What GM’s 3D printing and hand crafting plans tell us about the 2023 Cadillac Celestiq

Some EVs are intended to offer long driving ranges or fast acceleration, but a growing number are leaning towards luxury as a means of attracting potential buyers. Models such as the Lucid Air and Mercedes EQS emphasize their larger interior compared to luxury ICE cars, made possible by using a BEV skateboard platform. Likewise, most top-range EVs come with powerful yet quiet battery-electric powertrains, further enhancing their luxury image.

Packing luxury features into EVs allows automakers to sell a smaller number of vehicles at a higher price with a greater profit margin compared to mass-market models. This strategy is well suited to BEV models that typically cost more to build than an equivalent ICE vehicle, and means that current cell supply limitations will have less of an impact on production numbers.

In this environment, Cadillac plans to launch the 2023 Celestiq – a new flagship luxury sedan for the historic American brand. Little is known about the Celestiq, aside from the scant details that Cadillac announced in a recent press release, but there are some key clues in the reveal that indicate what to expect from Cadillac’s newest flag bearer.

It will use 3D printed components

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, is a manufacturing technique that has become increasingly popular in the 21st century due to several advantages. Benefits include the ability to design and print parts with extremely complex internal and external geometry that would be prohibitively expensive to achieve through casting or milling. These parts can exhibit impressive strength and weight properties thanks to the use of nature-inspired structural designs that are extremely difficult to replicate using conventional strategies.

However, despite all the commotion, 3D printing has not become a mainstay in mass-produced vehicles. Several reasons can explain this, the most pressing being the time it takes to accurately print each piece, which is much longer compared to stamping or casting operations. This slows down the build process, adding cost and complexity when using a stamped or cast part would generally be much faster and cheaper. Another issue limiting the application of 3D printing, especially for metal parts, is the fact that many additive printing methods risk creating occlusions (small voids or holes) in the part’s structure, making it unsuitable for applications. where high strength or malleability is required.

GM plans to have more than 100 individual 3D-printed parts in each Celestiq, both structural and cosmetic parts, made of both plastic and metal. This suggests that GM is willing to accept the tradeoff between the cost and complexity of using 3D printed parts to harness their unique look, feel and structural properties in the Celestiq.

It will be built by hand to some extent

Vehicle assembly, especially to the mass-market sector, is a prime example of heavy-duty automation in manufacturing. Production lines are usually equipped with many high-precision, high-speed robots that enable the rapid and repeatable production of high-quality vehicle parts at a sufficiently low cost for mass-market vehicles.

Conversely, manual assembly is usually associated with small-batch production of expensive and high-quality products. This is one way to achieve the extremely demanding quality control expected with expensive, small, luxury products, but of course it means that each part or vehicle costs more and takes more time to manufacture compared to a robot-assembled vehicle.

It will be built in a facility not previously used for vehicle assembly

Joining GM’s unconventional decision to deploy both 3D printing and hand-assembly on Celestiq’s production line, it chose to set up that line at GM’s Global Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. This will make the Celestiq the very first vehicle to be produced at that plant, which is more broadly entrusted with the carmaker’s R&D efforts.

What this tells us about the Celestiq…

The points highlighted here clearly indicate that the Celestiq will not be “your average Caddy.” GM’s decision to 3D print various components, along with the use of hand assembly in a facility more often associated with R&D efforts than full vehicle production, strongly suggests that the Celestiq will be an ultra-luxurious, low-volume flagship model. This is likely to lead to very low annual production numbers and a price well in the six-figure region, as befits a true flagship model.

This article was first published on GlobalData’s dedicated research platform, the Automotive Intelligence Center

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