(Editor’s Note: This the first two Q&As about to the 2023 Cadillac Lyriq. Wednesday’s will be with Tristan Murphy, Cadillac Lyriq interior design manager.)
The 2023 Cadillac Lyriq is a historic model, if only for its status as the brand’s first fully battery-electric vehicle in Cadillac’s 120-year history. It also marks a turning point for General Motors, as it is trying more than ever to reestablish Cadillac as “The Standard of the World.”
To get a sense of what’s involved beyond engineering, TheDetroitBureau.com spoke to its designers, to get a sense of what makes this Cadillac superior to what’s been designed previously.
We begin with Josh Thurber, who joined GM as an intern in 1998, and has spent the last eight years at Cadillac, working on the Cadillac CT4, CT5, the Blackwings, the Lyriq as well as other vehicles that haven’t come out yet. Here’s our conversation, which has been edited for clarity and length.
TheDetroitBureau.com: So, you’re Josh Thurber. Like James Thurber?
Josh Thurber: Yes, and we’re related. Most Thurbers are all related. Isn’t that crazy?
TDB: Talk about the Lyriq and the change in direction it represents for Cadillac styling.
JT: Absolutely. When we started Lyriq it was all about shifting, and really leaning into our EV future. So it came with (questions like) what’s our new lighting signature? What do you want to do with the face? What do we want to do with the form? And so we really took that to heart and really worked to invent something new for Cadillac.
TDB: You’ve talked about trying something fresh. What did you bring with you?
JT: Sometimes as a designer, you’ll benchmark other stuff. But for this one, we were looking at other things. We were looking at fashion and art. We were looking at stuff like that and considering how do we bring some of this high fashion, high luxury into this EV space and really invent something new.
TDB: Was there a lot of push and pull about walking away from Cadillac’s rear vertical lighting signature? We had heard that there was a lot of back and forth.
JT: We went back and forth a lot on the horizontal part. And as we kept developing it, we wanted to emphasize the vertical. We liked the opportunity that the string LED gave us for swiped turns. And so you’ll notice that on the lamps when you drive is the swipe turn aspect of it just bringing the car to life. We’re not going to walk away from horizontal, but the horizontal elements can come in now. In the front, the horizontal is on the turn, but the main light in the front is vertical, so we’re not afraid to mix it up a little bit.
TDB: When you finally complete the design, does it surprise you how much it inadvertently calls to mind something from Cadillac’s past? After all, there’s 120 years of design history.
JT: When you talk about those cars that are so iconic in the past for Cadillac, I think this is going to be one of those cars. Cadillac was always pushing to the forefront and doing things in the past that were a bit Avant Garde and pushing the boundaries, and we really wanted to take that same philosophy. We’re supposed to be the standard of the world; we need to push out there, make ourselves a little uncomfortable when we’re doing it, which is OK.
TDB: There’s more detailing on this car than there has been in recent in recent memory.
JT: Yes. When we were doing the Blackwings, we wanted to leave no stone unturned on that vehicle. Every little detail, every element of the car we paid attention to, both interior and exterior. And we’re pushing that philosophy forward on the Lyriq and on the other entries. We’re doing that we’re designing every aspect of the vehicle. We just took it to heart that we couldn’t be lazy about the design. We had to be passionate, looking at every possible detail and not leaving any stone unturned. We had to be really diligent in that regard.
TDB: It’s unusual for any GM vehicle program to not have any carryover parts, but that’s true of the Lyriq. How did it feel to have total freedom to design, knowing that it was everything you’re starting from zero?
JT: It’s a designer’s dream, I’m not going to lie. The fact that I got to work with the team, from the show car all the way to production, was also a real opportunity for us. Most of the time, the show car might have been done by one of our advanced studios and I would have been handed something to produce. But being able to work on it from the very beginning of concept to production, working in the architecture phase really early to make sure that we got the car we wanted at the end of the day was very, very special.
TDB: Do you feel that’s a lesson for other divisions within GM?
JT: Yeah, and it’s a long process. Doing a show car and then a production car; there’s three, four years of my life. But it’s important in the advanced space to load up really strong themes that we can take through in production because once the production program starts, if you’re on a journey of exploration, it’s too late. You need to come to that production program with a strong vision, and Lyriq is a perfect example of that.
TDB: Did you approach the design differently knowing it had to be a starting point for future products?
JT: Yeah, it was a heavy burden. But we were defining the next face for Cadillac and there was a lot of invention of technology, and processes. And what we’re going to commit to? How we’re going to roll it forward into other programs? Are we going to dial it up or dial it down? It was huge opportunity and it was it was quite a challenge. I mean, the lights, those slimline vertical nine module lights. We were developing a lot of the engineering on the fly; a lot of engineering manpower went into making those possible, even though the lit grill and the laser ablation was something of an industry first and definitely a first for us.
TDB: Do you have a favorite Cadillac?
JT: You know Eldorado coupes are great. And you know, one of my favorites was the CTS-V wagon. How can you not love those? And you know, the CTS-V coupe, when they came out, they were so striking and radical, and it was like, all right, yeah, way to go Cadillac.
TDB: Do you feel that GM might be looking at using this team design for designing in the future?
JT: Yeah, I think this is really a legacy of (Vice President of Global Design) Mike Simcoe really empowering design and Lyriq was definitely an inflection point. And it’s carried through on other products now. The Blazer at Chevrolet they just showed, the Silverado EV, the Hummer. It’s definitely a change in culture in design and the other parts of the company understanding and valuing what we do.
TDB: Does Mike Simcoe’s coming from Australia add a different voice or viewpoint to GM?
JT: I think so. Mike’s a driven guy. He demands perfection, and we all do our best to try to deliver that. But he also is a leader who will go and fight for you. He’s great like that. That’s kind of how the culture has changed and I think the collaboration between engineering design is better than it’s ever been in that regard. Hopefully, we can keep it going. I’ve been at GM 24 years, so I’ve seen the good and the bad.
TDB: Was the Escalade in the back of your mind as you’re designing the Lyriq? It’s Cadillac’s top seller, and to many people, it’s the car that symbolizes Cadillac.
JT: The Escalade definitely carries a lot of weight. Literally. And just so you know, the philosophy of mind that everything about it just reeks Cadillac. You know, I didn’t want to do a baby Escalade, but I wanted to take that same philosophy into Lyriq. It’s got to be a memorable silhouette. It’s got to be proportionately, you know, something that’s striking, and we’ve got to make sure that just like an Escalade, we wouldn’t leave any stone unturned. We got to do the same here. We’ve got to make sure we’re paying attention to every detail.
TDB: It’s interesting, but none of the Lyriq’s forms are familiar. Whereas the early CTS modernized older design elements, you have the barest of familiar Cadillac design elements here. That’s dangerous.
JT: I think our bet paid off. You know, designers don’t like clinics. But this car is the highest scoring design we’ve ever had a clinic; we’ve never scored any higher. It still holds the record on the metrics. I was at the event in L.A., and one thing that I remember was a husband and wife came up to me from L.A., and they’re telling me how excited their teenage sons are about the Lyriq. And wow, that’s cool, even these young people are excited about a Cadillac SUV, you know, but it’s because it’s so fresh and like it’s, it’s pushing that boundary.