No, The Electric Cadillac ELR Will NOT Have Rear-Wheel Drive

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Cadillac ELR

Cadillac ELR

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We follow plug-in cars pretty closely here, and occasionally we manage to break stories.

One was the production green light for the Cadillac Converj electric car concept, confirmed by GM as the Cadillac ELR coupe just six days later. 

So when we see an article that's ... let's say implausible ... it's hard not to write a rebuttal.

Yesterday, in the widely followed trade journal Automotive News, product editor Rick Kranz penned a piece suggesting that the Cadillac ELR would have rear-wheel drive, which he calls a "game changer" for the electric Caddy coupe. (It's subscription only, so you may not be able to read the linked piece--sorry.)

The Cadillac ELR is essentially a higher-margin vehicle using the Voltec extended-range electric vehicle platform that sits under the Chevrolet Volt. The front wheels of the Volt are powered by its 111-kilowatt (149-horsepower) electric traction motor. Always have been.

Kranz believes that to be distinctive and to resonate with the Cadillac brand, the ELR electric coupe should have rear-wheel drive.

He notes that the upcoming Cadillac ATS compact sport sedan will ride on an all-new rear-wheel drive platform, code-named "Alpha." That architecture is designed to be used underneath future Cadillac CTS and Chevrolet Camaro models too.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

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Now, we're all in favor of rear-wheel drive plug-in and electric vehicles--and they certainly exist. Consider the Tesla Roadster, the 2012 Fisker Karma, and next year's Tesla Model S all-electric sedan, for instance.

But the idea that GM would create an entirely new, rear-wheel drive compact electric-drive platform is highly, highly unlikely. Right now, it has exactly one platform--its "global compact," or Delta architecture--that's been designed to accommodate the 400-pound T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack that stores energy in the Volt.

The crossbar of that T sits essentially between the rear wheels of the Volt--right where a differential and axle shafts would have to be located.

Kranz nods to the packaging issues, but suggests the pack could be raised over the rear axle. And he highlights a Cadillac description of the car as a "2 + 2" rather than a four-seat coupe.

Volt Battery Pack

Volt Battery Pack

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He suggests that's "a signal that the battery pack will be eating up some of the rear-passenger space so the ELR can be offered as a rear-drive coupe."

We were sufficiently startled by this notion that we contacted our inside source at GM, who laughed out loud at the notion that the company plans to create a variation of the Alpha platform to accommodate a Voltec extended-range electric powertrain.

Then we got into the reasons why that won't happen:

  • A rear-wheel drive extended-range electric platform would require far more engineering resources than GM has available right now
  • GM wants to keep the pack as low and as central in the car as possible to achieve NHTSA five-star crash ratings for its plug-in vehicles
  • Mounting the battery pack above the axle would raise the center of gravity so high that any rear-drive handling advantages would disappear
  • The Voltec unit (including drive motor, generator, clutches, planetary gear set, and final drive) would need to be heavily reworked to allow a power takeoff for a driveshaft

All of these hurdles mean you can rest assured that the production version of the 2014 Cadillac ELR will remain a front-wheel drive plug-in coupe. Its mission is simply to boost the sale price on a few of the very pricey Voltec vehicles, to push that project closer to profitability.

We're still eager to drive it ....


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Comments (18)
  1. That's not like GM to design such an attractive looking car and then bring it to market. We've lived with front end pulling power before. Let's just hope the ELR doesn't have the same "I will set your garage on fire while you sleep at night" problem the Volt has.

  2. @James: As you know full well, since you read GCR obsessively, both garage fires that destroyed Volts were deemed by the local fire marshals to have started elsewhere. As a reminder, see here:

  3. You are right, John, I do read GCR obsessively; it's a great rag. It's just kinda hard not to kick the guy when he has been down in the mud for as long as GM has been down there in the mud and that looks better on their face than egg. Since the plugin on the Volt has a bad habit of melting, I think that the local fire marshals covered something up because the owner didn't want the pub..

