High above Monterey Bay, Clint Eastwood's sprawling invitation-only Tehama Golf Club is worlds away from the contemporary, crumbling image of Detroit. While the Midwestern city fights bankruptcy, the only disturbance here is a gang of wild turkeys—four adults and one youngster traverse the patch of the course's rough as if to say, "we're all worry free in Carmel, Calif."
Beside us stands Hampden E. Tener, Cadillac's Product Director. He's been with GM for more than 20 years, beginning as an intern after his sophomore year of college. He tells us that when he first arrived in Detroit, two decades ago, that he felt the electricity. He says, "I knew this was a place where things were happening." Then around 2008, Tener started to see the lights of his local shops shut off one by one.
His memory stirs emotions. On one hand, we're standing amidst the tangible realities of the American dream. Just a few hours earlier, I'd encountered no fewer than eight McLarens, dozens of Ferraris, and a childhood memory-rocking parade of Corvettes on one short drive—such is the scene during Pebble Beach Concours weekend. On the other, the specter of Detroit looms. As Tener discusses home, Cadillac designers all around us murmur about the desire for space. I hear one guy say, "the true real luxury is room."
While the car is bold and expressive in form, it doesn't scream overindulgence. This is opulence through the lens of quality of life rather than simply through expensive bells and whistles.
Tehama has a hell of a lot of room. So does Cadillac's new concept coupe, the Elmiraj. As it rolls towards the Tehama clubhouse, there's an evocation of mid-century movie star glamor. The car connects back to the superlative Eldorados of the 1960s and captures the same romance of driving that the drop-top Ceil concept did at Pebble just two years ago. The Elmiraj is unmistakably a Cadillac. It's unmistakably American. And, it's unmistakable proof that Detroit still has some real mojo.
The Elmiraj was designed in California, at GM's North Hollywood advance design studio and under the guidance of Cadillac studio boss Mark Adams, but hand-built in Detroit. It speaks immediately to the joy of driving, the luxury of space, and America's renewed interest in its automotive heritage and righting the wrongs of the past few decades.
As a generation rises that understands the economic benefit (and, ultimately, responsibility) of native manufacture, Cadillac has stepped up to provide a new portfolio aimed at meeting the needs of new buyers. The ATS, a rear-wheel drive sport sedan universally championed by auto and lifestyle journalists alike, has given Detroit something to rival the Europeans. The new CTS, reformed for 2014, is lean and athletic. And, in introducing the luxury-electric ELR, Cadillac has a model that represents the bold, progressive personality of the brand. The upcoming new generation Escalade hardly needs mention because of its status. Cadillac's admirable, if not enviable, portfolio has given the 111-year old brand pushed its fastest growth in decades—not just internally, but against all competition.
So what does the Elmiraj mean and why do concept cars matter? For Tener, whose job is essentially as a conduit between the consumer and the designers and engineers at GM, these vehicles help gauge public opinion. Two questions drive his interest: Does the design language work? Is the style agreeable? Once answered, the concept serving as a barometer of public opinion, the future can begin to unfold. When asked to define the Cadillac target consumer, Tener responds with a single word, "optimistic."
Viewing the Elmiraj against the backdrop of a cloudy night sky above the bay, it's hard not to contemplate the meaning of luxury. Stripped of unnecessary jewelry, the car is all about its stance and its sculpture. It's all about you, the driver. But it doesn't divorce itself from the needs of the passenger. While the car is bold and expressive in form, it doesn't scream overindulgence. This is opulence through the lens of quality of life rather than simply through expensive bells and whistles. This is a concept that champions the luxury of space and potential inherent to the American dream and further challenges notions that Detroit can't regain its step.