Automobile Magazine design editor Robert Cumberford sat down with Bob Boniface, head of exterior design at Cadillac (but best known for the Chevrolet Volt) for a frank discussion of the luxury brand’s design direction. Needless to say, there was some disagreement, although they’re at least of the same mind when it comes to the 1966 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super. Here are some excerpts.
Robert Cumberford: The tire outside diameter [on the Cadillac ATS] is too small.
Bob Boniface: Well, I think it balances right. When you consider the mass requirements on this car, when you scale up the wheel and tire, mass goes up – and that drives mass in the structure, and pretty soon you have a 3600-pound car instead of a 3400-pound car. So, it’s a tradeoff. We had to approach it holistically. We couldn’t have freedom like we did on the Camaro, where we said, “You know what, it’s all about styling,” so go ahead and put the 730-millimeter tire ODs [outside diameters] -– twenty-inch rims -– and drive a lot of mass into the structure. This car had to be efficient. Having said that, this car is handsome. It has handsome proportions and it still performs well on the track, and it delivers on fuel economy [Cadillac hasn’t announced official numbers yet but expects better than 30 mpg on the highway with the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder].
RC: [Points to starter button] Who makes the decision for this stupid stuff? Once you get something that really works well, like a key… this kind of stuff just infuriates me.
BB: You’re used to things a certain way. I have opinions on stuff like that, and I’m sure they’re not too dissimilar from yours … I don’t work on interiors. I don’t hate it. I think a lot of people like it. At some point it becomes ubiquitous.
RC: In my first Volkswagen you put a key in it then there was a starter button — but you didn’t push that to stop.
BB: On one of my Alfas I removed the key and I have a flip-switch starter button.
RC: I protected my Alfa Romeo when I lived in Manhattan…
BB: Which one did you have?
RC: I had a flying four-door phone booth Giulia Super.
BB: A Giulia Super! What year? ’66?
BB: You bought that car new?
BB: What’s amazing about those cars was how slippery it was. The 0.34 cd…
RC: It was the third most aerodynamic car in production.
BB: And it looked like a brick.
[Several minutes later]
BB: Back to Cadillac…
RC: I hope you’re going to try to put [into Cadillacs] some of the feeling we all have about Alfa Romeos –– that they’re meant to be driven and they’re performance cars.
BB: If nothing else about [the ATS] it has that sense of efficiency to my eye. Having not even worked on this car [Boniface moved to Cadillac after work had been done on the ATS], I look at the car and it looks like a drivers’ car. The wheels are out, the overhang is short.
RC: [The new full-size Cadillac XTS] has unfortunate proportions. It looks like a front-wheel-drive car.
BB: Well, front-wheel drive is sometimes hard to disguise, the front overhang…
RC: The best thing is not to do it.
BB: Well, easy to say, but finances being what they are, and profitability being what it is … And if you were going to take an interior that size and place it on a rear-wheel drive architecture, it would probably be a good ten- to twelve-inches longer. The [XTS] has presence. I will tell you, though, the mainstream strategy for Cadillac is going to be on primarily rear-wheel drive, on driving dynamics.
RC: If the XTS were rear-wheel drive and a foot longer it would sell more.
BB: Here’s a counter argument: The first SRX was rear-wheel drive, and it sold like shit. The current SRX is front-drive and it’s selling like crazy. So in certain categories where interior efficiency is important, a good argument can be made for front-wheel-drive cars. Drivers’ cars should be rear-wheel drive … Back to front-wheel drive with the XTS: while we’re not trying to grow our penetration with aging customers, there is a sizable part of our owner base that likes the front-wheel drive.
RC: I think there’s a case to be made for what was positive about the Sixteen. A big, superluxurious flagship. The case can be made for that, but it needs to be pretty classical, like a Mercedes S-class.
BB: I won’t comment on that.