  4. "obsessive" hmmm, perhaps I would rather consider myself a "dedicated" reader. It sounds nicer to my ears. :)

  5. Gee, so you're proposing that two separate fire marshals in two different states were both convinced to lie and betray their official duty by owners of destroyed Volts? Wow. A depth of paranoia I couldn't have imagined.

    BTW, my mother always told me to STOP kicking someone once he was down.

  6. If GM is suppressing this information, they are not doing a good job. There have been two NTHSA Volt fires (post crash). The second one was first brought to my attention by GM in an open letter to VOLT owners.

    As for the garage fires, GM didn't mention them. Perhaps because the fires were found to not start at the Volt.

  7. But I really like the part where GM tells owners that the electricity needs to be drained from an EV (post crash) the same way that gasoline needs to be drained from an ICE car (post crash). Makes perfect sense.

    Wonder if any Prius have caught fire, post crash, in NHTSA testing.

  8. Reminds me of a big scare a few years ago of a report about a guy (I think in Korea) that was killed when the li-ion battery in his phone,in his shirt pocket burned a hole in his chest.

    Well, that was the story on day one anyway. Later, it was clear the he was hit by a large work-truck which created deadly massive trauma as well as crushing the phone and starting it to burn. It was clear that the phone was the least of his problems.

  9. Haha. Why would the fire marshal care if the owner did not want the publicity? "Yeah, we were going to say that the vehicle was the cause of the fire, but the homeowner asked us to fabricate the cause because he doesn't want the publicity." Makes a lot of sense.

    If you are going to go with the conspiracy theory angle, at least make it good. Something to the tune of: Obama threatened to pull funding for the fire department if the fire marshal said the Volt was the cause of the fire.

  10. Cadillac has positioned itself as a performance brand, so I would expect some up-manship vs the Volt. 4 wheel drive would be ideal, but for the aforementioned reasons that ain't going to happen. So how far are they willing to go to differentiate it from the Volt? How about a wave-disk motor/generator instead of the 4-banger? Just dreaming, but I think it would be great.

  11. Let's not declare the Volt combustion-free until we have more accident experience. Tesla seems to have done a good job on their pack, and we know their Model S design is a couple of light years ahead of the modest, unassuming Volt, both mechanically and
    appearance-wise. Frankly, this Caddy looks grotesque from every view except the rear, which looks similar to every Caddy rearend for the past 20 years.

  12. I'd say GM better not build this using the same Volt drive train
    and power pack - it would be ridiculously slow for a car with the ambitions GM apparently has for this car. I assume they will have a larger battery pack to provide enough power as to not embarrass
    themselves. That apparently means the chassis won't be the same. I also assume they won't pull a Karma and come up with a "performance mode" that entails lighting up the old gas
    engine for assistance.

  13. John,

    One thing you are missing, as The Truth About Cars pointed out, was that GM received a $105 million loan from the DOE to develop a 2nd-generation, rear-wheel drive electric drive system.

    Furthermore, there is no saying that the Cadillac ELR would even use the T-battery from the Volt...which was developed for a front-wheel drive vehicle. There might not even be a need for a driveshaft at all, if GM just puts the electric motors at the rear of the ELR.

    Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part, but Cadillac has done very well selling performance luxury sedans. I think a RWD ELR would fit right in.

  14. Had a dream last night that this was called the ELF. Nothing says small Caddy like the Cadillac ELF.

  15. I hope that the second generation of the Voltec powertrain allows GM to build a RWD variant. A RWD Cadillac ELR would give the Tesla some nice competition.

  16. Call it a "Caddillectric" and keep it front wheel drive - no need for RWD.

  17. Best looking Caddy I've ever seen.

  18. Just when I thought Cadilac is on the right track back, they have to do a front wheel drive ELR... I guess you can't teach dog new tracks after all!

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