Cadillac designers pulled the wraps off the luxury division’s new Ciel concept car at a sneak preview prior to the official public debut, which will take place in Monterey, Calif. this Sunday, August 21, on the concept lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
Without saying "retro," General Motors chief designer Ed Welburn described the Ciel's “hint of a fin.” The striking show car touches on its heritage while providing a vision of where Cadillac design might be headed in the near future. GM claims the open-top four-seater could be powered by a twin-turbocharged version of the company's "3.6-liter direct injection V-6 engine, paired with a hybrid system using lithium-ion battery technology."
Long the leader of the luxury market, Cadillac sales now lag behind overseas rivals like BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz. But Cadillac has regained ground on competitors in recent years with a renewed focus on distinctive design. Confident there’s an opportunity for growth, GM management has given Caddy the green light to add a variety of new models, including the ELR plug-in hybrid, approved just this week, as well as the small Cadillac ATS and larger XTS.
“You need a flagship in your portfolio to be successful in the luxury market today,” says Clay Dean, the brand’s lead designer. The Ciel is a hint of what such a car might be. Nearly as long as the big Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicle, the prototype was shown in convertible form, but if taken into production would likely also be offered as a full-sized sedan, company insiders said.
Ciel, French for “sky,” carries a double meaning. There’s the reference to the convertible design, but the name also suggests that the sky's the limit, as far as GM is concerned, if Caddy can pull off a turnaround. That likely depends on tapping into more than just the U.S. market – though it remains the largest luxury market in the world. The Ciel, whether in convertible or hard top form, would also target China, now the world's largest automotive market – and a place where increasingly affluent buyers have shown a predilection for large, lavishly equipped cars.
“We didn’t want to be nostalgic; we need to look to the future,”Dean insists, though it’s hard to miss the retro touches, including the vestigial fins, noted by GM styling director Welburn, which recall Caddies of the early to mid-‘60s, however, and not the excessively finned 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.
The Ciel show car also borrows a bit from Caddy’s traditional competitor, Lincoln, with the long, somewhat slab-sided shape split by both traditional front and rear “suicide” doors. Modern motorists might recognize the look from the Lincoln Continental convertible used on the HBO TV series, Entourage. In fact, were the Ciel to go into production it would be the first four-door convertible since that Lincoln left production close to a half century ago.
The distinctive exterior of the Ciel – with its hockey-stick LCD lamps framing a massive grille – is more than matched by the interior, which is outfitted with acres of sumptuous leather and trimmed in wood and chrome. There are a variety of distinctive, if unusual, details, such as the zippered amenity pockets and a pull-out scarf to provide a little warmth for a rear-seat passenger.
Cadillac lifted the covers on the new Ciel show car on the same evening as Lexus revealed its next-generation GS sedan. The latter boasts an industry-record 12.3-inch LCD screen. The Ciel car goes to the other extreme. At first glance, there appears to be no monitor at all, but a closer inspection reveals that several smaller displays are built into the wing-like instrument panel.
That fits a design philosophy that stands in sharp contrast to the direction of many luxury car makers. Rather than flash all the high-tech features, “We've hidden the elements you don’t need,” Dean says. The smaller monitors light up only when needed, and much of the driver's essential information appears on a discreet head-up-display projected on the windshield. Other interior components have been moved out of sight altogether, including the climate control vents.
What you do see, such as the brightly-lit chronometer-style speedometer, is meant to impart a sense of elegance, but more in the form of upscale architectural design, suggested Dean, than a traditional automotive layout.
Will Cadillac build the new Ciel? For the moment, officials stress that there isn’t even a platform in the corporate portfolio to build it on. But “it's a statement car,” according to its lead designer, and one intended to say that Cadillac is making a comeback. That message would largely be lost if Ciel were just another in a long line of show cars that never see the showroom.
The good news for those who like the design is that GM has been considering its options for a flagship car that's even larger than the upcoming XTS. A senior Cadillac source says that a go/no-go decision will likely be made within a matter of months.
A positive response for the Ciel, which will now make its way to the auto show circuit, would help nudge the project forward. Expect GM to measure potential demand not only in the U.S. but in other markets, including the aforementioned China. That’s where the Buick brand began its turnaround, noted Welburn, and Caddy is counting on building demand there as well.
If that happens, that’s no guarantee the Ciel itself would reach market. But according to Dean, Cadillac definitely wants and needs “an open-air car.” The prototype would almost certainly be altered for production, but considering Cadillac’s assertion that distinctive styling is critical to its future, some of the Ciel's more attractive elements had better make it to market.