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Detroit Auto Show: Cadillac unveils ELR plug-in hybrid

By David Undercoffler

10:36 AM EST, January 15, 2013

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You'd think that after launching an American icon -- the 2014 Corvette -- and its best-selling U.S. vehicles in the country -- the Chevy and GMC trucks -- that General Motors would call it day.

But the company launched another important model on Tuesday at the Detroit Auto Show: the ELR, a sleek luxury coupe based on the Chevrolet Volt.

Cadillac designed the car with Southern California in mind. In an interview ahead of Tuesday's announcement, Bob Ferguson, vice president of global Cadillac, said the ELR could help the automaker gain ground in the country's largest luxury car market.

PHOTOS: The Cadillac ELR

"In many ways we've struggled on the coasts," Ferguson said. "I see that this car will refresh consideration among Californians."

The ELR launch follows the company's new ATS sedan, a rear-wheel-drive competitor to the BMW 3-Series.

"The ATS has really moved us forward," Ferguson said. "This vehicle will build on that momentum and get us back into the luxury conversation. We need to be there, especially with California consumers."

FULL COVERAGE: 2013 Detroit Auto Show

Cadillac ELR uses the same plug-in hybrid drivetrain as the Chevy Volt, but the 1.4-liter four cylinder is paired with a stronger electric motor. Total horsepower jumps from 149 in the Volt to 207 in the ELR, while torque rises from 273 to 295.

The ELR will travel up to 35 miles on electric power only, with a total range of more than 300 miles. The company has not yet released fuel economy ratings but did say the ELR would qualify to drive in California's carpool lanes. Such eligibility matters: Volt sales jumped 205% in 2012 after Chevy released a version that qualified.

Like the Volt, the ELR is front-wheel-drive and has a single-speed transmission. But the ELR adds paddles mounted to the steering wheel. Rather than shifting the transmission's gears, the paddles increase the amount of resistance the regenerative brakes provide, effectively slowing the car without using the brake.

PHOTOS: Highlights of the Detroit Auto Show

The effect is similar to a downshift as the car approaches a turn, and Cadillac says this is one of several features designed to give the plug-in hybrid a sporty character. Others include a revised suspension, with a driver-selectable Sport mode, and 20-inch wheels.

That character is also evident in the ELR's progressive body styling. The coupe carries the shape and many styling cues from the Converj concept Cadillac displayed at the 2009 Detroit auto show. A large chrome grille similar to that on the XTS sedan hides active shutters to reduce drag, while vertical headlights angle up the ELR's front quarter panels.

Inside, the coupe is a 2+2 configuration, with two small seats positioned behind the two front seats. Cadillac's much-maligned CUE touch-screen infotainment system is standard, and Cadillac says the materials and quality of the ELR's interior will set new standards for the automaker.

Charging the ELR will take about 4.5 hours using a dedicated 240V outlet, or 12 hours using a standard 120V outlet, according to Cadillac. Though the company declined to discuss pricing, expect the ELR to land between $60,000 and $70,000 when it goes on sale in early 2014.

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