NEW YORK -- The accolades heaped on Cadillac's ATS compact sedan owe much to the built-from-scratch rear-wheel-drive architecture on which it rides.
It's code-named Alpha, and it's the same platform that underpins the next-generation 2014 Cadillac CTS that was unwrapped last week on the eve of the auto show here. The lean architecture helped Cadillac boast lightest-in-segment claims for both cars.
But Alpha almost never came to be.
In 2007 a debate raged within GM -- which was bleeding cash at the time -- over how to get Cadillac into the compact segment, the largest-volume slice of the luxury market.
One option: Build it on GM's Delta platform, the front-wheel-drive compact architecture on which the Chevy Cruze and Volt and the Buick Verano ride.
"We were going to do a front-wheel-drive Cadillac compact off of Delta because it was going to be less expensive," Doug Parks, GM's vice president of global product programs, told me at the Detroit auto show in January. "There were people in the organization saying, 'It'll be OK. We can dial it in.'"
So serious were the plans that Parks, who was based in Europe at the time, found himself driving 150 mph on a test track in Spain in a 2.0-liter turbo test mule built on the Delta platform.
"We actually made it pretty darn good," Parks said. "But in reality, you can't go beat BMW or Mercedes when you don't have the right weight balance and everything else."
Parks calls the move to build Alpha "a huge decision point" for GM, one that turned out to be crucial for Cadillac's take-on-the-Germans strategy.
"We finally just said 'That ain't good enough. We've got to do a very light, properly designed, rear-wheel-drive architecture,'" Parks said.
Look for the next-gen Camaro, due in 2015, to reap the benefits and ride on the Alpha architecture, too.