Editor’s Note: In a perfect way to wrap-up his “Design Matters” series, Peter discusses the significance of Cadillac’s magnificent CELESTIQ, and why it’s a design milestone for the industry. Maserati makes a rare appearance in On The Table, while Natasha Bedingfield is featured in our AE Song of the Week. The next chapter of Peter’s much-praised series on “The Muscle Boys” – his glorious take on big-bore V8s in American sports car racing – can be found in Fumes. And in The Line we have coverage of F1 from France, the INDYCAR Series doubleheader from Iowa and more on BMW’s GTP entry for the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Onward. -WG


By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. No, there wasn’t going to be a “Part IV” to my series on the importance of design, but then Cadillac released the official images of its CELESTIQ show car – which is basically the production car – and the automotive world came to a screeching halt.

The CELESTIQ is no ordinary show car. It represents a commitment by GM upper management to return Cadillac to its once hard-earned moniker “The Standard of the World” – with a no excuses, no-compromise machine that oozes “Cadillac” from every angle. This will be a hyper-luxury sedan designed to compete with the best that the automotive world has to offer. This $300,000+ automotive flamboyance can be customized to the last detail by its buyers, and the CELESTIQ will be handbuilt in a special assembly facility at the GM Global Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.

But the significance of the CELESTIQ goes even beyond that. It is a stunning, milestone car that reasserts GM Design’s position as the unrivaled industry leader in an automotive discipline that can make or break a brand’s image, or make or break and an entire company, for that matter.

Historically, GM not only has the deepest connection to the roots of automotive design, it invented the discipline. From the time when Harley Earl created the Art and Colour Section in 1927, GM has valued and nurtured design and has been the industry leader by far. And when Bill Mitchell succeeded Earl as chief of design in the late 50s, GM reveled in a period of unbridled design creativity that lasted for two decades. Mitchell’s most notable show cars and concepts – the ’59 Corvette Sting Ray racer, the Mako Shark I and II, the Corvair Monza GT and SS – were indeed stunning, but his real genius was rooted in his ability to bring concept car looks to mainstream production vehicles like the ’63 Corvette Sting Ray, the ’63 Buick Riviera, the front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, and on and on. The legacy of the Mitchell Era resonates to this day, and you can feel it every time you walk into the magnificent GM Design lobby.

And Cadillac has led the way for GM Design for the better part of two decades, with stunning show cars like the Sixteen, Cien, Ciel, Elmiraj and Escala. But those breathtaking machines were just warmups for the ultimate GM Design statement: the Cadillac CELESTIQ. 

“The CELESTIQ show car is the purest expression of Cadillac,” said Magalie Debellis, manager, Cadillac Advanced Design. “It brings to life the most integrated expressions of design and innovation in the brand’s history, coalescing in a defining statement of a true Cadillac flagship.” In developing the show car, the design and engineering teams didn’t have to go far in order to immerse themselves in the legacy of Cadillac. The artisanship and customization that defined early Cadillac sedans such as the bespoke V-16 powered coaches of the prewar era, and the handbuilt 1957 Eldorado Brougham were notable examples of an illustrious history. “Those vehicles represented the pinnacle of luxury in their respective eras, and helped make Cadillac the standard of the world,” said Tony Roma, chief engineer. “The CELESTIQ show car — also a sedan, because the configuration offers the very best luxury experience — builds on that pedigree and captures the spirit of arrival they expressed.” 

As I said in one of my previous design columns, design is the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator, and in the transition to the EV Age, compelling design will become even more critical. With similar battery platform designs – aka “the skateboard” – and other technical commonalities such as range and charging capability, the look and street presence of vehicles will directly affect consumer desire. The True Believers at GM Design seem to understand this implicitly, which is why the CELESTIQ is so breathtaking.

In another one of my design columns, I said: What makes us gravitate to one shoe or another? Design. What about to a coat or a particular pair of boots? Design. And how about furniture? Design. Everything we come across as we go about our day is directly attributable to design, from residential and commercial architecture to graphic presentations in videos and on TV, and everything and anything in between. Even mundane places – such as gas stations and their attached convenience stores – have graphic designs helping to create their look and feel. Design sets the tone and creates an ambience, and even if we’re not consciously aware of its power and influence, it is always there.

And when it comes to automobiles, of course, it’s no secret that the power and influence of design are magnified exponentially. Design not only matters in the automobile business: It. Is. Everything.

This series has generated a lot of comments from within the industry, especially – and understandably so – from the design community. I would say that the vast majority of the comments we received were positive, and that’s gratifying, because I have the utmost respect for the creative talents who work in the design houses all over the world.

As I’ve said many times before, the artisans who toil in design studios are the most influential people in the automobile business. They set the tone for brands and lead the word-of-mouth, “street look” discussions, and their visionary work can make – or break – a car company’s fortunes, as I stated previously. 

This work requires, vision, discipline and a savagely creative mindset that is instantly graded the moment the wraps are taken off of their latest designs. It is a tough, tough profession, but when you talk to designers, most wouldn’t trade it for anything. Seeing something in concept or production form that they had a key role in creating presents a level of exhilaration that’s extremely hard to beat.

As if to underscore my series on Design, the Cadillac CELESTIQ is the most stunning vehicle to appear on the automotive scene in 25 years. Period. GM Design, under Michael Simcoe’s leadership, has not only returned Cadillac to being “The Standard of the World,” but the support given to nurture the development of this machine speaks volumes about GM upper management’s commitment to projecting GM as an industry leader into the EV Age.

This just in: The CELESTIQ is simply spectacular. 

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

Editor’s Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on “Next 1 Entries” below. – WG

Katherine E. Ackerman

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