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“I don’t know how many Cadillac customers wash their own car, but I do think that by washing your car, you can find out a lot about it,” says Andrew D. Smith, who heads up Cadillac design. He believes that premium products, including cars, are things that not only have a certain heritage, but which reveal more about themselves as they’re investigated.

“The first-generation CTS is what I call ‘first read.’ It is a very graphical car. Very angular, very deliberate lines. When you get to the second-generation CTS, which I’ve always liked a lot, it starts to think about things like stance. Its rear three quarters is a beautiful view, particularly the wagon, which I think is wonderful. It starts to get into bulging surfaces, so it’s not just a graphic. Where we’re at now with the CTS is that we have the first read, simple graphic lines; the second read, about beauty and surface and performance; and the third read, about exquisite detail. Look at the hood of the current CTS: there is quite a bit of detail there, but it’s not detail that’s immediate or obvious.” —Andrew D. Smith, executive director, Cadillac Design.

Andrew D. Smith: Australian in America Who Gets It

Sometimes an outsider perspective is absolutely essential to understand the unique possibilities presented by a brand . . . like Cadillac.

Gilgandra, NSW, is about five-and-a-half hours by car to Sydney to the east and nine-and-a-half hours to Melbourne to the south. It is a small town, with a population of 2,700 people. Andrew D. Smith grew up in Gilgandra. His dad was a Holden dealer in the town. Smith went to school in Gilgandra until age 15, at which time he moved to Sydney to attend boarding school and university. He studied design. His last year there, he was offered a job in Melbourne, first as an intern, then contractor, then employee.

And some 20 years later, Smith is still with General Motors, but now in Warren, MI, where he is the executive director, Design, Cadillac. Warren is about 23-and-a-half hours from Gilgandra—by air.

Cadillac was established in the Detroit area in 1902. It’s French name notwithstanding, it is a quintessentially American brand. And so there is an Australian running Cadillac design?

Yes. And with good reason. “For me,” Smith says, “it is easy to come in and have an objective view of what’s great about America. So sometimes when we have discussions internally about how ‘American’ we should be, I will tell you that externally, for the rest of the world, Cadillac is American, and that is something we should be really strong about.” Smith adds, “I gave a presentation recently and used JFK and Steve Jobs in the discussion. Both of them were forward-thinking, visionary, optimistic people who could see a better future. For me, that sums up my perception of America.”

And another attribute that Smith discerns: “Something that many other countries don’t do is celebrate success.” This is something that he sees as being part of the American fabric, and something that he thinks is important for Cadillac to do. “It doesn’t have to be gaudy or blingy, but we can celebrate the good things about the brand.”

“What’s great about Cadillac,” Smith says, “is that it is confident.” He cites the proportions of the ATS Coupe as an example, as well as the ELR, which he describes as having “an unusual proportion. It’s not a class rear-drive design. It’s got this modern, unique monospace shape to it that focuses on the technology.” He also thinks that the ELR is “a special Cadillac”—“It should come in a jewelry box,” he says, metaphorically. “It’s not a car that you buy for yourself, but for someone else. It is like a rare, special jewel that you give to someone.”

It is the sense of specialness that seems to inform Smith’s thinking about Cadillac. “I think uniqueness is an opportunity for us, as other brands democratize luxury.” He suggests that what is truly important for luxury brands is to have something “slightly unobtainable,” something that is special. “If you’re buying a premium product and everybody has the same product . . . ”

But he emphasizes, “It doesn’t mean that it is inaccessible”—after all, they’re in the business of selling cars (something Smith understands, because his dad was a Holden dealer in Gilgandra)—“but it has to be special. There has to be some value to walking in and throwing your keys on the table and it has our crest on it. People go, ‘You have a Cadillac, really? What’s that car like?’ That’s a great place 
to be.”

“I spend a lot of time looking at older Cadillacs in the context of when they were released,” Smith says. “They’ve always been forward-looking.”

Because they were confident and optimistic, one can only assume.