Cadillac will begin offering its first battery-car, the plug-in 2014 ELR, in January. Sharing the basic underpinnings of the more mainstream Chevrolet Volt, the Caddy ELR will test the waters for more up-market battery vehicles – and begin the General Motors’ promised campaign to “tackle” rival Tesla Motors.
At $75,995, including a $995 destination charge, the 2014 Cadillac ELR will cost nearly twice as much – before federal tax incentives — as the Chevy Volt which has undergone several price reductions this year in an effort to help spur lagging sales. Industry analysts have suggested that price, as much as limited range, is a major factor in the slow growth of the nascent battery-car market.
Manufacturers have been rethinking strategy, looking at more upscale options in the hope that green-minded luxury buyers will be less sensitive to the price premium for battery technology. With the exception of last month when the entire industry saw a sales dip, Tesla had largely defied the slump faced by most other battery-car manufacturers, its Model S sedan going for as much as $108,000 when fully loaded.
“The ELR is a unique blend of dramatic design with electric vehicle technology capable of total range in excess of 300 miles,” said Bob Ferguson, senior vice president Global Cadillac, adding up the 35 miles it can get on battery power alone, along with the range of its gasoline-powered back engine.
(Humbled Cadillac needs products and patience to regain its once-lofty status, Ferguson says. Click Here for the full story.)
Like the Volt, the new Cadillac ELR combines an efficient, range-extending 1.4-liter gasoline-powered electric generator and a T-shaped, 16.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack located along the centerline of the vehicle. Under normal conditions, with the battery fully charged, that pack powers the electric motor driving the front wheels. When the battery runs down, or when an extra burst of power is needed for, say, accelerating onto a freeway, the inline-four gas engine kicks in.
While the driveline may be the same, that’s where the Cadillac ELR and Chevy Volt part ways. Cadillac’s “extended-range electric vehicle” features the same sort of craftsmanship found on other new models from GM’s flagship brand, such as the 2014 Caddy CTS, with handcrafted leather and “authentic” wood grain.
The ELR’s exterior design picks up on Caddy’s distinctive Art & Science design language – in fact, it becomes arguably the most edgy model in the line-up. Among the energy-saving features on the car are LED head and taillights.
The ELR also gets a new Regen on Demand feature that allows the driver to temporarily recapture energy when coasting by using the vehicle’s steering-wheel shift paddles.
“ELR is also unique in that it will be offered nationwide within a luxury customer experience, with proven benefits and care extending from the shopping process all the way through the ownership experience,” noted brand chief Ferguson, referring to a special concierge service Cadillac has specifically created for ELR customers.
Whether that will win over skeptical buyers remains to be seen. Battery car sales took a sharp tumble in September, significantly sharper than the decline of the overall U.S. car market. The Chevy Volt, in particular, was down 47% for the month, and has been struggling to maintain momentum all year. But even the Tesla Model S, which had been exceeding the maker’s own forecasts, slipped in September.
(Toyota latest to cut prices in bid to spur lagging battery-car sales. Click Here to see what models were impacted.)
Like its competition, GM is hoping that last month’s poor showing was a fluke. Many analysts, including AutoTrends Consulting’s Joe Phillippi, believe that luxury buyers may be more open to paying the price premium for a battery-based vehicle. While they are less worried about fuel prices, he noted, many luxury buyers want to be seen as “green.” Plus, in states like California, they may be able to gain access to the coveted HOV commuter lanes even with only one person in the vehicle.
That has certainly helped Tesla gain ground in the Golden State, Model S sedans becoming increasingly common in trendy Los Angeles. That has, in turn, spurred envy at GM, the maker’s CEO Dan Akerson recently suggesting that Cadillac will tackle the Silicon Valley start-up. GM has revealed it is working on a battery-electric vehicle that would get at least 200 miles range, about double what most current BEVs can deliver and closer to the optional Model S pack capable of nearly 300 miles per charge.
(Tesla CEO Musk insists Model S safe despite battery fire. Click Here for the latest on the story.)
A number of other high-line makers are targeting the battery-car segment, however. BMW, for example, is getting ready to launch its new i3 city car, which will be available both in pure battery-electric and in plug-in configurations. That will be followed by the plug-in BMW i8 sports car. Mercedes-Benz will bring to the U.S. a battery-electric version of its B-Class model next year, and unveiled a plug-in version of its all-new S-Class at the Frankfurt Motor Show last month. Audi will offer a plug-in version of its newly redesigned A3 and then will add so-called e-tron versions of other models.
Japanese luxury makers also are entering the arena. Lexus was a pioneer in conventional hybrid technology. Acura will introduce a new 3-motor hybrid version of the reborn NSX supercar next year. Infiniti recently announced a delay in its battery-electric LE, basically a high-line version of the Nissan Leaf, but the maker says the move was meant to allow it to improve on the limited range and performance of the Leaf.
And that, observers stress, could be critical to drawing in high-line buyers who expect little compromise when spending the extra money a premium badge commands. Ultimately, the formula for success is likely to include better range, improved performance – and all the other, traditional touches, like leather and wood, expected of a luxury vehicle.
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