Cadillac proclaims its future with Thursday debut of all-electric Lyriq

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — Cadillac is turning to its next chapter as an electric-vehicle brand with the debut of the 2022 Cadillac Lyriq crossover.

The battery-powered Lyriq, Cadillac's first all-electric vehicle, will debut online Thursday night. Although the Lyriq is not expected to hit showrooms until sometime in 2022, it marks the beginning of Cadillac’s dive into electrics. General Motors Co.'s stated goal is to sell more Cadillacs with rechargeable batteries than gas tanks by 2030.

A rendering of the Cadillac Lyriq, the luxury brand's first all-electric vehicle. The real SUV will be unveiled Thursday night.

Some industry observers see it as a chance for Cadillac to finally move ahead of foreign luxury-makers. Others question whether it's realistic in a time when only a small percentage of buyers shop electrics.

“It's no secret they want to elevate their brand, they want to compete with the European luxury automakers, and it seems like they've tried various avenues like performance,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for market researcher Edmunds. “So I wonder if this is one of those ways that they want to differentiate themselves, but it's not necessarily going to materialize into anything that is long-lasting.”

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Steve Carlisle, senior vice president and president of Cadillac — and soon to become executive vice president and president of North America — told reporters in December that by 2030, he expects “to see the internal combustion fade away and the electric start to dominate. We will be in a position to be 100% electric by the latter part of the decade."

Automotive industry analyst Karl Brauer is wary of long-term commitments like Carlisle's: "Because nobody is going to look back and say, ‘He was wrong, they're not all electric.’ In other words, what's he got to lose by making that prediction?”

Cadillac's plan hasn’t changed since December, despite a two-month shutdown of plants due to the pandemic that drove the automaker to an $800 million loss in the second quarter. GM says it's still pushing forward on its aggressive EV plans, Lyriq included. The automaker aims to have 20 electric nameplates globally by 2023 and will spend $20 billion on electric and autonomous vehicle production through 2025. 

GM picked Cadillac as the brand to lead its transition to EVs. Cadillac first teased images of the Lyriq in spring 2019. Though GM has been secretive on details, it has confirmed the electric crossover will have a 33-inch display screen and will be fitted with Super Cruise, GM’s advanced driver-assist technology. 

Cadillac released a teaser photo of the Lyriq battery SUV. It debuts Thursday.
will be unveiled Aug. 6.

The Lyriq will be powered by GM’s new Ultium battery, which has energy options ranging from 50 to 200 kWh. The automaker estimates the batteries will be able to push some vehicles to 400 miles or more on a single charge.

Thursday's debut "absolutely marks the beginning of a new chapter for Cadillac,” said Rory Harvey, vice president of Cadillac North America sales, service and marketing, and next global boss of the brand. 

“If you go back in time, there will have been a number of sort of important chapters written in Cadillac history ...  there’s no doubt this is absolutely a pivotal moment," he said.

Cadillac in recent decades has struggled to keep up with European competitors like Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Its performance V-series was aimed at BMW. It also began using alphanumeric names like the competition. With the Lyriq, it's ditching those jumbles of letters and numbers.

But European luxury-makers aren't sitting still either. BMW last week said it will build a fully electric 5-series as part of a sweeping remake of the brand. 

Electric vehicles still make up only a small percentage of sales. Hybrids and fully electric vehicles together accounted for just over 4% of total sales in 2019, according to Edmunds, with all-electric models accounting for a third of those sold. But a big proportion of battery-only sales were luxury models — more than 80%.

Cadillac's most formidable competitor in the luxury EV segment is not a European brand. It's Silicon Valley's Tesla, which remains the EV leader.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Tesla still was able to sell 90,650 EVs in April through June. More than 10,000 of them were the $70,000-plus Model S or Model X. Compare that to Audi's e-tron SUV, which managed only 1,161 sales in that time period.

Cadillac dealers say they're cautiously excited about what's coming down the road.

Edward J. Pobur, executive manager at Cadillac of Novi, has been selling cars — mostly Cadillacs — for 35 years. He has some qualms about the brand going mostly electric, but he knows "that's the way the current business is going."

"If we go into a world that they don't want to be in, then we lose customers," he said. "That worries me if you throw all your eggs into one basket. I think it's the right way to go. I don't know if it's 100% of the right way to go."

Cadillac in the past has offered some hybrids, including the discontinued ELR. But that's not what the brand has been known for.

"The Lyriq is going to bring a whole new set of customers to our showroom," said Michael Walls, general sales manager at LaFontaine Cadillac Buick GMC in Highland Township. "I believe Cadillac's innovation and their EV technology is going to be right up there with the rest of them."

Twitter: @bykaleahall