DETROIT – General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra says the automaker’s tony Cadillac brand will accelerate an electrification strategy begun at its everyman Chevrolet unit, while marketers for the luxury electric vehicle will apply lessons learned from a rocky first go-around with the technology.
GM launched the Chevy Volt plug-in EV in 2010 as an answer to the long-dominant Toyota Prius hybrid and followed in 2016 with the Chevy Bolt, a full EV meant to beat Tesla’s mass-market Model 3 to American driveways. Both the Volt and Bolt were touted as green vehicles that would not break a buyer’s budget.
But GM pivots on that strategy with its newest EV technology, which will first roll out at Cadillac in about three years. GM shows images and reveals some technical background on the car during an event here for a new Cadillac SUV, the XT6, just weeks after announcing the Volt and a plug-in version of the Cadillac CT6 would be discontinued.
“We look at what we accomplished (at Chevrolet) and we want to continue to build on that strong foundation,” Barra tells Wards on the sidelines of the XT6 event on the eve of the North American International Auto Show. “But with Cadillac being a leader in technology and innovation it is very important as we take (electrification) to the next level that we lead with Cadillac.”
GM announced its plans for Cadillac’s electrification during an investor meeting in New York on Jan. 11. The third-generation battery-electric platform used by Cadillac would be the first of many EVs from GM in the coming years.
GM President Mark Reuss, who also heads product development, said the platform uses an “ice-cube tray” design where the number of cells it carries would depend on the vehicle’s needs. The platform also would accommodate front-, rear- or all-wheel drive and be profitable, which has been unclear with the Volt and Bolt.
Electrification at the luxury level also follows trend in the industry. In addition to Tesla, which arguably created the segment with its Model S carrying a sticker price upwards of $90,000 at the time, automakers such as Jaguar, Porsche, Audi and BMW have joined the game hoping to duplicate the California startup’s magic.
However, as Barra suggests, Cadillac could have an edge on its rivals though autonomous driving. While the brand’s image remains in reboot after decades of playing second fiddle to German and Asian luxury brands in the U.S., it has shot up among the leaders in AV development with its well-received Super Cruise hands-free driving technology.
Like Tesla, GM believes the future of transportation lies in the combination of autonomy and electrification. A video shown at the XT6 reveal shows affluent couples in the cockpit of an SUV-like Cadillac enjoying an evening out with the driver splitting time piloting the vehicle and letting the car do the work. Rear-seat passengers watch a next-generation infotainment concept, another area where GM pledges Cadillac will soon lead the industry.
When Cadillac’s next electric vehicle comes to market, Barra says, GM will apply lessons learned from the ELR, which it sold as a Tesla fighter between 2013 and 2016. The ELR shared a powertrain with the Volt and while it boasted head-turning looks, its sticker price pushed $80,000. It was more than even luxury buyers were willing to swallow and GM killed the car after 2,892 sales.
“We’re going to learn and move forward and understand what the customer wants, what the customer expects, from a true luxury perspective, as well as the mass market, and make sure we’re meeting those objectives with our EVs,” she says.
The Cadillac EV will be the first of 20 electrified vehicles coming from GM off a new platform for the U.S. and China. The automaker may need every one of them to catch Tesla, which despite its well-publicized production problems delivered an industry-leading 162,545 EVs in the U.S. last year, according to Wards Intelligence, compared with 36,326 units of the Volt and Bolt combined.