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Simcoe signals Cadillac’s path

GM design chief Mike Simcoe says distinctive styling will continue to define Cadillac brand

5 Jul 2024

START talking about Holden cars and very soon the name Mike Simcoe comes into the conversation.


Mr Simcoe was instrumental in styling many of the now-defunct but iconic Aussie brand’s most popular models during a purple patch for Holden.


They include the Holden Coupe Concept in 1998 that morphed into the final iteration of Monaro, the VX-series Commodore and WH-series Statesman/Caprice of the same generation, VE-series Commodore and WM-series Statesman/Caprice to name just a few.


Mr Simcoe has risen through the General Motors ranks to his current elevated executive position as Vice President of Global Design, a job he has held since 2016 placing him one rung below the top in GM’s global hierarchy.


Not a bad effort for a pencil wielding boy from Melbourne.


A lot rests on the 65 year old’s shoulders and GoAuto had the opportunity to speak to him and fellow GM designer Bryan Nesbitt across the table recently on a range of topics without the mention of the ‘R’ word (retirement).


We asked about Cadillac’s bold styling and what it was like in the design hot seat at GM with 2000 staff and all new model design under his supervision.


“We’ve just gotten ourselves into a new building which is a mark on the board for design that is pretty special. It allows us to pretty much make vision suggestions and modify them for brand architectural change” Mr Simcoe told GoAuto.


“There's a lot of competence in what we're doing which is not always the case with design.


“We pushed really hard to get design to be a more collaborative effort, a more holistic piece of the business rather than all the doors shut, and we ended up with things more on our side.


“If you’re wise, it’s usually better to influence people once you’ve got them in your pocket than try and do it through a shut door – and in fact, that’s the way the new building is set up.


“We don’t just design a bunch of funny ideas. We have the program teams and the engineers, marketers, the manufacturing folks we have more than the space. Again, it’s all about influence. People close by that you can help to understand where you want to be.”


Mr Simcoe said the building is dedicated to 3D, but heavily supports the use of virtual and all the aids that are available these days in software and hardware.


“We focus on 3D because that's what a customer buys and certainly while I’m around I don’t have a problem with that. 


“I don’t have the capability to judge anything in math like I do in the virtual world.


“There will be people who follow me, future generations who do but I prefer using Cadillac as essentially like the point of the spear.”


In relation to Cadillac’s styling, Mr Simcoe explained ,“The theme created with the first Lyriq showed people we needed a division internally and externally to signal where we're going with Cadillac”.


“The Lyriq has got a bit of the, I guess, the arrogance and chutzpah that Cadillac used to have, it's not chasing the Germans,” he added.


On the subject of concepts cars and how they might influence mainstream models, Mr Simcoe said, “We can now focus on a car like Celestiq, make it real by talking about trust and supporting design to do what they like”.


“That vehicle wouldn’t have become a reality in the past but when you get a chance once in your life to do a hand-built vehicle in the multiples of $100,000s it’s worth it,” he continued.


“Then offer it to customers, that's a big deal. It’s the look, the feel, the character, surface, the graphics and then you place it in the TV world along with Optiq SUV and everything else follows.”


Bryan Nesbitt (who designed the Chrysler PT Cruiser back in 1999) followed up Mr Simcoe’s statements focusing on the incoming Lyriq model saying that Cadillac is at its best when it’s innovating adding that EVs have become a “huge, huge” launching pad to rededicate and recommit to the brand.


“I can tell you I haven’t been with GM that long, I’ve been here for over 23 years and have presented a few internal flagships myself that were, I’d say in hindsight kind of half in, not full commitments to what the brand really deserves,” he said.


“And when you talk to customers, especially those that understand some of the history and maybe experienced some of those vehicles in the past… the great ones, they always talk about whether (you guys) are actually gonna do vehicles that the brand deserves.


“I'm really proud of the organization and what they’ve delivered, the top leadership including Michael, and championing a commitment to the level that now customers can experience in a vehicle like the Lyriq.


“Lyriq is a different form factor, but it has all the cues that Magalie Debellis designed in the Celestiq it’s kind of just morphed into a different form factor but the front end graphics, the distinctive innovative identity of the front end, is key to the overall appeal of the vehicle.”


Mr Nesbitt continued, “Many times when we go to clinic, the front end has so much weight behind it relative to the appeal of the whole vehicle. So, it’s very, very significant.”


“We spent a lot of time there and the team has done I think a phenomenal job at integrating the technology that’s required related to all the sensor tech which led to the black face grille and the pinstripe illumination relative to the trends that have been happening.


“It is very distinctive, and I think the team has a lot to be proud of there by using the Celestiq as basically a visual blueprint and then morph it into a car that in a showroom has been of huge value in representing an original execution plan.


“If you think back to the Cadillacs of the day, that’s where they all start as innovation and originality.


“So, when you spend time in the Lyric, you’re kind of getting a piece of that Celestiq in it. Those sprinkles on it bring so much enjoyment as do the instant torque and the solid steel chassis making it really phenomenal to drive.”

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