Cadillac Cien

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The Cien could have lifted Cadillac's image by several notches, but GM's bean counters said no

The problem with big businesses such as General Motors is that they tend to be run by bean counters. Everything comes down to pounds, shillings and pence with them, because they know the price of everything but the value of nothing. That was the problem with GM’s management; they knew the Cien would do a great job of lifting Cadillac’s image, but nobody could work out by how many dollars’ worth. If somebody had been able to put a price on how much the halo effect produced by the Cien would have been worth, it just might have made production.

When the Cien was unveiled at the 2002 Detroit motor show, there was serious talk of the car making production. Cadillac’s image needed a serious boost because it had become a maker of cars for old people. What the company needed was a younger target audience, which would latch on to the cars at an earlier age and buy one after another. Instead, customers were buying what would perhaps be their last car before they shuffled off their mortal coil. The problem was, how could Cadillac tempt buyers into showrooms when all it had to offer was deathly dull cars that nobody wanted? The answer lay in a car that would wow people – it didn’t matter that it wouldn’t make any money. Except that to the holders of the purse strings, it did matter…

The Cien was the start of Cadillac’s centenary celebrations, which kicked off at the start of 2002. The name Cien came from the Spanish word for 100, and this concept was hopefully going to mark a fresh start for the American giant, which had seen better days. Styled by British designer Simon Cox, the car was assembled by English company Prodrive while the 7.5-litre V12 engine was also created by a British company; Cosworth. While Cadillac had developed an image for luxury, what it really wanted was a name for performance. And what better way was there than to unleash a 200mph no-holds-barred supercar?

There were several pieces of big news with the Cien, the first one being that dramatic bodywork. At the heart of the car was a carbonfibre monocoque, for strength, rigidity and lightness. Of course it was all bespoke, but more surprisingly, so was the aluminium double-wishbone suspension, the semi-automatic six-speed gearbox with paddle shifts and even the 21-inch Michelin tyres – although the front items were a mere 19 inches in diameter. In fact, of all the mechanical components, only the shock absorbers and Brembo brakes were taken off the shelf.

The next big news was the all-alloy Northstar XV12 engine, which was engineered to power the most expensive Cadillac production cars. It wouldn’t generate the 750bhp that the Cien did, but it did feature Displacement on Demand, which was a fuel-saving technology developed by GM to make its cars more environmentally friendly. This allowed the engine to run on six cylinders instead of 12, if the car wasn’t being driven especially hard. As a result, and also thanks to its direct fuel injection, the V12 unit delivered fuel consumption figures on a par with a typical V8.

In a bid to test public reaction, General Motors paraded the Cien in front of massive crowds at the 2002 Le Mans 24 Hours, and then again at the Goodwood Festival of Speed the same summer. Each time the crowds went wild; it was clear that this car had the impact the company wanted. Ford had done something similar with the Ford GT, which had been given the green light within a few weeks of its first public showing. People were asking how Ford could afford to miss such an opportunity – and that’s just what was said about GM and the Cien. But of course there was a huge difference between the two companies; Ford put the GT into limited production and GM chickened out.


Vital statistics
Debut Detroit 2002
Designer Simon Cox
Engine Mid-mounted, 7.5-litre, V12
Transmission Six-speed semi-automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power 750bhp
Torque 450lb ft
Top speed 200mph+

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