LOS ANGELES -- General Motors believes that the Cadillac ELR luxury coupe will be a brand-building halo car that will drive showroom traffic when the plug-in hybrid goes on sale in January.
GM executives and engineers touted the ELR's sleek design, superior driving dynamics and luxury touches such as a suedelike headliner and hand-cut-and-stitched leather during a media test drive last month here. The $75,995 sticker price, including shipping, ensures that the ELR will be produced in modest volumes, likely around 3,000 annually for North America.
The basics: The ELR uses the Voltec powertrain that debuted in the Chevrolet Volt in late 2010. It gets an estimated 37-mile range from its fully charged 435-pound battery pack. Once the charge is depleted, a gasoline-powered, 1.4-liter, four-cylinder generator kicks on to power the electric drivetrain, which produces 295 pounds-feet of torque. GM says the overall range exceeds 300 miles.
GM engineers added several elements to enhance ride and handling, including a HiPer Strut front suspension made of lightweight aluminum components; a premium ZF electric power steering system; a continuous damping system that adapts to road conditions every two milliseconds; and 20-inch wheels and tires. The ELR, though about 300 pounds heavier than the Volt, feels peppier, especially in EV mode, staying firmly planted during sharp cornering on twisty mountain roads.
The coupe is low, wide and aerodynamic, with a sweeping side body crease and Cadillac's trademark vertically aligned headlights and taillights. The cabin features a microfiber headliner; plenty of hand-cut-and-stitched leather and available carbon fiber and real wood accents.
Notable features: The ELR includes what Cadillac calls Regen on Demand, which lets the driver use paddle shifters to decelerate while descending a hill or approaching a sharp turn, converting the car's momentum into electricity for storage in the battery pack. The feature is fun to play with as terrain and traffic conditions change and offers two benefits: better control without having to apply the brakes and a small boost to the battery's charge.
What Cadillac says: "It's really meant to be a design and technology statement for the brand," says Pam Fletcher, executive chief engineer for GM's electrified vehicles.
Shortcomings and compromises: The rear seat of the coupe's 2+2 layout, though likely to be barely an afterthought for most buyers, is downright claustrophobic. In undulating terrain, the car was smoother in EV mode than when relying on the gasoline-powered generator.
The market: Cadillac says it will stand alone by offering a plug-in hybrid luxury coupe that eliminates range anxiety. Still, it points to Tesla's Model S sedan ($71,070 with shipping) and BMW's 640 Gran Coupe ($78,525 with shipping) as guideposts for the mid-$70,000s price.
Sales volumes are expected to be modest. IHS Automotive predicts sales of around 2,200 units next year, rising to about 2,750 in 2015. A GM insider said the company expects sales to be higher than that but declined to cite an internal forecast.
The skinny: Driving the ELR puts to rest the notion that the coupe is a tarted-up Volt. The driving experience is far better and the package luxurious. The lofty sticker price will deter plenty of would-be customers. But Cadillac execs seem happy to sacrifice sales volume for the air of exclusivity that they believe the ELR will provide.