Cadillac is about to release a $300,000 vehicle. But will it be able to pull it off?

 Thinking about the Celestiq hyper-luxury electric vehicle

Pebble Beach Car Week is already over. This was my 12th year attending, and the world’s largest car bash/gala/jubilee felt more alive and extensive than ever. I went as a guest of Cadillac, which was commemorating its 120th anniversary. Caddy unveiled its Project GTP Hypercar, a stealth fighter-like concept that previews the forthcoming third-generation prototype race car that will compete in the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours.

The Celestiq, Cadillac’s future hand-built electric supersedan, remains the belle of the present ball. What is the significance of this? GM CEO Mary Barra was present at the Celestiq reveal party, and I saw her with my own two eyes while stuffing my face with caviar-covered tater tots (fat and salt plus fat and salt is delicious—who knew?). I took a long, hard look at the Celestiq before the beef wellington and lobster were presented and asked a slew of questions. I’m not one to bite the hand that gives me foie gras, but I have some reservations.

Can Cadillac Really Sell $300,000 Vehicles?

But first, examine if the Cadillac brand is strong enough to support a $300,000 automobile. Absolutely, yes, in my opinion. Cadillac, more than Maybach, I believe, could compete on an equal level with Bentley and Rolls-Royce if GM ever chooses to fully embrace that way. Yes, the Celestiq is being designed to compete with the future EVs from both British automakers. In more respects than Bentley or Rolls-Royce would ever admit openly, the Escalade is a serious contender to both the Bentayga and Cullinan.

Obviously, the Celestiq’s success is not predetermined. Everything is still possible to go wrong. But, for whatever reason, and regardless of all the “Standard of the World” sloganeering, Americans just love excellent Cadillacs. But what about the XT4? Uh, no. It’s a shame our Buyer’s Guide is placed fifteenth in its category. Fifteenth! Cadillac must ensure that this type of product is no longer available by the time the Celestiq (pronounced “sell-EHS-tick,” not “sell-ess-TEEK”) debuts in 2024.

And, hey, why not kill the XT4 now as a show of good faith to people you’re asking to hand over three grand? “But they sell,” someone in Michigan says back. “It’s easy to look out your window in Detroit and believe Cadillac’s a success,” observed Dan Ammann, GM’s former CFO, when Cadillac briefly relocated to New York City. A rising tide lifts all ships, but anchors have the reverse effect. Cadillac must get rid of the dead weight if the Celestiq is to succeed.

It Must Be Truly Unique And Customized

At the Celestiq party, I mentioned the following multiple times: “I’ve visited Crewe. I’ve met the woman who spends 13 hours hand-stitching each and every Bentley steering wheel. And if a Bentley owner hasn’t seen her in person, they’ve seen the video. I’ve also met the man who hand-paints every single pinstripe on a Rolls-Royce at Goodwood. Do you have any? Have you employed these individuals?”

The responses did not excite me. No one in-house is now capable of doing such things on the production vehicle, according to what I’ve heard, although members of the design team are. No one on the design team will be doing anything like that on manufacturing Celestiqs, says the narrator. I persisted and received an even worse response: The aim is to delegate such tasks to providers. Johnson Controls, who? That is simply not an appropriate response.

I’m not snooty just for the purpose of being snobbish. People who spend $300,000 on a car do so for personal reasons. It’s a completely needless luxury. The little details cannot be outsourced. You have to sweat ’em, which is why Bentley uses a chisel and a person named Clive (or something like British). To be fair to Cadillac, and given that I received multiple different, disjointed responses, I don’t believe the company has all the answers just yet.

The automobile will not be produced for another two years. Everyone I spoke with stated that the amount of customisation and unique personification would be unparalleled in the business. Do you have a sentimental guitar string? It will be integrated into the cabin of Cadillac vehicles. The same applies for the guitar or Granny’s dentures—whatever you choose. As one of those Americans who has a special spot in my heart for outstanding Cadillacs, I want GM to get the Celestiq right. However, before you can beat them, you must first match their level.

