Ciel concept previews future Cadillac luxury-car technologies and design

  • 10-Sep-2011 12:41 EDT
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Front view of Ciel shows U-shaped LED strip that provides all front lighting, including daytime running lights. The windshield frame is an A-pillar structural member.

Cadillac’s two new cars, the ATS compact sports sedan and XTS front-drive luxury sedan, won’t reach the market until next year. The rear-drive ATS is intended to help Cadillac compete with the BMW 3 Series, and the XTS will go up against mid-luxury cars such as the Audi A6. An official illustration of the ATS has been released and spy photos of both the ATS and XTS have been all over the Internet. (Production of the DTS, Cadillac’s large front-drive V8 sedan, ended with the 2011 model year.)

But the “in-the-metal” concept Ciel (French for sky) that Cadillac debuted at Pebble Beach and is featuring at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show, contains a menu of technologies from which it will choose for luxury-class vehicles a few years further down the road. For openers, one would be the Cadillac competitor-to-come for Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8.

The open-top concept vehicle (there’s actually no top—soft or hard—yet designed for it) is a four-door convertible, a type that hasn’t been in production since the 1967 Lincoln Continental because a design without a B-pillar raises structural rigidity and side-impact safety issues. ASC’s 2005 Helios four-door convertible concept, based on the Chrysler 300, used stub B-pillars, complex cross-car beaming, and other structural changes within the body itself—a clever design that never went into production.

Although there are body structural upgrades out-of-sight for the Ciel, Cadillac has a simpler, more stylish approach, also using “suicide" rear doors. A half B-pillar is built into the end of each door. The doors engage and then lock in latching slots recessed in the body floor side sills. The doors are pinned to each other near the top, as a pin in one door automatically extends into a slot in the other. With the two doors latched to the side sill and pinned together, the result is a stub B-pillar.

When a door is opened, the pin retracts and the overall view is of a virtually flat entry, so the entry-exit advantage of the suicide door design is not affected by a bracing system that provides structure at the expense of appearance. Similar, though less visually appealing, approaches have been used on vehicles with suicide doors and roofs, the Honda Element being a recent production example. The A-pillar also has a “hidden” structural member, but it’s in plain view: the polished aluminum windshield frame.

The Ciel is built on a 125-in (3175-mm) wheelbase and overall length is 203 in (5174 mm), 11.4 in (290 mm) longer than the CTS sedan. The Ciel technology list covers both function and appearance.

The powertrain provides an interesting combination of power and fuel economy. The engine is a twin-turbo version of the direct-injected 3.6-L V6 rated at 425 hp (317 kW) and 430 lb·ft (583 N·m). The underhood heat from the engine could be an issue, particularly with adjacent hybrid electronics, so the Ciel has a flare-shaped outlet at each rear side of the hood that is not only stylish but also functional, improving airflow through the engine compartment.

The engine is mated to what’s being called a “four-mode” hybrid system. General Motors engineers have referred to it as an evolution of their two-mode system, in which two motor-generators are integrated with a four-speed automatic transmission. There has been no official technical explanation or feature description of the four-mode system, which is being planned for 2013 introduction, except that it will provide all-electric operation at low speed to increase fuel economy in that type of operation. Speculation includes additional motors for a wider range of hybrid operation, perhaps combined with a transmission with more geared speeds, in conjunction with modification to the power flow. So there could be hybrid operation at increased road speeds for improved highway fuel economy. The battery pack would be lithium-ion.

Unlike the powered-close-only rear doors used by Rolls Royce, the Ciel’s four doors all can be opened and closed by pressing buttons. The concept car doesn’t have proximity sensors in the doors, but a production version obviously would require them, so the opening doors wouldn’t hit adjacent cars, parking lot stanchions, etc.

The screens built into the back of each of the front seats, for rear seat passengers, aren’t just DVD monitors. They’re full-featured connectivity stations. The front passenger can also press a button, the glovebox slides slightly rearward, and a connectivity screen pops up for his/her use. The center console contains a cigar humidor in the rear section. Was this put into the suggestion box by Bob Lutz?

There are no HVAC registers in sight. Cleverly hidden apertures along the dashboard and in the doors are the openings from specially shaped ducts, and they allow heated or cooled breezes to waft out toward the passengers. If Cadillac hadn’t shown them to us, we probably wouldn’t have found them on our own without operating the system.

Because the Ciel is an open-top car, there is the possibility of a chill. To comfort the rear seat passengers, cashmere blankets can be pulled from trim panels over the shoulder close to the center rear, using a mechanism similar to a seat belt, and retracted when desired. These are in addition to the heating/cooling feature built into all four seats.

The front lighting is by all LEDs, in a U-shape from one front fender side to the other, curving under the grille and license plate mount. This LED strip is on whenever the car is running to provide the daytime running lights function. At the sides, the vertical part of the LED lighting strip can be increased to high output to provide headlamp and other lighting functions.

The 22-inch milled billet aluminum wheels have a brushed nickel finish with “tint” chrome plated inserts in the spokes. The inserts have a color-change effect, varying from purple in bright light to a hint of gold in dark shade. The front brakes have six-piston calipers with vented rotors made of carbon fiber, which has become a new symbol of high performance.

Some high-tech interiors can come across as cold, but the Ciel produces a warmer look with Italian olive wood trim on the doors, instrument panel, console, and front seat backs. This approach not only represents an extensive use of wood, but it’s solid wood, not the wafer-thin veneer normally employed. It’s doubtful that any true production car could absorb the cost.

The Italian olive wood is from a sustainable source, and Cadillac took extra pains to install it in the Ciel in an environmentally acceptable way: obtaining an already fallen Italian olive tree from a California producer of premium olive oil. The tree was kiln-dried and all parts photographed so the grain could be matched after the hand-milling and hand-finishing of the trim pieces.

Cadillac also will have a plug-in extended-range electric vehicle based on the Chevrolet Volt. Shown as a concept called the Converj, it has been renamed the ELR and will go into production at a time to be announced, with new sheet metal and interior.

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