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Cadillac chief designer wants brand’s EVs to be ‘unlike anything else’

Automobile magazine interviewed Cadillac design director Brian Smith about the style of the luxury brand’s upcoming EV portfolio. The 2016 Escala concept provides the best glimpse of the visual design for the Lyriq and Celestiq electric models.

Cadillac’s first electric vehicle will be a two-row Lyriq utility vehicle scheduled for production in China first in 2021, before arriving in the US in 2022. The Celestiq flagship electric sedan is not due until about 2025.

Smith explained to Automobile:

We are making a bit of a departure with our battery-electric vehicles. It’s really about taking the crisp features and blending in a bit more muscular lines and beauty in the surface. The beautiful surface and strong silhouette with some really technical details and unusual graphics can give the cars a futuristic and electrified presence.

Tesla proved EVs don’t have to be weird looking. They can still be beautiful, and that’s something we believe as well. Making electric cars desirable is what we’re all about. 

The image of the top of the post is the Escala, and here is its interior (now a four-year-old concept):

Smith said that handling the grille design presented a challenge. EVs don’t need a grille to cool the engine — although some airflow is required. Smith said:

We still want the car to have a strong face and recognizable graphic, but now we can have a slick, flush appearance with different ways to do the detail.

The Celestiq’s design was originally conceived for an internal-combustion flagship sedan. Smith said the key elements, like the front end lighting design, influenced the Lyriq SUV.

He described the Celestiq’s style as “unusual” and “a little bit polarizing.” But he said that it would be “beautiful, stunning.” That’s not surprising to hear from the designer.

This is the only image we have so far of the Lyriq:

Cadillac Lyriq

Smith said that consumers wanting a capable luxury vehicle will gravitate to an SUV. That will give designers the freedom to set a different goal for sedans: to make them more aggressive and sporty.

A primary goal for Smith is to set Cadillac’s new lineup of EVs apart from battery-powered vehicles from the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. He said this about the Celestiq:

We’re aiming for the moon with that car, and it will be unlike anything else in its class of vehicle or segment.

Electrek’s Take

We got a quick glimpse of the Cadillac Lyriq SUV and Celestiq sedan in March at GM’s EV Day. I remember standing there, gawking at how big and aggressive the designs were. They were badass, electric muscle cars. The Celestiq was especially dramatic, like an oversized, stretched power wagon. 

But it was overwhelming to study all 10 of GM’s new EVs at once, and no photos were allowed. So we were disappointed that the scheduled unveiling of the Lyriq in April was canceled due to the pandemic.

The Ultium battery system, with battery packs up to 200 kWh and various motor configurations, should make the electric Caddies competitive on range and power.

So the Lyriq’s visual design could be the make-or-break factor. We liked what we saw so far. If they can execute on the details between now and launch, it could catapult GM’s EV program. But a few missteps that don’t align with the expectation of EV buyers would be a significant setback. 

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.