Cadillac dares. Greatly.
In 1910, former US President, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the Paris Sorbonne entitled, ‘Citizenship in a Republic’, a rousing panegyric in which he lauded the protagonist, the man in the arena, rather than the spectator or the critic. It was the figure of action who mattered, he posited, the man who dared. In the century since it was given, this oft-cited piece of oratory has resonated and inspired generations.
At the 2016 Pebble Beach auto show, Cadillac displayed Escala, one of a long line of high-end Cadillac concept cars destined to founder upon the jagged rocks of GM’s timorous caution. The Escala was an elegant fastback sedan, one which elicited an element of critical handwringing owing to its hatchback format, a curious style decision given the US car buyer’s long-held distaste for such layouts.
Certainly, Cadillac themselves appeared to acknowledge that they had some convincing to do, and since every concept nowadays must have a catchy PR slogan to underpin it, the one appended to Escala urged one and all to ‘Dare Greatly’. Taken in isolation, this phrase made little sense to the casual showgoer (or critic) and once the Escala-inspired CT5 made its debut in 2019, it made even less; the fastback silhouette having reverted to a conventional boot opening, causing many on the sidelines to ponder exactly who was doing the daring around here?
We can probably assume that just anyone with even a nano-quantum of automotive romance in their bloodstream wishes Cadillac well, for it is one of the grand marques, a true American institution. It is equally fair to suggest that General Motors have not been the best of stewards – indeed, at times, one could reasonably ask whether either carmaker was being competently managed at all? Since the marque’s precipitous fall from Mount Olympus, successive General Motors CEOs have exhibited an unwillingness, (call it cowardice if you wish) to recast the marque in a manner that truly befitted its once-imperious status as, if not standard of the world, then at least of the nation.
But suddenly, it would seem, from this distant eyrie at least, something has altered, and altered quite dramatically. It is called Celestiq and it really is quite something to behold.
The rise of Tesla has placed the US (and increasingly Europe’s) industry into a tailspin. In less than a decade the Silicon Valley disruptor has not only completely reshaped preconceptions around propulsion, but in the US at least, fundamentally altered what buyers are prepared to accept aesthetically. This is manifest, not only in form and silhouette – Tesla having largely desensitised the US customer to hatchback sedans for instance – but also in purely decorative terms. We have after all, come a very long way from Cadillac’s stylistic heyday.
The so-called legacy carmakers attempting to go head-to-head against the EV pioneers have been battling a moving target, one travelling at eye-watering velocity. On this basis at least, this appears a somewhat futile gambit, despite some impressive technological efforts by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and more recently, Hyundai. Because the disruptors are always going to be several steps ahead – on tech at least.
Therefore, the corner in which carmakers find themselves backed into is not an entirely comfortable one. Nor is there a great deal of room for manoeuvre. But what the legacy marques have on their side is heritage, romance and narrative. Returning to foundational marque values is never a bad idea, at least if combined with competent execution.
And so then to Celestiq, introduced in production form this week, following a preview over the summer. For the first time since John. F. Kennedy was President, Cadillac has re-entered the very highest echelons of the luxury market with an Eldorado Brougham for the digital generation and a price tag on application to match. No rearward glancing retro reboot this however, the Celestiq is instead a bracingly futurist fully electrified saloon, a technological showpiece for the General Motors organisation and the legacy US auto industry.
The technology is as one might expect, impressive, with features such as adaptive air suspension, magnetic ride control, active roll control, rear wheel steering, an active rear spoiler, and all of the usual safety and assist systems which are a given on a vehicle such as this. Celestiq employs an aluminium spaceframe on GM’s premium EV platform. Carbon fibre is also used extensively.
Among the innovations making their debut on the vehicle include a four-zone adaptive smart glass roof panel, which employs Suspended Particle Device Technology, which eliminates the necessity for a headliner or sunshades. There are also 115 3D printed parts on the car, the largest number yet employed on a GM product. Matters of power output and battery range you can argue amongst yourselves. Adequate used to be how Rolls Royce put it. Adequate about sums it up.
But it is the exterior design that makes the biggest impact, the Celestiq certainly not being mistaken for anything else on the road. Conventionally beautiful or not, it is an arresting shape, handsome and really quite brave. After all, a fastback coupé silhouette is not even close to anyone’s expectation for a top-of-the-line Cadillac, Escala concept notwithstanding. Indeed, according to design chief, Michael Simcoe, the 2016 concept – which was to have entered production – in fact proved the jumping off point for Celestiq, once Cadillac management had made the decision to pivot entirely towards electrification. However, the visual differences between the cars truly are day and night.
