In a web media conference this week, Cadillac unveiled their electric SUV for the 2023 model year. The Lyriq, company executives said, would serve as the Detroit carmaker’s first production proof in an ambitious plan: Cadillac, they said, would eliminate internal combustion-engine cars entirely from their lineup by 2030.
“The time is absolutely right to make this pivot,” said Rory Harvey, Cadillac’s British-born global vice-president at Lyriq’s unveiling earlier this week. While Cadillac will continue to sell its current assortment of gasoline-powered sedans and SUVs—including its hugely profitable Escalade SUV—Harvey said that every new Cadillac introduced in North America going forward will be an electric luxury vehicle.
“It’s public record that we said we would enter this decade as an ICE brand, and we would leave this decade as an EV brand,” Harvey said.
The Lyriq brings a company-estimated driving range of more than 300 miles, with 340 horsepower (255 kW) and 325 pound-feet (441 Nm) of torque from a single, rear-drive permanent magnet motor. A more-powerful, dual-motor AWD version is in the works, the better for American buyers who prefer all-wheel traction in their SUVs.
The Lyriq’s competitive $59,990 price, fully equipped, suggests that GM is making headway on its goal of driving down EV battery-and-manufacturing costs, in part through its growing captive battery capacity. (The Lyriq’s only extra-cost option is 22-inch wheels at $1,550, with 20-inch wheels standard). That price sharply undercuts a pair of electric rivals from legacy brands: The Jaguar iPace at $71,000, or the Audi E-Tron at $67,590. Both those models can soar past $80,000 with options.
A Tesla Model X Long Range is roomier and decisively more powerful than the Caddy, and it offers a nominal 360-mile (579 km) range (though closer to 300 (483 km) in real-world driving). The Tesla starts from $91,190, after a $10,000 price increase for the restyled 2021 version; a mega-powered Model X Plaid now costs $119,990.
Cadillac said its midsize SUV would now reach showrooms by March 2022—nine months ahead of original schedule, and a striking contrast to Tesla’s chronic new-product delays. But the accelerated development, with Cadillac already testing and fine-tuning prototype Lyriqs, shows the brand’s urgency to close the gap with Tesla and establish itself as a legitimate electric brand. Cadillac’s only previous electrified car, the ELR plug-in hybrid coupe that shared technology with the Chevrolet Bolt, was a notorious flop, finding fewer than 3,000 buyers between 2012 and 2014 before General Motors pulled the plug. Cadillac is also managing an exodus of franchised dealers who aren’t on board with grand EV plans, offering buyouts to hundreds of dealers and sharply winnowing its U.S. network.
The Lyriq, then, becomes a litmus test for a brand once synonymous with fuel-thirsty land yachts; which more recently pivoted to German-baiting performance sedans that drew critical plaudits but modest sales. Can Cadillac, whose global sales soared 66 percent in the first quarter of 2021, convince enough luxury-minded consumers to not only swear off gasoline, but put Cadillac on their shopping lists alongside Tesla?
GM itself is investing up to $27 billion in EVs and autonomous cars by 2025—exceeding its spending on gasoline and diesel development—to bring at least 30 new global models to market. That’s part of GM’s public pledge to to be all-electric by 2035. But like other major automakers floating similar promises, including Ford, Volvo and Jaguar, those automakers will feel free to adjust course—apologies optional—if customers prove unwilling to switch over to EVs quite so precipitously as carmakers today seem eager to.
Steve Carlisle, GM’s North American chief, told Automotive News that while the company intends to deliver on its electric promise, it can’t watch its business slip away if market demand doesn’t support EVs.
“We’re all in, but we need other people to join us,” Carlisle said. “We’re going to everything we can possibly do to make that future come true. There’s a bit of leading the horse to water.”
For one, AlixPartners estimates it will take $300 billion to create a public charging network to support EVs at even 2030 levels, $50 billion of that in the U.S. President Joe Biden is making that charging network a priority of his $2.25-trillion infrastructure plan, with a promise to install 500,000 chargers by 2030, to “win the EV market.” To drive EV adoption, $174 billion in spending includes EV tax credits for buyers, money for factory retooling and American-sourced raw materials, and incentives for charging infrastructure.
