As you have already seen or heard from the news, Cadillac would no longer be using its twin-turbo V8 engine. It is a shame because lots of money and man-hours were spent to develop it. Here are some events and highlights of how such a promising engine got killed.
In the first quarter of 2018, Cadillac made it public that it would give its top-of-the-line CT6 sedan the type of engine that lives up to its reputation and that’s the “Blackwing.” It is commonly known as Cadillac’s twin-turbo V8 engine, which is specifically a high-tech 4.2-L, double-overhead-cam engine with 4 valves per cylinder and two twin-scroll turbochargers. It has a clean-sheet design and was and still is one of the most advanced engines GM had ever made, producing up to 131 hp per liter. It was meant to be the centerpiece of a new Cadillac lineup and its goal was to compete with Germany’s best engine.
Developing and building a new engine takes years of work and not to mention millions of dollars. That’s the reason Blackwing’s case is so uncommon. Less than a year later, the people behind the CT6 were let go as part of a massive General Motors restructuring. The CT6, which was launched for the 2016 model, was ultimately canceled, and stopped production in February 2020. There were only 800 vehicles manufactured with the Blackwing V-8. Cadillac is not planning to put this engine in anything else, and that was what it was before COVID19 hit the car industry. The question is: Why did Cadillac spend so much effort and money to come up with an all-new engine only to cast it aside in such a short period of time? Turned out this was not the original plan.
Two decades ago, General Motors made a decision that it was the right time for Cadillac to level up and be a luxury brand and finally give a real challenge to the German luxury vehicle establishment. During the early 2010s, what you would expect is a large, luxurious sedan, and that time, the Alpha platform was all-new. It was slated for the third-gen CTS, the then upcoming ATS, and the sixth-gen Chevy Camaro. But the new full-size Cadillac wouldn’t have a similar platform with lesser models. Instead, it would have its own front engine, rear- or all-wheel drive architecture, which is rightly dubbed as Omega. Enter Johan de Nysschen, who is best known for a long and successful time leading Audi of America. De Nysschen is a breath of fresh air — he was candid among car executives and is no stranger to controversy. In 2014, Cadillac took the executive from Infinity where his enduring contribution seems to be broadly panned name change for all the brand’s vehicles.
Soon after the arrival of the South African executive, he announced big changes. He made a $12 billion plan to challenge the German establishment and widen Cadillac’s domain beyond the Chinese and American markets where it gets most of its sales. He also made known that the brand’s business headquarters would shift from Detroit to New York City, but according to the executive that decision had already been impending before he came.
The CT6 was launched in 2015 and became the first product of the new Omega platform. According to the design brief, it would be a big luxury sedan but would drive like a small. The CT6 was larger than a modern BMW 5-series but lighter and that is all credited to its aluminum-intensive structure. It was also much sharper to drive. The boring design and a bland interior were two major reasons Cadillac was getting behind its class rival. However, as a driver’s vehicle the CT6 was unquestionable. The car debuted with a turbo 4-cylinder and a pair of V6s, but Cadillac originally planned for the top-spec CT6 to have 8 cylinders.
De Nysschen’s big statement came at the 2016 Pebble Concours d’Elegance. Cadillac launched its gorgeous Escala, an elegant four-door fastback meant to highlight the brand’s new direction. The executive outlined their two objectives in a press release. According to de Nysschen, the Escala was a statement of intent for the next iteration of the Cadillac design language and at the same time, technical concepts in development for future Cadillac models. It also built Cadillac’s aspirational character which signalled the brand’s return to the pinnacle of premium. The last two paragraphs of the same press release were revealing. Cadillac confirmed that the concept used the CT6’s Omega platform and disclosed its powerplant: a 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8 which was a “prototype of a brand new system in development for the future Cadillac models.” De Nysschen also revealed a production Escala was a real possibility and sources involved with Cadillac during that time confirmed that concrete production plans were set up.
It is reasonable that Cadillac wanted to expand Omega. Creating a new platform is a huge investment, one best amortized across several models. The Omega platform was never planned to be utilized on just one sedan, and the CT6 was also not meant to be an orphan. Several sources confirmed that a crossover was reserved for the platform which was one of the elements in the plan to give Cadillac a global appeal.
The Escalade is perfect for the American market, and salable considering how much it shares with Chevrolet and GMC. However, there was a need for a car-based utility vehicle that would fit the European market. The Omega crossover would have given the same range of engines that are in the CT6 which includes a 2.0-L turbo, 4-cylinder, one or two V-6s, and the Blackwing V-8.
