2013 Cadillac ATS may be lightest in segment, but GM misses tech-setting opportunity
Lightest car in its segment? Really, is that enough considering future MPG mandates? Yet, that’s what the General Motors (NYSE: GM) news release said. And while there may not be any compromise in performance with its use of Smart Materials, GM still made a compromise in its judgment to take advantage of the opportunity to be a real brand leader.
So far, so good, must be the thinking at GM; not too surprising. So it appears this is more of the old GM thinking holding back another one of its key brands. They surely did it with Saturn.
Question: Shouldn’t the 2013 Cadillac ATS be more than just a nimble performer that barely beats the segment‘s mass numbers? How about a real industry trend setter that beats the present standard by a quantum leap?
GM did it with the Chevy Volt propulsion technology. Yet, with the Cadillac brand it takes the safe approach; making the ATS just like the other segment brands, with just a bit under its mass. That lacks chutzpah, in my opinion.
Once again, GM is saying to America and the world that it will not lead the industry with lightweight vehicles; a goal that should be at the top of its engineering to-do lists. If not with Cadillac, then who? The Chevy Cruze? Nice idea, but the cost for manufacturing process changes cannot be justified. The brand is too small.
When GM says engineers set out to make the all-new 2013 Cadillac ATS as light as possible, there is a caveat. Sure, they used advanced materials to minimize weight throughout the compact luxury sports sedan so as to not compromise performance capability. That’s the issue - GM held back Cadillac from doing what its heritage says it must do - set the trend for the entire corporation.
Fact is, a lightweight car that will lead the industry has to do more than just get below some segment mass goal. Where is the balls-out (steam engine term folks) body technology like that of the new aluminum bodies of Mercedes or the Tesla Model S for that matter? If there was ever a time, it is now; and GM and Cadillac missed a golden opportunity.
Yes, key parts such as an aluminum hood and magnesium engine mounts help the situation. Once again, GM restricts Cadillac to think is terms of me-too achievements.
ATS, for example, achieves a curb weight less than 3,400 pounds, and highway fuel economy well over 30 mpg. Keeping weight down also enabled balanced distribution of vehicle weight that helps delivers a world-class driving experience. I get it; I really do, but I also expect more from a GM division that was once the envy of the industry. One visit to the GM Heritage Center and you get the message.
Albeit, the 2013 Cadillac ATS would surely fill my desires as a luxury automobile, but not when I look into the near future where 55 plus MPG is to be the corporate goal. So, is GM once again counting on its halo car, the Chevy Volt, to take the pressure off? Again, no surprise there; and to think the CEO got a raise.
“We designed and engineered ATS’s vehicle architecture to deliver quick, nimble and fun-to-drive dynamics,” said David Masch, ATS chief engineer. “We distributed mass to key areas, much like an athlete builds muscle where he needs it most. This enabled ATS to achieve the performance characteristics that luxury sport sedan buyers demand.”
Fact is, that’s all they could do; and they did a brilliant job; but the goal should have been set much higher for a new car.
There are many ways to achieve weight loss for autos, but problem is not all of them fit the present form of manufacturing processes, especially for auto bodies. So, this is where the bean counters restrict engineering. And this is precisely where Cadillac should be leading the way.
Think about it. Let Cadillac set the corporate standard as the best in class by a quantum measure. GM is going to have to meet the mass goals soon anyway. Why not now? Why not with the ATS? After all, ATS is a new body segment for the brand.
Good Achievements, But ....
Chassis parts are a different matter. That explains why the ATS engineering team focused part of its performance goals by using cast iron in the rear differential instead of aluminum, a learning taken from the performance-tuned CTS-V.
Why cast iron? Isn’t that going in the wrong weight direction? Obviously, where you place the weight is crucial to performance. For example, the media release stated the differential provides torque and rotation to the wheels, and ATS’s cast iron design helped distribute weight equally between the front and rear wheels to provide agile handling while reducing noise and vibration. Cadillac says it benchmarked against world-class competition to deliver a driving experience that is as well-tuned for sound as for ride and handling.
Unlike a differential made from aluminum, which expands and contracts twice as much in response to temperature change, a cast iron differential is stronger and retains its shape better under temperature extremes, which allows the ring and pinion gears to operate more quietly. As a result, a cast iron differential also requires less energy to operate, contributing to higher fuel efficiency. To the consumer, this means more miles between fill-ups. Brilliant thinking!