For its part in the EV consumer battle now underway, Lyriq brings GM’s third-generation global EV platform, stuffed with 12 modules and 100 kWh of low-cobalt, lithium-ion batteries. Those batteries are a structural element of GM’s BEV3 chassis, allowing near 50/50 weight distribution front-to-rear. The Ultium-branded batteries will be sourced from GM’s giga-scaled factory in Lordstown, Ohio (in partnership with LG Chem), even as the company throws another $2.3 billion at a second Ultium factory in Spring Hill, Tenn. GM is investing an additional $2 billion to build the Lyriq and other EVs at Spring Hill, at a former Saturn plant that currently produces the gasoline-powered Cadillac XT5 and XT6 SUVs.
The Caddy’s tech talking points include a dramatic 33-inch OLED screen under curved glass, and GM’s impressively hands-free, Lidar-mapped Super Cruise semi-autonomous system. The roughly 300-mile (483 km) driving range, despite a chunky, 5,610-pound (2,545 kg) curb weight, smokes the Audi, Jaguar or smaller Volvo XC40 Recharge, but falls short of Tesla’s long-range best. Robust DC fast-charging capability of up to 190 kilowatts will add 76 miles (122 km) of range in 10 minutes, or 195 miles (314 km) in 30 minutes.
But speedy home charging (or public Level 2) appears the Cadillac’s trump card, at least for now: An onboard, 19.2 kilowatt charging module sets an industry high for standard Level 2 charging; versus an 11.5 kW maximum for Tesla models, or the similar 11 kW peak of the Ford Mustang Mach-E and many other EVS. That 19.2 kW (80-amp equivalent) is the maximum carried by the SAE’s J1772 connector used by every the vast majority of EV’s, save Tesla. Audi will soon offer an extra-cost, dual-charger option with a claimed 22-kilowatt capability on its 2021 E-Tron and E-Tron Sportback, versus its standard 11 kW charger; though its own J1772 connector would seem to limit the actual charging rate to a maximum 19.2 kW.
So equipped, Cadillac says the Lyriq can add up to 52 miles of range in one hour on a dedicated three-phase, 100-amp AC home connection: Useful electric miles, in the time it takes to whip up lunch. Another cool feature is a steering-wheel paddle shifter that can adjust the level of regenerative braking on-the-fly, including a robust setting for the one-pedal driving that many EV fans favors. That’s a welcome development for drivers who don’t like the factory-set regen levels or basic on/off settings of too many EVs. Aside from its dash-spanning OLED screen with a range of 1 billion colors—actually three screens oriented to appear as one—the clean-lined cabin offers such niceties as active noise cancellation, aluminum and laser-cut wood trim, ambient lighting and a 19-speaker AKG audio system.
Dramatic, show-car-style lighting includes striking, fully vertical headlamp elements, with a choreographed illumination sequence of 736 exterior LED’s as the car senses a driver’s approach or departure. (The Cadillac crest lights up as well). Instead of the blocked-off, rather faceless front ends of many EVs—which don’t require grille openings or radiators for engine cooling—the Lyriq adopts a translucent “crystal black” panel with LED pinstriping that mimics a traditional grille. That panel disguises multiple sensors to manage its safety and semi-autonomous driving systems. But for whatever reason, there’s no storage “frunk” up front, a head-scratching omission for an EV.
The Lyriq is the avatar for several electric Cadillacs to come, including a three-row, roughly 400-mile-range SUV that will share its massive 200 kWh battery pack with the upcoming GMC Hummer EV; and a Cadillac Celestiq halo sedan with tightly limited, hand-crafted production. The electric cars are coming. Now all Cadillac needs is electric customers.
Lawrence Ulrich is an award-winning auto writer and former chief auto critic at The New York Times and The Detroit Free Press.