Talking Cars and Relaxing Autonomy with Cadillac Canada Boss Hoss Hassani
We sat down to talk 1990s cartoons, bustle-back Sevilles, where he came into the brand, and the Future of Cadillac.
Cadillac is undergoing a bit of a resurgence. Sure, you’ve been hearing that for a while, but with two new SUVs in the last year, a new vehicle on the way twice a year for the next three years, and the announcement that they’ll be leading GM’s electric charge, this time they sound serious. So we sat down with Cadillac Canada boss Hoss Hassani at the Detroit Auto Show to talk 1990s cartoons, bustle-back Sevilles, where he came into the brand, and the Future of Cadillac.
Wheels.ca For every enthusiast, there’s a point where you come into the brand. Where it’s introduced to you and really makes that first impression. For you, with Cadillac, what was that first impression?
Hoss: I came into Cadillac with a Fleetwood Brougham. My dad was a car nut. Like he was driving cars when he was like six, eight years old back in Iran. But my aunt, my dad’s sister, when she moved to Canada, she just had a thing about her. She was like Ava Gabor or something. She had this grey Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. With the velour seats or velvet seats. I felt like I was a tiny little kid, I must have been just six years old myself, and I would always get the front seat of this car. Even though I had two older brothers. And just the switches on this thing, the power windows, and the bigness of it.
Like when my mom would borrow it to drop me off to school I just felt like such a boss getting out of that thing. I have a very vivid memory of that. You mentioned the Seville (an elementary school teacher with a 1980-1985 Seville was my own Cadillac imprint) though. Because a young lady friend of our family who I had a crush on, her mom drove that same (bustle-back) Seville, and that same reaction. This is such an unusual shape for a car, right? Even hatchbacks weren’t big back then. So those are my two most vivid experiences with Cadillac. That (Brougham) would have been in 1980, they were still big.
Wheels.ca: It used to be that between GM brands, bigger meant better. Cadillac bigger than Buick, and so on. What about today, where the Cadillacs aren’t bigger?
Hoss: If you look at them in absolute terms, they’re small. If you look at them in relative terms, it’s actually been a Cadillac strategy for some time now, really since the first CTS came out with Led Zeppelin and all the rest, where in the segments we’re competing in we are generally at the upper end of the segment in terms of size. The CTS at the time, when you looked at the (BMW) 3 series and the (Mercedes)C-Class and so forth, the CTS was closer in size to the 5 Series and the E-Class than it was to the vehicles it was competing against. And similarly, the XT4 is among the larger of the small SUVs. The XT5 is among the smaller of the compact SUVs that are five passengers. That said, the XT6 is coming in much more in the sweet spot.
It’s not coming in at the large end of the segment. Which frankly, for me as a Toronto native and Toronto dweller and a city dweller, I don’t necessarily think bigger is always better. I kind of like the smart size and frankly if you want big we’ve got the Escalade ESV to satiate your needs. So I think the XT6 is really well positioned and packaged in terms of size.
Our president in Canada and managing director Travis Hester used to be the executive chief of all the chief engineers. And a lot of the Cadillacs that are coming out now and in the near future, he’s been very involved in their engineering. So he’s telling us the story of how much work went into the third-row space accommodations to make it comfortable for an adult. so I want to really get myself back there.
Wheels.ca: Do buyers really use those third rows, or are they more about having the capability?
Hoss: I think the answer is yes and no. You’ve got a lot of single people buying three-row crossovers throughout the segment. At the same time you get a lot of young families that are using them. It just so happens coming to Toronto our former head of sales for Cadillac has three young boys and our current head of marketing for Cadillac has four children. So we were driving down and he’s got four car seats in his car in the second and third row. In the other, (he) has three car seats across two rows. There is definitely a large group of people in Toronto, in Montreal, and Vancouver. In Canada. Who need that third row. Not just for kids. But frankly speaking, my own use cases, I get family visiting a lot of times from outside. But they come in like packs. So for me, if I’m not driving an Escalade, you know, I feel bad about what they may be squeezing into. For the first time this XT6 with the headroom and the deeper footwell and the angle of the back seat, it doesn’t feel like a jump seat on a plane. Or, you know, extended cab medium-size pickup truck rear seat. It feels like a comfortable seat.
Wheels.ca: Will this upcoming onslaught of vehicles be new segments or refreshes?
Hoss: Both. Specifically, what we’ve been saying (is that) at the beginning of 2017, Cadillac had coverage of about 60% of the segments by volume. By the end of this year we will be covering 90% of the segments. So that’s a huge increase in just 18 to 24 months. So inasmuch as there are refreshes and so forth, a lot of that is new entries. The XT6 is the second largest segment, the XT4 is a little bit smaller. But combined, that’s about 100,000 units in those two segments in Canada. So that’s a significant increase in coverage for a brand that previously had two SUVs and now is on its way to four. So the short answer is both.