One might expect a brash, confident frontal aspect and with its grille-front, the Celestiq fulfils this, albeit with more aplomb than Mercedes’ EVs have thus far managed. Characterised by fine proportions and clean flanks, (there are no exterior door handles) the Cadillac’s imposing appearance holds few visual surprises until one reaches the rear three quarters, where the designers took a distinct and highly distinctive diversion off-piste. Instead of playing it safe and cleaving to a three-volume shape, the tail dips to a sweeping fastback, the huge unglazed D-pillar punctuated only by the blade shaped upper rear lamp units. Say what you will about it, but the level of confidence on display here is somewhat thrilling.
While the exterior is all about shock and no little awe, the cabin appears a more pared back affair. Clean lines, fine materials and a sense of modernity in materials and technology that is not trying so desperately hard. There is enough glitz to identify it as an American luxury car interior, but a restraint that falls this side of outright chintz. Note to Mercedes-Maybach…
All Celestiqs are to be hand-built to order at what Cadillac describe as the Artisan Center at GM’s Global Technical Centre, in Warren, Michigan, the first production car to be produced at the company’s 66-year-old design and engineering landmark.
Of course, discussing a vehicle such as this in the current geopolitical climate is perhaps a little vulgar, and on a certain level, cars such as these are obscenely decadent, but leaving ethical and moral questions to one side, can we not revel in Celestiq’s sheer audacity?
And bravery is perhaps the watchword here, for both GM and Cadillac are making quite the leap, in pricing, positioning, to say nothing of customer expectation at this rarefied end of the market. One it can be imagined that will be observed with a great deal of interest, not just amid the broader industry, but especially in Gaydon, Warwickshire, where Theirry Bolloré and Gerry Mc Govern are in the process of reimagining brand-Jaguar, albeit not quite so exclusively. For regardless of whether your emblem is a goddess or simply a leaping cat, you only get one shot at this level of reinvention.
Certainly, this is not only a Cadillac like no other, but for General Motors, a programme like nothing they have attempted before – a closer approximation to what a Cadillac ought to be than anything GM have sanctioned in over sixty years.
Now therefore might not be the moment to ask whether the market is prepared to accept a $300,000 Cadillac, particularly after so long an absence from the highest echelons, or to question whether GM has the manufacturing, marketing or customer management abilities to truly take on the might of the super-luxury marques.
For now, let us simply step back in wonderment, firstly at the vehicle itself, but also at the fact that General Motors have after all this time found in themselves the nerve to ‘Dare Greatly’. Success or failure is at this moment immaterial – bravo for simply having tried.
 “It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt – 1910.
 Frequently cited by way of justification for some misdeed or other by errant politicians, business leaders or similar n’er do wells.
 Cadillac do of course also make the CT6, a somewhat po-faced, if imposing full-size luxury S-Class facsimile, sold primarily in China. The marque’s high-end centre of gravity on home turf is represented by the monolithic Escalade truck.
 Estimated to be upwards of $300,000 – before personalisation.
 The car’s underbody includes six large sand-cast aluminium components. Each casting reduces the parts count by 30 to 40 components, compared to typical stampings. This sand-casted process, say GM, is suited to “low volume, handcrafted, bespoke vehicles”.
 These include the steering wheel centre – the largest metal part GM has printed for production, the seat belt adjustable guide loop – the carmaker’s first safety-related 3D printed component, window switches, grab handles, console decor and structural pieces under the vehicle.
 As premium EVs display ever quicker 0-60 times, V-Max figures, charging times and range, it all becomes a mite tiresome. How fast is sufficient? How much range does a car like this need? The super-rich after all fly everywhere.
 The Celestiq appears more akin to a concept and the Escala its sanitised production equivalent. Quite the irony.
 Every visible metallic surface on the exterior of the vehicle is actual metal, including an aluminium grille, brushed aluminium bodyside, aluminium bootlining, sill finisher, tail and headlamp trim, and brushed metal liftgate body openings. Both grille and Goddess emblem are milled into cast aluminium, then machine-polished, brushed and tinted.
 It’s possible to see in the Celestiq’s rear three quarters faint reflections of the Lancia Gamma berlina, or perhaps even a hint of the Jaguar XJ-S’ sail fairings. No bad thing in either case – except of course for rear visibility.
Sources: General Motors Press/ Motor Trend