One other interesting and timely interview I was offered at this year's Detroit North American International Auto Show was with Don Butler, Cadillac's enthusiastic marketing VP. Why so timely? Because it was right after Cadillac unveiled the production version of its soon-to-come (early 2014) ELR extended-range electric vehicle. Not only is this edgy two-door compact coupe even sexier-looking than Cadillac's slick CTS coupe, it's powered by a slightly upgraded version of the same Voltec series-hybrid system that motivates the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid.
ABG: The ELR is a beautiful car, but – as a 2-door coupe with a tight back seat, it's less practical than the Volt and will be priced much higher. Won't that make it harder to sell?
DB: A sedan would have been the practical choice, but the provocative choice was to do a coupe that is a true styling statement. And when it comes to really stunning design, you have to focus on that as your priority. We weren't thinking as much about practicality and utility as in having it act as an icon and a halo for the brand.
"First and foremost, we said, 'Let's make a vividly expressive vehicle.' And, yes, some things have to be compromised."
First and foremost, we said, "Let's make a vividly expressive vehicle." And, yes, some things have to be compromised. Because of the way it's styled, the interior roominess and the backseat are adequate, I would say, but not roomy.
ABG: Who will be your customer for the ELR?
DB: It will probably not be anyone's primary vehicle. It will be a second, third, maybe even fourth vehicle in the household. We are not after volume with this car, not looking for hundreds of thousands of sales. That's not what this car is about. but it will definitely appeal to design enthusiasts and people who tend to be trendsetters within their spheres of influence and circles of friends. We're looking for those few discerning individuals because they are very important to Cadillac as a brand. Some of our best marketing and advertising will show this car driving down the street, creating a bold presence for Cadillac.
ABG: Given the high costs of its 16 kWh li-ion battery and dual propulsion systems, can ELR be profitable even at a Cadillac price?
DB: From a financial standpoint, I would say we are very happy about how we have planned this out. The more we sell, the more we'll make, and those issues of battery cost and capacity will change as time goes on. We'll have the choice of either taking cost out to get the same capability from a less expensive system, or taking mass out to lower its weight.
ABG: How different is it from Volt, and in what ways is it alike or similar?
DB: The propulsion system is shared with Volt. We are building on that proven technology, with 200 million miles (so far) of real-world driving. But we will not call it "Voltec," and there are differences in calibration and tuning. It will have a bit more performance, we'll go a little deeper into the battery's capacity, and a feature we call "Regen on Demand" will let you control regenerative braking with steering-wheel paddles [see PR below].
Regarding how it's different from Volt, the core component sets are shared, but the exterior and interior are absolutely different and unique, designed to be pure Cadillac. It also has 20-in. wheels and tires – the architecture is modified to accommodate those, and a wider track as well – and the rear suspension uses a Watts link for somewhat crisper handling.
ABG: It shares GM's global compact architecture, which means it's front drive?
DB: Yes, it is front-wheel drive, but there are a lot of differences.
ABG: And it will have more power than Volt?
DB: It will be a little quicker than the Volt, mostly because we will get into the battery a little deeper and use that to get a bit more torque. It will be a bit more nimble as well.
ABG: Down the road, will we see other EVs or EREVs from Cadillac?
DB: Nothing that I can talk about now, but I can tell you that this will not be our only alternative propulsion system. In terms of electric-supplemented drive, there is more coming. We are looking at this as a long-term journey, so alternative propulsion will continue to be important to GM and to the Cadillac brand. Another full EREV? I can't say. But I don't see a pure EV on the near-term horizon for Cadillac.
"There is nothing I can talk about now, but I can tell you that this will not be our only alternative propulsion system."
ABG: Maybe other types of hybrids?
DB: Potentially. It is an exciting time for Cadillac. We're building on a core segment strategy expressed through cars like ATS and XTS, so being able to demonstrate halo vehicles like ELR and the innovation that's associated with that makes it a fantastic time for the brand.
Luxury coupe's Regen on Demand redefines the role of paddle shifters
DETROIT – Paddle shifters take on new meaning in the Cadillac ELR, the brand's first electric vehicle with extended range capability that goes on sale in early 2014.
Unlike traditional performance vehicles where the steering wheel-mounted paddles allow drivers to upshift and downshift the mechanical transmission, Cadillac ELR's paddle shifters enable the driver to temporarily regenerate energy and store it as electricity in the battery pack for later use.
ELR's Regen on Demand feature is unique to the compact luxury coupe and builds on Cadillac's performance-bred heritage.
"Regen on Demand enables ELR drivers to actively re-capture energy when slowing down, such as when approaching slower traffic or setting up for a tight turn," said Chris Thomason, ELR chief engineer. "This allows the driver to take more active role in the electric vehicle driving experience."
To engage Regen on Demand, the driver simply takes his or her foot off the accelerator and pulls back on either the left or right steering-wheel paddle to begin regenerating electricity. When engaged, Regen on Demand provides vehicle deceleration that is more than what a typical vehicle experiences while coasting, providing control and dynamic performance characteristics similar to downshifting in a manual-transmission vehicle. The feature does not bring the vehicle to a full stop.
Releasing the paddle disengages Regen on Demand, allowing the vehicle to coast normally. The driver can engage and disengage Regen on Demand as desired and as traffic conditions allow.
"Pulling back on the paddle to slow down allows the ELR driver to keep their foot close to the throttle, ready to accelerate," Thomason said. "It provides a more engaged, satisfying driving experience, and when you consider the added benefit of re-capturing energy, it's also a smart thing to do."
During regenerative braking, the system converts the vehicle's momentum to electrical power and stores the energy in the T-shaped battery pack located along the centerline of the vehicle, between the front and rear wheels for optimal weight distribution.
The pack supplies energy to an advanced electric drive unit capable of 295 lb-ft of instant torque (400 Nm) to propel the vehicle. Using only the energy stored in the battery, the ELR will deliver an estimated range of about 35 miles (56 km) of pure electric driving, depending on terrain, driving techniques and temperature.
ELR includes a blended regenerative braking system that will recapture a majority of the energy in a vehicle's momentum rather than losing it as heat in the brakes, which is common with conventional vehicles. When the brakes are applied, energy is recaptured, as the vehicle slows. If more brake force is applied, ELR automatically blends in friction brakes to apply greater stopping power for more urgent stops.
The system has a standard 4-channel anti-lock braking system and includes electronic Brake Force Distribution, which uses independent rear control for improved stability and braking during cornering, as well as more effective use of the rear brakes as vehicle loading occurs. Also, the disc brake system features vented front and solid rear Duralife rotors with Ferritic Nitro-Carburizing (FNC) finishing technology to reduce corrosion and deliver longer life.
Charging the ELR's battery can be done with a 120V electrical outlet or a dedicated 240V charging station. The vehicle can be completely recharged in about 4.5 hours using a 240V outlet, depending on the outside temperature.
Cadillac has been a leading luxury auto brand since 1902. In recent years, Cadillac has engineered a historic renaissance led by artful engineering and advanced technology. More information on Cadillac can be found at media.cadillac.com.