At some point in the last decade, Cadillac made a conscious decision to not be all things to all people. By sharpening silhouettes, narrowing lines and hardening angles, the cars developed an entirely new personality, one meant to attract a more design-conscious customer that'd otherwise be seen sitting in a vehicle that originated in Germany. Witness bringing the 2009 Converj concept to fruition in the form of the new 2014 ELR. Bob Boniface, Director of Exterior Design for Cadillac, is evolving the brand’s “Art and Science” design language to make it more sophisticated and more international. Boniface's team is intent on leading the brand into the future with audacious designs that embrace new technologies and flaunt an undeniable air of confidence. To learn more, we recently spoke with Boniface.
Cadillac really put its foot down, again—as it had historically—and said, "We’re going to make a design statement with the new ELR."
I think about where Cadillac is today and that mind shift from where Cadillac was just 25 years ago—this is a different car company. The cars are smaller. They’re driver’s cars. They have a very opinionated design direction; you could not mistake it for anything else.
And you're going after a whole new market these days?
Every car is good today, especially in the luxury segment. Every single car is good. How are you going to separate yourself from the set? To me, it’s by design, by emotion. If you want to blend in, you buy something else. But if you want to stand out and show that you wear your sense of style on your sleeve, Cadillac is the right choice. That’s not just me spouting corporate lines, that’s the way I feel.
We’re going after those people who are individual thinkers. People [that] say, "I don’t care what other people are driving," you know. "I’m going to buy the car because I think it’s the better automobile." I think it’s better looking, it speaks to me. It’s like clothing: you buy what you like.
How important is the fact that Cadillac is American?
Why wouldn’t you root for the home team? I don’t expect people to buy it just because it’s American. It’s great that it is, but I want them to buy it because it’s the best thing available. It suits their needs more than the other brand. That’s when I know we’ve succeeded.
We build cars like the ELR, the CTS, where there’s technical merit; there’s design supremacy. There’s no other American brand that can do that.
From a design point of view, what are some of the things we’re seeing that are a first for Cadillac?
Lately, we’ve taken the things we’ve developed as a vocabulary—the lamp shapes, the grille shapes, the creases and planar surfaces—and we’ve made them more sophisticated. [The ELR] is a really good example. It's the first car with standard all LED headlamps and tail lamps. It’s the first electric Cadillac. It still has that DNA that we launched a decade ago. You still know it’s a Cadillac; it still strikes you as bold and impressive. It’s different from the competition. But the surfacing is so much more sophisticated and the proportions are so much more planted. The car looks stable. They look like driver’s cars. The design language has grown up for Cadillac.
What internally differentiates Cadillac from other auto-makers?
Our leadership team at Cadillac keeps telling us to run this like it’s a 112-year-old startup. [Cadillac] has been around a long time, but we’re going to run it like it’s a new business. That’s the way you have to be. You have to be a leader; you can never be complacent. I think that’s an advantage for us because we feel like we have something to prove.
How do you feel the average Cadillac consumer's opinion of electric cars has changed in recent years?
I think you see the phenomenon with the Tesla. The car looks good, performs well, doesn’t use a lot of gas—where do I sign up? No one’s going to judge me if I drive it. It’s a guilt-free luxury [mentality].
The good thing about the ELR is you get a vehicle that is emotionally and artistically expressive, plus the engaging driving experience and the luxurious feel of the power train—without any compromise. I don’t have to worry if I’m stuck in traffic, 'Am I going to make it home?' So it’s guilt-free luxury without compromise. It’s a good place to be.
Portrait courtesy of Cadillac, all others by Evan Orensten