What about the automobile?

I’m still stumped by the design. The scale is appropriate—read: massive—but I don’t love it or despise it. That indicates I haven’t had a good look at it yet. Yes, there were the poor press shots, and I saw the vehicle at night in a busy party, but I still don’t feel like I’ve seen the thing in its entirety. The front end seems intimidating, yet it lacks eyes, like a blind shark. The difficult side is so different that I’m not sure what to make of it. I imagine an Audi concept car merged with the Robocop SUX 6000.

The back window should be tinted, and I’d love to see a Celestiq in a colour other than grey. To my perspective, the rear end is the most successful portion of the design, although there are other angles that make me think, “Hmmm,” much like the new Nissan Z. I believe the final production version should be a grand slam knockout. Nothing should be called into doubt.

The inside is spacious, fit for a four-throne luxury mansion. However, it would have been wonderful to have a themed inside, one that showcased the personalization Cadillac were raving about. Caddy, if you need it, I have one of Billie Joe Armstrong’s guitar strings from a Green Day gig in 1992 (before they sold out!) in a crate someplace. Speaking of cool, the inside felt a little frore, like sitting on the lap of a robot. “Everything that looks like metal is metal,” Cadillac’s design team insisted. True, but how about a little leather and/or wood?

 

The biggest issue with the inside is the enormous screen that runs from one A-pillar to the other. What’s the big deal about that? Unless Cadillac has software developers on standby to ensure that the screen is continually loaded with car-related content, you’re going to have a large, empty screen. That is hardly first-rate luxury. I inquired if the screen could be removed, pointing out that in both Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, there are switches that allow the screen to be changed or covered with wood. Cadillac said, “No.” But what if a consumer refuses to view the screen? The key to automobiles like these is being able to say yes practically every time.

Postscript

There was a lot of snarky talk about Cadillac’s intention to fly buyers to the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, to start customising the automobile. ‘Thank you for your $300,000; please accept your ticket to Detroit.’ ‘How is Cadillac going to accommodate these well-heeled customers, downtown at the Book Cadillac?’ Remember, these were Detroiters making these remarks. Though I’ve never visited, I’ve always loved the Tech Center from afar—a it’s mid-century architectural marvel.

I’ve visited Crewe and Goodwood, Maranello and Sant’Agata Bolognese, and Porsche’s Exclusive Manufaktur store in Zuffenhausen, all of which are popular destinations for folks looking to personalise cars at this price bracket. It is critical to make this type of visit a good one. Cadillac appears to be on the right track here.

 

The night following the Cadillac Celestiq party, I went to the annual Bentley Signature Party, when Bentley’s CEO Adrian Hallmark unveiled the brand’s unappealing Batur. (It appears to be the 2028 Infiniti Q60.) I saw the entire Crewe staff was dressed like dandies as I entered the beautiful home on Pebble Beach’s 17th fairway that Bentley rents year after year. Rule Britannia and all that, but the Bentley staff was immaculately dressed. Classy, high-end, like the type of folks that could know how to sell you a $300,000 automobile.

Cadillac’s team? There are far too many white T-shirts from multipacks being worn underneath formal shirts. I understand it’s a Midwest thing, but come on.

 

But first, let’s go back to the night before the Celestiq party. That evening, I went to a Land Rover event where we saw the Range Rover Carmel Edition. It’ll be the most expensive Range Rover ever produced, restricted to just 17 vehicles (one for each mile of 17-Mile Drive), with a fairly cool interior and a tag price of $345,000.

Yes, when the price was announced, I spit out my champagne. However, Jaguar Land Rover CEO Joe Eberhardt stated that the only persons asked to acquire a Carmel Edition were standing right there. Later that weekend, I learned the automobile was sold out. That might imply that $345,000 isn’t what it used to be. Perhaps Cadillac is aware of what it is doing. Return here in 2024.

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