} ;

Is there a new automotive design language in Manhattan? (And will Cadillac discover it?)

10 August 2015 | by Karl Smith

Last year, when Cadillac announced it was moving its headquarters to New York from its home in Detroit, eyebrows were raised throughout the industry and in the press.

Traditionalists bemoaned the abandonment of Detroit; another sign of that city’s storied decline. Cynics snarcked at the move as a hollow attempt to cozy up to moneyed and fashionable elite of Park and Madison Avenues. Another hayseed brand trying to make it in the big city. Even Cadillac’s most ardent supporters were skeptical of the move.

But Cadillac may yet have the last laugh.

Since last autumn it has quietly worked to set up shop in the SoHo’s trendy Hudson Square neighbourhood. The advertisements for Cadillac’s vehicles have begun featuring New York street shots (curiously devoid of the notorious traffic), and, as this New York Times article points out, was a significant presence at New York’s revived Fashion Week for Men this July. All this is a sign of Cadillac settling in, getting down to work, establishing itself in the Big Apple.

But as significant as this might be from a branding and market positioning standpoint, the real opportunity here is in design. The native environment of the car in the twenty-first century is the city, and yet we still don’t have a well-defined urban design language. Certainly Smart and BMW have weighed in with their ideas, but do these represent the optimal design language for the urban car?

Manhattan could be a great laboratory for the design of the urban car. The grid of the streets and skyscraper facades, the organic forms of Central Park and the drapery of the ever-changing fashions, the arts and theatre scene, even the intensity and noise of the place all contribute to a heady mix of ingredients that, mixed together in the right combination, could be the just the design cocktail we have been looking for.

Cadillac has positioned itself perfectly to take advantage of the energy and vibe of Manhattan. Let’s hope that along with the sales and marketing departments, Cadillac has established a place for a design team to work and experience the city and be influenced by the culture by one of the great urban environments of the world.

There’s some precedence for this. Chris Bangle took a design team to Knightsbridge, in London, to work on the design for the new Rolls Royce Phantom by observing potential customers in their natural habitat. A similar move by Cadillac could yield a new design language that could extend across all of its models and influence over the entire industry far into the future.

All this comes at a time when Cadillac design is riding high, with two recent concept cars, the Ciel and the Elmiraj, that have won accolades for tapping into traditional Cadillac design cues, and for bringing back the concept of Big American Luxury. Could Cadillac bring this design ethos to the occasion of the urban car? Can there be a vehicle with Big American Luxury in a package and aesthetic proportioned to the megacity of today and tomorrow?

Time will tell if Cadillac is the marque that discovers a new urban design language.
One thing is for certain, they have positioned themselves perfectly to do so – in both time and place. Can they seize the advantage?