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DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co's (GM.N) Cadillac brand is planning to expand its portfolio of premium crossover vehicles by 2017, in part to better compete with similar high-end offerings from German competitors.
Cadillac also is in the midst of an unprecedented new-model rollout that will see it introduce at least six new or redesigned vehicles in the United States and China over the next 2-1/2 years, before the new crossover vehicles are launched, according to three automotive supplier sources familiar with Cadillac's plans.
GM's premium brand is in the early stages of rebuilding and fleshing out its product portfolio in its home market, where German manufacturers BMW AG (BMWG.DE) and Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE) dominate the luxury segment, and in China, where Cadillac lags behind the German brands, including Volkswagen AG's (VOWG_p.DE) upscale Audi subsidiary.
Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell declined to comment on the brand's specific plans, but said, "We're working hard to elevate and expand the brand," including an extension of its crossover offerings.
Cadillac plans to unveil a replacement for its midsize SRX crossover in early 2016 and expects to add two more crossovers - one larger than SRX and one smaller - in 2017, according to the supplier sources.
All three new Cadillac crossovers likely will be sold in the United States and China, but plans for Europe are less certain, the sources said.
Cadillac's premium German rivals, meanwhile, are expecting to unleash a spate of new entries in the rapidly expanding premium crossover segment.
A crossover utility vehicle, or "crossover" for short, has SUV-like style and utility, but rides and handles more like a car than a truck. Automakers are rolling out more crossovers in every size and price segment as consumers, attracted by the flexibility and functionality afforded by CUVs, continue to move away from more traditional body styles such as sedans and wagons.
Audi, BMW and Daimler's Mercedes-Benz are all in the process of dramatically broadening their crossover ranges in the next few years, according to three automotive supplier sources.
BMW, which currently offers crossovers in four different sizes, is adding a fifth model, the X4, the sources said, while Mercedes-Benz is adding three new crossover models, including the GLA, the GLC and the MLC.
Audi has by far the most ambitious expansion program, according to the sources, as it plans to increase its crossover offerings from three to seven over the next six years, ranging from the tiny Q2 to the ultra-luxury Q9.
Asked about the potential impact of the new European entries on Cadillac's strategy, a GM insider who asked not to be named said, "We don't need to duplicate the Germans."
Despite a healthy 30 percent sales increase this year, Cadillac still trails BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the United States, with Audi nipping at its heels.
Cadillac hopes its ambitious product revival will help narrow the gap with the luxury-segment leaders.
Among the new models are the redesigned 2014 Cadillac CTS sedan that arrives this fall; the 2014 ELR hybrid coupe this winter, and the redesigned Escalade and Escalade ESV utility vehicles next spring. Cadillac also plans to introduce a new ATS coupe in early 2015, and a large LTS luxury sedan in late 2015.
The last model is an addition to the range - a full-size, rear-wheel-drive four-door that Cadillac is aiming at such German flagship models as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7 Series, according to a Cadillac executive who asked not to be named because official details have not been released.
Some hints about the size, general shape and styling cues of the LTS can be seen in Cadillac's new Elmiraj coupe concept, unveiled earlier this month at a historic-car event in Pebble Beach, California.
Cadillac also is rethinking plans for a range-topping "halo" car that would share its underpinnings with the new LTS sedan. Possibilities include a luxury coupe or an even larger, more powerful sedan priced from $100,000 or more, according to the GM insider. A halo car is a unique automobile designed to draw attention to the brand.
But Cadillac has delayed plans to build a compact sedan, smaller than the ATS, that would have been aimed at such entry-level German sedans as the BMW 1 Series and the Mercedes-Benz CLA, according to the supplier sources.
Editing by Matthew Lewis