RICK KRANZ

Caddy dreaming of drop-top sedan?

Cadillac Ciel concept: 4-door convertible in the future?
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News

Could a four-door Cadillac convertible be on the horizon?

Anything and everything is open to consideration, says Clay Dean, global design director for Cadillac.

Dean was at a press event Monday held for the Detroit media to introduce the Ciel, a concept that suggests the styling direction Cadillac might embrace for a future flagship. The design pushes the brand's art-and-science philosophy into a new stratum. Earlier this month, the automaker unveiled the Ciel at the Concours d'Elegance classic car show in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Distinguishing fender lines run the length of the Ciel, and nickel-plated brightwork accents the body lines. The spacious interior seats four and features Italian olive wood plus nickel-plated accents.

"Cadillac is throwing out some ideas about size, configuration, form, color, interior technology and seeing what people think," Dean says.

In terms of size, the Ciel is big by today's car standards. The concept boasts a 125-inch wheelbase, 9.4 inches longer than the outgoing DTS sedan. The overall length is about four inches shorter than the DTS, but the short front overhang makes the car appear longer than it really is.

Power comes from a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 engine, paired with a hybrid system using lithium ion battery technology. The all-wheel-drive concept was developed on a rear-drive platform.

Ciel was developed at GM Design's North Hollywood design center, which is managed by Frank Saucedo. Niki Smart was the lead exterior designer, with Gael Buzyn leading interior development.

Dean says the Ciel is more than a dream car. A few styling cues will evolve into the next generation of Cadillacs.

A vertical strip of light-emitting diodes is positioned at the Ciel's front corners, composing the headlight and fog light treatments. The striking lighting treatment will be a major styling element of Cadillac's future cars, Dean says.

The taillight treatment consists of a vertical strip of red LEDs. Look for that design element to evolve on the next generation of Cadillacs.

How soon? Dean doesn't say.

But I would expect that the upcoming ATS, the compact rear-drive Caddy that arrives next spring, is a likely candidate. That car is aimed at the BMW 3 series.

Another candidate is the XTS, the all-wheel-drive sedan that arrives in the summer of 2012. The XTS replaces the STS, which has been dropped.

Besides the stunning styling, what surprised the media and, I am told, enthusiasts at Pebble Beach is the concept's configuration: a four-door convertible.

The rear doors are French style, meaning they are hinged at the rear. Such doors over the decades have been labeled "suicide doors." The last four-door convertible offered by the Detroit 3 was the beautiful Lincoln Continental in the 1960s.

Asked if a four-door convertible is under consideration, Dean teases: "A vehicle like this happened in the past. Why wouldn't it happen in the future?"

But he's quick to add, "Sometimes we walk away from a segment, and the question I ask is, 'Why did we walk away?' "

Even if a four-door convertible is never produced, a flagship, four-door sedan based on Ciel would make Cadillac a much stronger luxury brand. It finally would have a credible competitor to pit against the Audi A8, BMW 7 series and Mercedes-Benz S class.

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