Ultimate Backseat Driver

Fed up with “you’re driving too fast dear”? Enter the Cadillac Imaj: the living, breathing, thinking future of the automobile. “Perhaps you won’t back this one into a lamp post!”

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By  Justin Etheridge Published  August 2, 2001

Introduction|~||~||~|The Imaj, the definitive concept car from US legend Cadillac, is a marriage of design and technology, a fusion of function and art. It’s also packed to the brim with enough gadgetry to overhaul your everyday Middle East motoring experience.

Luxury is no longer just about increased legroom and other such physical comforts. Instead, this all-wheel-drive sedan sets out to cushion the mental state of the driver as much as his or her body: night vision, Bulgari instruments, virtual assistance and more.

And that’s before we even talk about aesthetics. Check out the crisp lines and dynamic angles: uniquely American, yes, but the appeal is universal.

“Concept cars like the Evoq, Imaj and Vizon are an enormous help to global awareness and improving familiarity of Cadillac,” says Fadi Ghosn, Cadillac brand manager for the Middle East. “In some markets, like the Middle East, we have a solid awareness, but the image is very much steeped in a classic American mindset. We had to take what is a somewhat neutral and out-of-date perception of Cadillac and begin to bring focus with where the product is heading. The Evoq, Imaj and Vizon are helping us communicate this new focus on a global level.”

The vehicles that Ghosn describes are the realisation of the Cadillac dream. The Evoq in particular, the roadster introduced back in 1999, was the first real embodiment of Cadillac’s new vision.

“The Imaj introduction last year at the Geneva Motor Show provided more definition for the design themes that will drive future Cadillacs,” explains Ghosn. “This year, at the North American International Show in Detroit, Cadillac's vision of ‘art and science’ was also applied to a new segment for General Motors’ luxury division in the Cadillac Vizon concept, which represents Cadillac’s application of its new design form vocabulary to an all-wheel-drive luxury activity vehicle.”

The Imaj (pronounced as the French would say ‘image’), was designed and built at GM’s Concept Design Studio in Birmingham, England, led by veteran design director Simon Cox and supported by the Cadillac team based at the Michigan-based North American design studio. Other partners, such as IBM, Delphi and Bose, were called in to lend respective expertise to the project.

In a further motoring coup, Cadillac raised eyebrows the world over when it announced a deal with Italian jeweller Bulgari to fit the Imaj with outlandish and rather sexy instrumentation. Take a look inside this four-wheeled phenomenon and the dash is a bewildering array of stylish dials and exorbitant displays.

There’s more to come too, as Cadillac taps into the lifestyle concept and the mindset of its (wealthy) potential owners: Bulgari has confirmed that it will produce accompanying modular aluminium luggage, plus an exclusive travel clock. And you thought you were just buying a car.

||**||Inside the Machine|~||~||~| The Imaj itself is a four passenger, four door sedan, which boasts an electrochromatic louvered glass roof. Standing 1420mm tall and 5100mm long, it’s driven by the Northstar system, a 4.2 litre supercharged V8 engine, producing 425 hp at 6,400 rpm.

Closed loop fuel control operates via a mass airflow metre and four oxygen sensors, while the innovation marks GM’s first fully electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission. The Northstar also features platinum-tipped spark plugs with individual ignition coils and no fewer than four catalytic converters.

Another feature tucked subtly away inside Cadillac’s futuristic framework is the MagneRide, a new deployment of suspension control technology. The system is based on Delphi’s proprietary Magneto-rheological (MR) fluid, providing a valve-less damper design. The result is superior handling and the most comfortable Cadillac ride yet. Which is really what this taste of the future is all about: technology in pursuit of luxury.

Yet another GM first, the OnStar 2.6 Virtual Advisor demonstrates more than any other development that the motoring stakes have been raised. It’s GM’s onboard information and communications service, able to call for help should the air bags be deployed.

Cadillac cites a variety of uses for this virtual driving companion, including notifying the authorities in the event of theft and subsequently tracking the car’s location. It also can be used to summon routine or emergency assistance, assess travel flow and suggest alternative routing and even give you access to a host of concierge services.

Dinner reservations on the fly? No problem — at least, it won’t be when the vision becomes a reality in the Middle East. Watch this space.

The final piece in the puzzle is night vision. Not a new concept, you might think, but night vision installed as a standard driver enhancement system most certainly is. We’re no longer talking about military operations or the stuff of science fiction, but rather the need for you and I to see well beyond the range of conventional headlamps.

Hazards at the roadside or up ahead can be detected by thermal imaging long before the human eye alone could ever register the presence of danger. Cadillac estimates that, in most conditions, night vision will allow you to see up to three times farther ahead than low-beam lamps.

This isn’t an attempt to replace visual information obtained by looking through the windshield, so postpone the fantasy of sleeping at the wheel and waking at your destination — for now.

Instead, the idea is to provide the driver with additional data when it’s dark by capturing activity with infrared sensors: hotter objects appear white and cooler objects appear dark in a virtual image, projected near the edge of your bonnet on an “EyeCue” heads-up display (HUD). Located in your peripheral vision, it's designed not to obstruct your view of the road.

||**||Concept Cadillac: what next?|~||~||~|So what does the future hold in store for the Imaj — and Cadillac generally? “Our main objective in this region is to revitalise the Cadillac brand in order to regain our position as leader in luxury car segment,” says Fadi Ghosn. “I believe that we have the right products for this market and we are, together with our retailers, in process of upgrading our facilities in the region to achieve this objective.”

Strong words alone won't recapture that top luxury spot, but Ghosn offers further evidence of the Cadlilac fightback: “Recently, we have launched the Cadillac Escalade, the world’s most powerful sport utility vehicle. Today, only a couple of months later, I’m pleased to say that we are almost running out of stock. Our dealer in Dubai had to airfreight ten Escalades to satisfy demands from VIPs, who just couldn’t wait for their vehicles to arrive by sea — the conventional way of shipping.”

And after the Imaj? What next? “Cadillac is set to produce a new vehicle each year until 2010, the next one, for 2002, being a new entry-level luxury midsize sedan followed by a luxury two-seater,” he adds, “the high-powered and visually striking Cadillac Roadster.”

Fadi Ghosn admits that it’s not easy to predict where the real battle for motoring supremacy will lie in this region. “Changes in the Middle East continue to be rapid and dramatic,” he argues.

But insiders do agree that Middle East consumer will be watching closely for significant technological breakthroughs. “By any measure, growth has been quite staggering and the region has not only caught up with technology, but is at the forefront of its application. At Cadillac, of course, we have a close affinity with technology, leading the automotive industry in its application. And at some time we hope that systems like Infotainment and OnStar — that are an integral part of Cadillac today — will be able to operate in the Middle East.”

While T2 agrees that ongoing technological innovation is the motoring equivalent of survival of the fittest, an inability to bring cutting edge cars to the Middle East immediately shows the distance that this region has yet to come.

So, having been utterly wooed ourselves by the seductive lure of the concept Cadillac, there’s only one question that really remained: just how far from a commercial reality is the Imaj? “No decision has been made yet on this subject,” replied Ghosn. Imajine that.

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