Payne: More than a new car, Lyriq EV is a redefinition of Cadillac

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 25, 2022

Park City, Utah — Cadillac is going back to the future.

The new, battery-powered Lyriq SUV is more than a new car, it is a return to Cadillac’s 20th century, “Standard of the World” iconography. For all its high-tech wizardry, Lyriq is a throwback to a time when the Cadillac brand was the pinnacle of American style, its craftsmanship a hallmark of the brand.

Capitalizing on  21st century advances in electronics and electrification, Lyriq wants to set the tone for a return to Caddy’s brand heyday. Designed with extraordinary detail from climate-control knob knurling right down to windowpane monogram fonts, the midsize chariot struts with high style and big brand ambitions.

2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV at night

“Lyriq is a really big project. Not only from delivering this car through the production pipeline, but envisioning a brand new future for Cadillac,” said interior design chief Tristan Murphy. “It’s an opportunity to pivot a brand and really go into the future with EV technology and all the things that enables from a design standpoint.”

There are no tailfins on the $59,990 Lyriq or missile-shaped chrome bumper like the ’50s Eldorados that ruled American streets and inspired Aretha Franklin songs, but there is an embrace of fashion different than the sleek, more austere XT5 and CT4 models that have led sales in recent years.

The Lyriq is lit up with lighting and chrome accents from the outside in.

“We’re really not being shy about it,” said Murphy. “You go back to some of (the 1950s icons) and there was nothing shy about those original tailfins and the colors we used to do. It’s not about looking back and being retro, but taking some of that swagger into the next generation of cars and leaning into what it means to be American luxury.”

To communicate this swagger to buyers, Cadillac in six weeks put together a sassy ad campaign that pairs Lyriq with strutting fashion models in eyeball-burning outfits.

“The ads catch your attention. You see luxury and design in these people; it’s aspirational,” said Lyriq marketing guru Kristin Lewis. “Cadillac has been an icon in our culture. The Lyriq is a return to that iconic status.”

2023 Cadillac Lyriq window monogram

The transformation began with an obsession with detail. Consider the simple, universal, microscopic glass monogram usually stamped with a General Motors logo.

“All automotive glass have monograms that with a manufacturer’s logo on it. This is standard across every vehicles globally,” said Murphy. “We used our own Cadillac-specific font . . . and replaced the GM logo with the little Cadillac crest in there. It’s a subconscious thing that helped say this isn’t just a GM vehicle — it’s a Cadillac.”

Murphy’s team was determined to carry that obsession throughout the interior.

“We have no bin parts in this car. No more parts shared with a Buick or a Chevy,” said Murphy. “There is that subconscious level of detail (here) that makes it feel ‘wow.’ Everything is bespoke in here — you’re not going to see it in any of our other products.”

2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV rear 3-4

If Tesla created the luxury EV segment with its Apple-simple smartphone on wheels, then Cadillac’s team wanted to bring their own Detroit swagger. At night, the grille lights up like a Christmas tree. Inside, passengers can use a touchscreen color wheel to create 36 different combinations in the interior lighting.

“We had a lot of conversations about that,” said Murphy. “There are things that (Tesla does) great, and they have moved the industry forward in a different way. But it is not Cadillac to be a smartphone on wheels. It’s not true to the brand, it’s not creating a unique experience.”

Where many EV screens dominate their interiors, Lyriq’s huge, curved, 33-inch dash display is but one element of a cabin full of jewelry.

2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV lighting

“The screen is. . . a technological showcase, the first in the industry with this advanced LCD display. It’s fantastic and has beautiful features — but we fell like when you talk about a luxury product and how you can tie it into human emotion — it’s the little physical things.”

Physical things like exquisite, curved sliver door speakers integrated into the armrests. Or a floating console punctuated by a knurled, radial screen controller. Or an industry first, laser-cut wood door trim.

“We take a piece of black ash wood and then we come through with a blue light laser. It comes through twice to cut the pattern, then we overlay that over a very thin — almost a film of metal veneer — that fills in the holes. It’s so thin that at night we are able to shine light through (the) holes. We think that gives it emotional wealth that customers are always looking for.”

2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV screen and floating console

Marketing chief Lewis said this emotional connection is a key piece of Cadillac luxury. “It’s like staying in a luxury hotel. It’s the secondary elements you discover during your stay. We want to run everything through the lens of being iconic. In the Lyriq you see boldness, color saturation, humanity.”

At the Lyriq’s media introduction here in Park City, the Cadillac display was anchored by design sketches and the brand’s cutting-edge, 800-volt battery platform. But it was also littered with symbols of Cadillac’s glorious past: an elegant 1936 hood ornament here, a 1975 hood ornament there.

“Details are how you create those little memories that stay with you,” Murphy said. “It’s a deeper philosophical question that we had about making these very deliberate decisions on what the engagement was going to be and (which) becomes a very different experience than Tesla.”

Murphy points to the past decade in which Cadillac gained industry respect for its athletic, corner-carving V-series and Blackwing sedans that could hang with German icons like the BMW M-class at the famed Nurburgring test track. But despite those cars’ technical progress, the brand struggled to gain sales.

2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV door detail

Meanwhile, Cadillac — which in the early 20th century pioneered technology like the automatic transmission, steering column shifter and electric starter — failed to capitalize on innovations like the plug-in, compact ELR that came to market eight years ahead of the $40,000 Tesla Model S, but was priced at an uncompetitive $80,000.

“We proved to ourselves that we could make world-class cars like the Blackwing,” said Murphy. “It allowed us to go back to really embrace who we are and be confident about that. . . not try to chase like we’ve maybe done in certain aspects.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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