Coming Late 2013 – The Cadillac ELR

Sadly, this year I’m unable to attend the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  I must depend on my heroes, the real auto journalists, to pass along the latest happenings at the Cobo Center.

Most everyone has had something to say about the new C7 Corvette, but I have two worries: first, that GM’s asking price might be a bit too high, putting it in 911 or R8 territory (see Chris Harris’s tweet on this below, which is hard to argue with), and second, I’m not completely sold on the styling, which seems like it might age a bit poorly.

Less-talked-about of the GM debuts, but certainly of great interest to those of us who tire of spending money on gasoline, is the unveiling of the pre-production Cadillac ELR.  The ELR is the two-door Caddy coupe modeled after the 2009 Converj concept and built around the proven GM Voltec powertrain.  It will arrive in showrooms around the end of 2013, and wow, it is awfully pretty.

Cadillac’s “Art & Science” grille has never been perfect, but it has always been striking.

Automobile magazine suggests that the ELR is what the Volt could have been, had it been given two more years of design refinement.  I disagree–the Volt and the ELR are two distinctly different kinds of vehicle, serving different customers with different needs at different price points.  Wildly different price points, as it turns out–I was hoping ELRs would sticker around $55-60k or so, but Automobile estimates something more akin to $70k.  Cadillac’s global VP Bob Ferguson was also quoted as saying at the unveil that “an additional aspect of the ELR’s appeal will be exclusivity.  It will be a specialized offering produced in limited numbers.”

That may sound disappointing, but the “exclusivity” bit is a convenient bit of corporate posturing–make no mistake, GM will build as many of these as it can sell.  They must, in order to recoup the R&D costs incurred during development of the Voltec powertrain.  The beauty of Bob the VP’s statement is that if the ELR doesn’t sell, GM can say they never planned to build too many in the first place.  And if the ELR flies off dealer lots as fast as it arrives, well, exclusivity means different things to different people, doesn’t it?  There’s always room on the road for a few more cash cows.

We should all desperately hope the ELR is successful.  When they unveiled the Converj, GM’s PR people said it was pure concept, and that the company had no plans to put it into production.  Reaction to the Converj was so overwhelmingly positive, however, that the company changed those plans.  Now, four years later, the customers that said they would buy a Converj need to put their money where their mouth is, or it’s unlikely GM will make a leap–and what a lovely leap it is–like this in the foreseeable future.

Futuristic right-angle taillights carry over almost unchanged from the Converj.

Now for the numbers.  The ELR makes a total of 207 hp and 295 lb-ft from its electric powertrain and 1.4L dino-fired inline four.  That’s a significant tweak up from the Volt’s output, which is 149 hp/273 lb-ft.  But by virtue of its 20″ wheels, increased sound deadening, and rich cockpit materials, the ELR weighs 4070 lbs, almost 300 more than the 3781-lb Volt.  So one suspects that in a 0-60 drag race with a Volt, the Caddy isn’t gonna win by thirty thousand dollars’ worth.  But it’ll look pretty amazing in the process, especially for a car that will get, at worst, 35 real-world mpg while running on gas and infinite real-world mpg as long as the battery is charged.

It should be said that GM is on a bit of a roll right now–the C7 Corvette is sparking lots of interest, the new Silverado is out, the new Malibu and forthcoming Impala look great, the Volt sold triple in 2012 what it did in 2011, and the ELR is breathtakingly pretty.  Seems like America’s investment in saving the company might turn out to be a pretty good one.