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Cadillac Ups Craftsmanship

Jim Taylor, Cadillac general manager, references a quote from Henry Leland, chief engineer of Cadillac in 1904, as related to Cadillac then—and now: “Craftsmanship a law, accuracy a creed.” While that may not have been the case for many years between then and now, Taylor says that in addition to the continued efforts to make the division’s products exhibit “dramatic design” and “serious performance,” they’re moving toward increased craftsmanship and attention to detail, finesse in the design and construction of the cars and trucks.Taylor is echoed by John Howell, Cadillac product director, who says that “It’s time to step up even further in terms of quality and luxury,” and that doing so is an effort that includes a strong cooperation between design and engineering.One of the things they are doing to realize this in product is proliferate their learnings from low-volume products to their more mainstream offerings.

Jim Taylor, Cadillac general manager, references a quote from Henry Leland, chief engineer of Cadillac in 1904, as related to Cadillac then—and now: “Craftsmanship a law, accuracy a creed.” While that may not have been the case for many years between then and now, Taylor says that in addition to the continued efforts to make the division’s products exhibit “dramatic design” and “serious performance,” they’re moving toward increased craftsmanship and attention to detail, finesse in the design and construction of the cars and trucks.

Taylor is echoed by John Howell, Cadillac product director, who says that “It’s time to step up even further in terms of quality and luxury,” and that doing so is an effort that includes a strong cooperation between design and engineering.

One of the things they are doing to realize this in product is proliferate their learnings from low-volume products to their more mainstream offerings. A case in point is the leather wrapped IP and center consoles found in the XLR-V and STS-V. The leather features French seams that are hand sewn. Howell says that a few years ago he took on the assignment to find the ways and means to increase the perceived quality of Cadillacs. He went looking for processes, suppliers, and ideas. This took him to a company located near Munich, Germany, Dräxlmaier (http://www.draexlmaier.de/index_en.htm), which specializes in leather interior trim. It is the supplier that Cadillac is using for the XLR-V and STS-V and now for the SRX. Realize that the STS-V has an annual volume on the order of 2,000 units and the XLR-V half that. Howell estimates that the ’07 SRX will be on the order of 25,000 units.

He explains that the process of creating a leather-wrapped IP starts with cutting the hide. This is performed by computer-controlled laser-cutting. The pieces to be cut are laid out using a nesting program that is the same as that used in sheet metal processing, with nesting performed so as to minimize offal. The sewing is performed by people working on sewing machines. (The process is being performed for Cadillac in a Dräxlmaier plant in Duncan, SC.) Howell points out that when making French seams there is a folding under of the two pieces of material at the joint. Given the thickness of the leather (as compared with the thickness of cloth, which is where these seams are ordinarily encountered), this could result in a bulge at the joint, which would be unsightly on a smooth, planar surface like that of an IP. So in order to minimize the bulge, Howell explains, the back of the leather pieces are carefully skived in the areas where the sewing will be performed. By minimizing the thickness of the leather pieces, the resulting joint is smooth. Another area where there is skiving for a different purpose is in the area where the door for the passenger-side airbag is located. Because they don’t want to have an interruption in the smooth surface and because it is necessary for the airbag to deploy efficiently, they skive the perimeter of the door opening in the back of the leather such that when the bag deploys the skiving has sufficiently prepared the leather so that it pops out of the way as the bag breaks through.

Once the leather pieces are prepared, they are fitted on to of the uncolored, untextured IP. Then the cover is vacuum molded and adhesively bonded in place. Howell admits that the hand process can introduce some slight variation, but one of the factors of craftsmanship is that there is actually a person involved in the process, not merely mechanisms. He likens it to a Holland & Holland shotgun, which is hand-crafted but no less precise as a result.—GSV