Cadillac Celestiq a masterpiece in production

Cadillac created a sensation when it unveiled its flagship custom sedan, the $300,000-plus Celestiq. The price dropped jaws. The styling sparked a frenzy of critics. And the sheer brutality of it sent shockwaves through the industry.

This is not a car that goes quietly into the night. Anyone who loves cars has something to say about them. But let’s put the price and styling aside. What struck me is the business case built around the car and how it was manufactured.

Cadillac doesn’t do the Celestiq to bring down billions, at least not directly. They’re only going to make it about 400 a year, so I’m estimating it’s only going to generate about $140 million a year in revenue and maybe $25 million in profit. Those are rounding errors for a company the size of General Motors.

No, the reason they continued with this car is to restore Cadillac’s brand image. Despite a range of world-class vehicles, the Cadillac brand still doesn’t command the respect of luxury customers who own a Mercedes, BMW or Audi. The Celestiq is tasked with changing their mind. And if it works, it will increase the sales and profitability of every other Cadillac in the lineup. So the payout can be significant.

The Celestiq is a car that caters to the whims and tastes of wealthy customers. They can order just about anything they want for the car, and Cadillac will designate a member of the design team to help them fulfill their fantasies. For the people who make a reservation, it becomes a white glove experience every step of the way.

That’s one of the reasons they’re only going to make about 400 a year, or less than two a day. Such a low volume ensures that customers receive a royal reception. But the other reason it’s a low volume car is that GM is going to build them by hand. Not only does that add to the prestige, it also allows GM to avoid a high tool bill. GM invested only $81 million to make the car. Nice change.

Soft tools are part of the plan. Nothing new there. But additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, plays a key role. GM will print no fewer than 115 different parts for the Celestiq. And not just dinky little plastic parts; it will make structural and trim pieces this way. The handlebar surround, for example, which surrounds the lower half of the center of the wheel, is printed with metal.

General engines

It’s easy to see why GM prints so many parts. The more parts you print, the fewer tools you need and the lower the investment you have to make.

An additional 300 parts will be fabricated at the assembly facility, which is located in GM’s prototype store on the Tech Center campus in Warren, MI. Same story as when printing. Manufacturing parts requires only a few simple molds and fixtures, no hard tools.

I also suspect that GM picked the best store employees to make the car.

The Celestiq has an interesting skateboard design, made from large aluminum castings. GM calls them megacastings, a nod to Tesla’s gigacastings, and they eliminate several hundred stampings.

The front-end module is made up of two large wheelhouses, left and right. The same goes for the rear module: left and right steering rack castings. Between the front and rear modules is the floor, made of two large left and right castings, which houses the batteries for this giant electric sedan.

They’re all welded together, so the car’s structure is pretty much made from just six castings. While I thought Tesla had locked up the global capacity for the large molding machines needed to make castings this large, GM told me it makes them in the Detroit area. They wouldn’t say by whom or where, but they did tell me that they use 3D printing to make the sand cores for the castings, which I think is pretty cool.

McElroy SQUARE.jpgThe doors are composite SMC and the rest of the body panels are carbon fiber. They also use soft tooling to make those. Soft tools typically make 5,000 to 10,000 parts, so at 400 cars a year, they won’t wear them out until someone at Cadillac decides it’s time for a styling change. GM says it’s also able to get creases and radii in the body panels that it couldn’t in high-production metal.

I’m impressed. I believe the Celestiq is one of the boldest steps Cadillac has ever taken in its 120-year history. I am convinced that enough wealthy individuals will be attracted to buy something extremely rare that they helped create. Over time, I think it will bring Cadillac’s image back to its historic status as the “standard of the world.”

And all this was made possible by the way the car was made.

John McElroy (photo, top left) is the president of Blue Sky Productions, which produces “Autoline Daily” and “Autoline After Hours” on www.Autoline.tv and the Autoline Network on YouTube. The podcast “The Industry” is available on most podcast platforms.

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