Debuted on the Concept Car Lawn at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Escala was long-awaited from Cadillac. Seen as an extension of previous Cadillac cars like 2011’s Ciel and 2013’s Elmiraj, the Escala looks simultaneously contemporary and classic. It is undeniably a luxury automobile, roomy while also performance-centric.
While the Cadillac brand is universally-known and respected, it is not often that you hear about the people that make concepts like the Escala into a reality. Andrew Smith, Executive Director of Cadillac Global Design, is one of these people. Andrew has worked within the General Motors family for 20 years, having come into his current position in September 2013. Beyond the Escala, he worked on the CT6 prestige sedan and the XT5 crossover.
Cadillac is often thought of as a Detroit-based company, yet Cadillac recently relocated its global headquarters to New York City. It also opened up Cadillac House, a public space on the ground level of Cadillac’s SoHo headquarters, which features a coffee shop, art gallery, and retail space. The Escala is currently on display at Cadillac House — as located at 330 Hudson Street — through Oct. 19.
What was the first car-related item you ever designed?
Andrew Smith: My dad was a Holden dealer in Australia, and one childhood visit I took the liberty of filling his entire 60-page paper desk blotter with different facelifts of the first generation VB Commodore ostensibly so he could send them to Holden. As a design professional, the first item was a tail lamp.
When studying design in college, did you have a specialty? Did you then realize that people designed cars?
AS: I studied Industrial Design and graduated from the Sydney College of the Arts and University of Technology Sydney. As a kid I sketched cars for hours on end. However, the watershed moment for me occurred at age 14, reading an issue of Autocar Magazine. It featured the graduating class at the Royal College of Art. I showed it to my parents and said something like I needed to go to London to study design.
Where does your inspiration for design usually come from? Do you go to museums and galleries? Read magazines?
AS: I do, however my inspiration for design comes more from the broad curiosity I have for the world around me. At its foundation, design is about being curious and problem solving. Among the top reasons I pursued a career in design was the opportunity to collaborate and create products for brands with a great story to tell.
How would you describe the Escala to someone who has not yet experienced it?
AS: I have been with Cadillac for three years and I see my job as a stewardship. The brand is coming up on 115 years and so the question is where do you take it next? The Escala is our opportunity to convey the work we have been doing in terms of brand positioning and tonality — the direction we are going with sophistication. This concept shares how Cadillac will bring forward a new experience that is uniquely-American, and unmistakably-Cadillac.
What was the first Cadillac model you ever drove?
AS: It was a first-generation SRX and it was in Michigan.
You spent a few years in Korea for your job. Is there anything you miss about working and living there?
AS: I miss the people and the food — especially mandu, the Korean dumplings, and the chicken noodle soup. I don’t miss the traffic.
Speaking of moving, Cadillac recently moved its global headquarters from Detroit to New York City. What prompted that?
AS: Having a distinct Cadillac business unit enables the brand to pursue growing opportunities in the luxury automotive market with more focus and clarity. The city of Detroit and the state of Michigan remain central to Cadillac, as the majority of our vehicle portfolio is built here and all of our design, and product and technical development activities remain in the Detroit area.
How would you describe Cadillac House to someone who hasn’t been there yet?
AS: Cadillac House New York is a public meeting place at Cadillac’s global headquarters in SoHo where innovators, creators and the curious can find inspiration–and each other.
Do you have a favorite part of Cadillac House? A favorite drink there?
AS: My favorite feature at Cadillac House is the runway. I love the way it frames the car and draws visitors to the car. Coffee is my beverage of choice.
Escala aside, what’s coming up for Cadillac?
AS: The momentum in the Cadillac studios is at an all-time high with the second half of the decade marking a new era of expansion and new products in development for launch between now and 2020.
When not busy with your day job, how do you like to spend your free time?
AS: With my family — especially LEGOs with my son, watching movies with my daughters, entertaining with my wife and walking the dog.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
What about a favorite neighborhood?
AS: I really enjoy the High Line and Chelsea in general is awesome as is the Meatpacking District. There is always so much going on and something new to see and experience.
Finally, Andrew, any last words for the kids?
AS: My guidelines for aspiring designers are to be open to new opportunities, look around and ask questions, get involved, don’t take it personally, and ask “Does it make me happy?”