phat! It turns out that AL&S also provides shoes under the names Phat Farm (“mixing the urban aesthetics of the streets and the preppy culture oft he Ivy League”) and Baby Phat (“the premier female hip-hop brand.”)

Be that as it may, these Caddies are some fugly footwear. If Cadillac-the-vehicle has traditionally been associated in the automotive world with a kind of country club elegance and restrained dignity, Cadillac-the-shoes, in contrast, be in yo face, muhfuh!

Seems odd that it never occurred to BMW or Mercedes to slap their aspirational brands on the shabbiest imaginable product, and then make it available through places such as Shoe City. After all, it’s Shoe City where they advertise, “We… charge lower than most of our competitors for our products, and if the shoes fit — you reap the rewards of the low prices. Though we do not offer free return shipping to our warehouse.”

In fact, all this leads a fellow to wonder exactly who is supposed to walk a mile in these Cadillac shoes. There is a trashy lad named Pauly on the TV series “Jersey Shore,” the program that each week features scampering retardates at play. Pauly has paid someone to tattoo the Cadillac logo across his body sideways. Were these shoes created with this fellow in mind? Evidently, other imbeciles have seen Pauly and thought the Cad tat is real classy. Here’s an example of some dopey goombah who posted his picture to Photobucket. I also have a doctor-friend who says he employs a woman who sports a prominent Cadillac tattoo. I could only ask him, “No kidding?” Turns out these Caddy enthusiasts have all invested their own cash in putting their skin to work advertising plastic Chinese-made shoes that sell for $35 on a website called If that doesn’t make the inked ones queasy, it certainly makes my tootsies throb in sympathetic agony.

And what were they thinking at GM? That Cadillac owners will want to keep a pair of plastic Cadillac training shoes in the trunk, so they can jog to a bus-stop after their radiators boil over? Or that youthful hip-hop fans will acquire $35 shoes as a gateway to… what, exactly? Hopefully, some activity that doesn’t involve the carjacking of someone’s zayde.

This is the type of case study that needs to be on the curriculum of any prominent business school other than the GM Institute (now known as Kettering University.) After all, it’s one thing for a company to inadvertently lose control over its trademarks for an unauthorized use, as when a vocal group calling themselves The Cadillacs, led by singer Earl “Speedoo” Carroll, recorded the smash hit “Speedoo” in 1955. In retrospect, that may have been the last good year, for both the automotive and the musical iterations of The Cadillacs.

The Cadillacs appropriated GM’s trademark, even if Speedoo’s real name was Mr. Earl

Fifty-five years later, the guardians of the Cadillac brand see nothing wrong with using their once-vaunted badge to peddle a pair of plastic pumps that not even Earl “Speedoo” Carroll would ever have laced up.

Odd though this may appear, here’s where things start to seem really strange.

Whose money do you suppose is bankrolling Cadillac sneakers?

According to the AL&S website, it’s Samsung of Korea. That would be the same Samsung that dabbles in consumer electronics, shipbuilding, telecom, engineering and construction, information and communications technology services, financial services, chemicals, retail, heavy industries, entertainment, apparel, medical services — and, oh yes, automobiles, through a 20% ownership of Renault Samsung Motors. Would it be a stretch, you think, to conclude that Samsung-the-carmaker persuaded its corporate cousin Samsung-the-shoemaker to convince the General Motors Corporation to out-license its Cadillac brand to use on a range of crappy shoes, with the intention of fatally damaging the prestige and brand equity of the Cadillac automotive line, in order to eventually introduce to global markets a new up-market vehicle named the Samsung Galaxy?

Could the directors of the Korean conglomerate be that clever? Could the directors of General Motors be that stupid? Farfetched as these theories may be, my best guess would be: um-hmm, and oh-yeah.

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