Co.Design

Cadillac Unveils Ciel, And Harkens Back To Its Land Yachts Of Yore

Inspired by joy riding along the California coast, the Ciel sports finely crafted details along with hybrid technology.

For years, the buzz out of Detroit has been a new focus on smaller cars, to compete in a market where gas costs $4 a gallon. Which makes Cadillac's latest concept offering bizarre, to say the least: The so-called Ciel harkens back to the company's massive land yachts of the 1960s and 1970s. You know, those massive "coupes" that took about seven turns of the steering wheel to back out of a parking space. But it's a credit to the brand's current designers that this whale, while reveling in some of the worst days of American auto design, actually looks pretty stylish.

As the press release helpfully notes, Ciel is the “French translation for sky,” and the four-door monster is meant to be a sort of oversized picnic blanket for the open road. And while the French name seems a tad pretentious, the brand itself was named after the 17th-century French explorer Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, who founded Detroit in 1701 -- and French, for that reason, has marked many of the company's most memorable behemoths, such as the Coupe de Ville.

Just as the old Coupe de Ville was a premium car with deluxe details, Ciel flaunts the beauty of handcraftsmanship: plush leather and Italian Olive wood, harvested from a single fallen tree and hand-milled and finished by expert woodworking craftsmen. A cashmere blanket is stashed in the backseat; a rear center console holds a small humidor stocked with a few cigars. The four doors open French-style, with the back doors hinged at the rear-- there is no B-pillar--to dramatically reveal a sweeping look at the lavish interior. And though the car is meant to renew the pleasure of grand touring, the eco-minded can be (sort of) consoled by the fact that it’s powered by a hybrid system using lithium-ion battery technology.

Could GM be signaling an ambition to recapture the luxury market? Given the uncertainty driving the stock market and the fragility of the American car industry, that’s a risky bid (although one that Caddy is hedging with a two-door hybrid built on the Chevy Volt Platform).

Let’s hope it all doesn't end in a contretemps -- that’s French for “embarrassing mistake.”