Wheels.ca: How many of those will get the new Blackwing V8?
Hoss: Stay tuned
Wheels.ca: Only a few people are naming engines these days. Where does the inspiration come from to do that?
Hoss: A lot of that just comes from the passion that goes into designing. And performance engines specifically. It’s more likely to happen on a notable engine than a 1.8L turbo engine, as an example.
Again, you know, talking to Travis Hester… and hearing him talk about the engineering that went into that Blackwing engine. You can understand why at the end of that process they’d want to christen it with a name and create an identity around it.
Because it was a labour of love, passion project, huge investment in that powertrain. Formidable engine. It’s like you know what, this thing needs more than just a technical descriptor. I think by all accounts we came up with a pretty kick-ass name for it too. It feels like that should be a superhero or something. Batman’s nemesis Blackwing.
Wheels.ca: Are you familiar with Darkwing Duck?
Hoss: I am. That’s not a bad reference. Probably not someone who’s going to make his way into our advertising. Although I say that and Batman was a spokesman for OnStar for a very short period of time. I don’t know what Alfred was thinking when he was being replaced by OnStar. He seemed very enthusiastic.
Wheels.ca: If you could have any vehicle built for the company. A blue-sky “this is the vehicle I want to start making for Cadillac” what would it be?
Hoss: I’ll answer two ways. One is, you know if you look at our concepts that we’ve introduced over the last few years, I’d love for one of those to be my company car. Most recently the Escala, but I was particularly fond of the Elmiraj as well. The Elmiraj, the proportions just had an effect on me.
Since I was a kid, concept cars have always been the thing I’d looked the most forward to. So I would pick any one of our last three or four concept cars in Cadillac. I cried a little when the Escalade EXT went out of production. Because the Avalanche was one of my favourite vehicles. It’s a tough one for me. I’ve got so many different, sort of, needs in my week.
I happen to be in a job that affords me the option of getting a sedan when I need it or an SUV when I need it and I don’t think I would ever be able to have just one car. I think if General Motors fired me under the worst of circumstances, I would for sure buy a General Motors product. I don’t know that I could pick just one. I’d need a truck and a car, I think.
Wheels.ca: Which of the current fleet are you picking most often?
Hoss: CT6 and the Escalade. But I have an XT4 on order. I’ll tell you one feature I wish would come back, and I’ve dropped this a few times, is front bench seats. I feel like front bench seats, people walked away. It got some stigma that it was for old folks and I just wish we would bring back the front bench seat.
I don’t have enough clout to make that happen.
With drive by wire throttles and transmissions and all the rest, it’s not like packaging of it can’t be accommodating. It’s just people want these giant screens, and I suppose in a frontal collision if you wack your head on a giant 50-inch iPad it’s probably going to hurt.
Wheels.ca: It looks like autonomous vehicles might be taking us back to the bench seat anyway. Maybe even beds?
Hoss: Autonomous is going to completely change the form of the interior of the vehicle. More than any other design trend in the past. You’re talking about a fundamental change in the usage of a vehicle. And that’s going to have a huge effect of the design of interiors.
Wheels.ca: Have you been driven in an autonomous prototype yet?
Hoss: The CT6 I had been driving for about eight months had Super Cruise. And my commute is an hour each way. 99% of that commute is on the 401. So most of that time I’m driving Super Cruise. And I’ve got to tell you it has a complete transformation on your physiology. This is not just about the experience of being in the car. When you for drive an hour to work, and are commuting in Toronto traffic, that has an effect on you.
Even a person who is immune from road rage, it has a physiological effect on you. And when you take all of those micro decisions that you make when you’re driving a vehicle out and you just have to focus on the road ahead as you do in Super Cruise. I’m telling you the feeling that you have when you arrive at your destination is so much more energized and uplifted. And similar to the use case of driving four hours to Detroit for the auto show. I would need to take a minute, check in at the hotel, rest a bit. Now, I can go straight into a meeting with no problem. When you’ve benefited from that rest. So I’m a big fan of the experience that I’ve had so far with semi-autonomous. And I’m ready for the autonomous future.
We shot a video of some people doing the same thing (experiencing it for the first time). And everybody goes through the same sort of physicality when they’re driving Supercruise for the first time. Which is at first they’ll put their hands a couple inches off of the steering wheel. And you know, they flinch every time a tractor-trailer goes by. Then their hands will get tired so they’ll put the hands cupped under the steering wheel. Still a couple of inches away. Then they get tired, then they’re just like, screw it. So after like 10 minutes they’re just crossed arms. That first 10 minutes, there’s a lot going on in the person’s mind. Unlearning a lot of behaviours. But then after 10 minutes they just lock in and they’re like this is great. Everyone goes through that same physicality. It’s hilarious.
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