Published August 11, 2011
Sometimes, like Lazarus, dead cars rise again.
We've learned from an inside source at General Motors, a person close to the project, that the electric Cadillac Converj luxury coupe is now back in the GM product plan.
The Converj was recently approved for production by GM product executives. It will likely launch in 2013 as a 2014 model, though it may end up with a Cadillac-style three-letter model name.
The production version will feature, says our source, "a Generation 1.5 Voltec" powertrain.
That would be an updated version of the extended-range electric powertrain from the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, possibly with better acceleration to suit the Cadillac image--but not the fully revised second-generation version that will go into production in 2015.
Smash hit in 2009
The Converj concept car was first unveiled in January 2009 at the Detroit Auto Show. The sleek sports coupe received rave reviews, and during 2009, it was approved for production, with then-product chief Bob Lutz saying in January 2010 it had been cleared by management.
Two months later, it was killed, with Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell saying the Converj program had not reached "a point [at] which development would be occurring in earnest in any case."
Two reasons were given for ending the program almost 18 months ago: First, GM could not make a profit at the low volumes the Converj had been planned for.
Now, with the Volt essentially sold out and GM trying to boost production as fast as possible, perhaps Converj volumes can go higher, meaning each car may cost less.
Second, product planners were concerned that the greater weight and additional luxury features of a Cadillac would cut its electric range and performance--reducing its appeal, much as the Lexus HS 250h has sold in lower numbers than expected for Toyota's luxury arm.
"All about profit"
Apparently, both concerns have been resolved. One reason for resuscitating the Converj, says our source, is that CEO Dan Akerson is "all about profit." The 2012 Volt lists at $39,990, and tops out (before dealer markup) at less than $50,000.
If some Voltec cars could be sold not for $45,000 but, say, $60,000, that might enable GM to make money on its first generation of Voltec cars. Or, perhaps more realistically, to lose less money on the technology--until a less-costly second generation can be rolled out.
And if Cadillac truly hopes to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi, it needs to have one or more plug-in offerings.
All those makes have multiple plug-ins planned, from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Plug-In Hybrid and Audi e-tron electric supercar down to the A-Class E-Cell and tiny Audi Urban Concept two-seater.
Escalade Hybrid: hardly a halo car
But despite a plug-in hybrid concept for the XTS full-size sedan that will go on sale next spring as a 2013 model, and persistent rumors of an SRX plug-in hybrid crossover, neither of those products has been given the green light for production.
The SRX plug-in hybrid was killed in May due to inadequate range from its battery pack, which had been designed for a different and lighter vehicle. So Cadillac's sole electrified vehicle remains the 2011 Escalade Hybrid full-size sport-utility vehicle--hardly a halo car to get early adopters into their dealers, as the Volt has done for Chevy.
The Converj is not the only example of turbulence in GM's product plans over the last three years. But now that a deal has been reached to raise corporate average fuel-economy standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025, insiders hope that the GM product plan will settle down.
To reach those goals, plug-in cars will clearly become a larger portion of GM's portfolio over time.