The Future Is Electric at Cadillac

GM’s flagship brand is charging its batteries at both ends of the price spectrum. Recently, Cadillac invited Hour Detroit to attend an exclusive tour of its new design studio for its all-electric luxury sedan, Celestiq, and to get a first look at their newest addition: Optiq, a luxury compact SUV
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Photograph courtesy of Cadillac

The future of the Cadillac brand spins slowly on a travertine marble turntable in a glass building at the GM Global Technical Center in Warren, sleek, sexy, and all-electric.

The show-stopping Celestiq all-electric sedan is not your ordinary assembly-line vehicle; it’s a bespoke experience, designed one-on-one with its future owner in this modernist glass building designed, like the rest of the General Motors Tech Center, by legendary architect Eero Saarinen, from 1949 to 1955.

GM has decided this former corporate dining hall is the perfect home for its new Cadillac Celestiq, called “the world’s first all-electric luxury sedan.” Four years in the making, the Celestiq has been shown in Napa and Pebble Beach to build buzz, but this is the design studio’s official launch.

The building’s new name, Cadillac House at Vanderbilt, pays homage to pioneering female car designer Suzanne E. Vanderbilt, one of eight GM Damsels of Design hired in the 1950s to bring a “feminine” perspective to car design. With talent and a collaborative spirit, Vanderbilt worked her way up to chief designer, becoming a mentor and icon along the way.

GM has restored Saarinen’s award-winning structure to its original midcentury gleam, from its marble floors to the 36-foot bronze screen panel that separates the entry area from the workspaces. Saarinen commissioned the screen from Detroit artist Harry Bertoia. Today, this masterpiece is the perfect backdrop in the design studio, where clients can come and create their own Celestiq sedan, from paint color to upholstery and stitching to the hood ornament.

Celestiq designers were inspired by midcentury design in the car as well, with its long, wide, low-slung form, which is sculptural without being over the top.

“It’s a very simplistic modern design punctuated by material and craftmanship, like the building we’re standing in today,” said Erin Crossley, design director for the Celestiq. “Artful integration of technology is part of the Cadillac design.”

There are no handles as the doors open with a push of a button. An ambient blue light illuminates Eames-inspired bucket seats and a 55-inch digital console that spans the length of the dashboard. A “smart glass” roof can be opaque one moment, transparent the next. Dozens of unseen sensors and radars guide the driving experience.

Crossley’s favorite Celestiq feature is the single-piece aluminum bevel on the steering wheel, made on a 3D printer. “Anything that looks metal is metal. But the best part of the design is that this is just our expression of the car. Everybody can create their own expression of the car.”

“We had to rethink how to fabricate parts in such a low build volume environment,” added Jeremy Loveday, program engineering manager for Celestiq. “Instead of doing hundreds of thousands of cars a year, we’re doing hundreds of cars a year.”

The Celestique is part spa, part spaceship, and Cadillac House at Vanderbilt is where the magic starts. Its open floor plan is divided into an art-filled lounge area (with a view of an Alexander Calder fountain in the summer), a collaborative area where upholstery and carpet samples sit on a table, ready for discussion; and a “magic wall” that opens to reveal carpet swatches and exterior colors. On the other side of the studio is the Fab Lab, where swathes of leather hang artfully against the far wall and craftspeople sit at sewing machines, ready to whip up samples on the spot.

Vanderbilt would have loved it all. She probably had lunch in this building during her long tenure at GM, never imagining her name would someday be on it. A graduate of Pratt and Cranbrook, she spent her early years at Chevrolet before moving up the Cadillac brand. She was thrilled because she had a bigger budget.

 “Boy this is the place for me,” she recalled for an interview in 1986, two years before her death at age 55. “You know how women love to spend money.”

Potential buyers can expect to pay in the mid six figures for a custom Celestiq. They can contact a certified Cadillac dealer or join a waiting list on the Cadillac website.

When the time comes, a personal Celestiq concierge guides the clients through the process. (They can also create their car virtually if they live in Dubai, for example). After all the color and fabric and light choices are finalized, the vehicle is made, by hand, at the new Artisan Center on the GM campus, where show cars and prototypes are built. Celestiq will be the first car produced there that will be sold to the public.

“Very early on we recognized if you want to sell a car to people who are not our traditional buyers, folks that can afford to buy anything, it’s got to be inspiring,” said chief engineer Tony Roma. “We don’t want to tell somebody no. If you want your interior leather to match your handbag,” they can make it happen. (You can watch musician Lenny Kravitz design his own “dark and moody and tough” Celestiq on YouTube.)

Road and Track calls the Celestiq “the stunning face of Cadillac’s electric future.” Cadillac aims to be all-electric by 2030, and this future was on display the night before Hour Detroit toured  Cadillac House, during a press dinner at the Out of Office Garage in Birmingham, a car club and storage facility. Cadillac’s 2025 EV lineup — the Lyriq, Celestiq, and Escalade IQ — were parked inside for up-close inspection. All share the Ultium battery and Ultium Drive electric propulsion system as well as other design features.

But there was a surprise behind a curtain at the back of the garage. For the first time, Cadillac unveiled its Optiq, the “entry point” for Cadillac’s EV lineup, slotting in below Lyriq and Escalade IQ and starting in the mid five figures. Like its EV siblings, Optiq is designed to fulfill GM CEO Mary Barr’s vision of a 0/0/0 future: zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.

Optiq will outnumber Celestiq on the roads, but not in the number of eyeballs that swivel as it drives by. As Michael Simcoe, senior vice president of Global Design put it, Celestiq “turns heads, and that’s what Cadillac’s all about. It’s meant to be expressive, bold, a little bit arrogant. It’s American.”

Flip Through Photos from Cadillac House