PHOENIX - Selling a Cadillac without chrome or script badges once would have been like selling a hamburger without beef.
However, General Motors is revamping its luxury division to answer intense competition from Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. With a revised engine, new gadgets and few traditional Cadillac frills, the 2000 DeVille is the opening shot in Cadillac's four-year product offensive intended to change its image.
That offensive will include a Seville converted to rear-wheel drive, the Evoq sports car, a sport wagon and a redesigned Catera.
Meanwhile, the new de-chromed DeVille is crucial to Cadillac's volume. Last year, 99,779 DeVilles were sold, 55 percent of the division's total.
DeVille brand manager Pat Kemp, meeting with journalists during a demonstration drive here, said the DeVille has to keep up with luxury buyers, a segment GM sees evolving toward the tastes of the 77 million baby boomers.
Currently, only about 20 percent of DeVille buyers are in the boomers' age group of 35 to 53. Hence, Cadillac has avoided radical changes that would alienate traditional owners, who average 63 years old, and the 25 percent made up of fleet, limousine and funeral-home buyers.
But 'the boomer group is growing into the segment,' Kemp said. If Cadillac gets it right, boomers will be buying 50 percent of all DeVilles in five years, he says.
To prepare the DeVille for a new generation, Cadillac is divorcing it from its stodgy image as a car for the silver-haired crowd. For example, the current DeVille's baroque trim names, D'Elegance and Concours, 'go out of business at the end of this year,' Kemp said.
Cadillac has replaced them with more modern alphabetic designations. The mid-level DHS stands for DeVille High Luxury Sedan, while the sportier top-level DTS means DeVille Touring Sedan. Base models still will be known simply as DeVilles.
The 2000 DeVille moves to GM's stiffer G platform, which it shares with the Cadillac Seville, Buick Park Avenue and Oldsmobile Aurora. The DeVille's designers penned a more slippery body characterized by vertically stacked headlights and a sloping, less formal C-pillar resembling that of the Seville.
Rounded flanks give the body side more curve, and aerodynamic drag is cut from 0.37 on the current model to 0.301. Kemp calls the DeVille's new shape 'a more contemporary image.'
Also more contemporary is the DeVille's technology. It is the first Cadillac with Night Vision, an optional head-up display that projects a see-in-the-dark image on the windshield using an infrared thermal camera in the grille.
DTS models have a new generation of Cadillac's 'road-sensing' suspension. A computer monitors steering and cornering to stiffen or relax each of the car's four shock absorbers, keeping the car flatter during acceleration, braking and turns.
The 4.6-liter double-overhead-cam Northstar V-8 has been revised to make it sound better, run cleaner and use less fuel.
Cylinder heads have roller finger-follower valve lifters, which have wheels instead of pads to follow the contours of the camshaft lobes. The change improves fuel economy.
Engineers also moved the piston rings higher up to reduce 'crevice volume,' the notch between the piston crown and the cylinder wall in which unburned fuel puddles and adds to hydrocarbon emissions.
An electric air pump system now pipes fresh air into the exhaust to ignite unburned gasoline and promote quick light-off of the catalytic converter. That means lower cold-start emissions.
The DHS engine generates 275 hp at 5,600 rpm and 300 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, while the DTS has 300 hp and 295 pounds-feet of torque.