DETROIT - Cadillac Chief Designer Kip Wasenko was touching up a mock-up of the Cadillac STS sedan for a design review last September when General Motors Vice Chairman Robert Lutz walked into the Warren, Mich., design studio an hour early.
Lutz, who had only seen earlier versions, said, "I like it better than I thought I would," Wasenko recalls.
But Lutz didn't care for the roof height and vertical sides. He told Wasenko to change the design.
That was less of a blow than it might seem. Cadillac designers "just happened to have a drawing" much like the car Lutz wanted, Wasenko said. And, he adds, they have used the time since then to keep fine-tuning the lines and proportions.
That reflects the large process by which Cadillac established its new design theme. It's a direction critical to efforts to reverse sliding sales and capture younger buyers. U.S. Cadillac sales have dropped from 320,017 in 1984 to 172,080 units last year.
"Like a lot of designers, we'll take advantage of every minute somebody's going to give us," Wasenko said. "I tweaked literally every millimeter. I was a bit of an opportunist there."
Wasenko's involvement began in late 1997, when he was chosen as lead designer for a Cadillac concept car called Icon, to be shown at Pebble Beach, Calif., the next year.