The Blackwing is not like any other V-8 in GM’s present lineup as it is more similar to high-end power plants of the German luxury brands than the GM’s pushrod offerings. It is the pioneer twin-turbo V8 in the history of the company. It has an aluminum block and heads, electronic wastegates, dual throttle bodies and water-to-air charge coolers.
CT6 Premium Luxury’s engine produced 500 hp and 574 lb-ft torque while the high-performing CT6-V could make 550 hp and an amazing 640 lb-ft. The engine produces a maximum of 20 lb of boost in the factory model. It was also said to be capable of higher output on the dyno, however, the CT6’s tight engine bay caused difficulty in managing heat, limiting its power.
The Blackwing was supposed to differentiate top-tier Cadillacs from the rest of GM’s vehicles. Also, a naturally aspirated small-block V8 could be apt for the Omega platform, however, it would not provide much more power than the 3.0-L twin-turbo V6. General Motors’ most powerful small-blocks are supercharged. This kind of solution was not applicable in the Omega platform and would not have matched the character Cadillac was aiming for.
But during the development of the Blacking, Cadillac’s situation changed. The customers’ demand began to change, particularly as sedans were becoming unpopular. It got more and more challenging to justify sticking with the strategy of creating new derivatives of the Omega platform. While everything was not sedans, if you didn’t have the sedans, the SUVs got more and more costly. It was no longer a good strategy when it comes to the financial aspect. Those Omega derivatives were gone, and in the end, the CT6 ended up being alone.
The Escala did not push through. Sedan volumes were declining, and it was difficult to defend a car more expensive than the already slow-selling CT6. Next was the Omega SUV. It’s easy to think that this was a sure win, especially when the platform was already developed. However, it was not as simple as it seemed as GM were not equipped with the engineering resources the new SUV required. Most of the auto manufacturer’s engineering is centralized. While there are teams assigned to each vehicle, they are smaller than you’d think, and they depend on the bigger organization. GM was occupied working on the next-gen of the body-on-frame pickups and SUVs that are crucial to the success of the company while Cadillac was in the process of making the Omega crossover a reality. Fifty percent of GM’s engineering resources were focused on pickups and SUVs. The Omega crossover could not materialize. And to add on to the challenge, the C8 Corvette was also being developed at the same time.
Another bigger challenge came. You’d get the impression that de Nysschen were not meeting eye to eye with GM management. His plan to make big changes to Cadillac needed a huge amount of time and money, and GM was not fully convinced of the value. De Nysschen eventually left the company in the beginning of second quarter of 2018 which is less than 4 years after he came, and only a month after Cadillac announced the Blackwing V8 for the CT6.
It was said that the GM company does not tend to double down on unlucrative ventures that demonstrate no indications of imminent recovery. GM’s powerful Detroit-based planning and product development organization did not abandon their tight grip on design and portfolio decisions. It’s been outperformed by the unconquerable reputation of German car automakers, has tough SUV rivals, and has suffered lackluster reception of the new sedans and continuous sinking of sales. All these conditions were enough for everyone concerned to come to a decision to end it.
The new CT4 and CT5 sedans which replaced the ATS and CTS respectively have de Nysschen’s marks all over them. And it is the same with the latest Escalade, which sets itself apart significantly from the rest of GM’s full-size SUVs. However, the XT6 crossover, which arrived in 2019, is a case of what could’ve been. After the Omega-based utility vehicle did not push through, Cadillac made use of GM’s front-drive C1XX platform to make a fine, if mediocre, family hauler. However, with its transverse engine layout, it makes sense to say you cannot expect it to be a high-performing XT6 that can keep up with the Porsche Cayenne Turbo or the BMW X5 M.
Considering Cadillac’s sudden shift of course, it’s incredible that the Blackwing engine even got it to production. The few prototypes of the twin-turbo V8 engine were hand-built in Kentucky at the Bowling Green Plant where the Corvette is built. Each engine was built from start to finish by one employee, one of only six assigned to this role. It is estimated that the Blackwing cost GM $16 million to develop which makes it $20,000 per example. You can see that the people behind it wanted to demonstrate that the Cadillac had the capacity to produce a world-class engine, even if the production was very limited.
Chances are we won’t see it again. It is still not clear if the engine can fit in the CT4 or CT5, and even if it could, such a low-volume production doesn’t seem to be in line with Cadillac’s present plans. The company has no intention of offering a high-performance version of each of those sedans, confusingly bearing the Blackwing name though they won’t utilize that engine. It is also unclear if the twin-turbo V8 will ever be seen in the Escalade, though that seems improbable too. During the launch of the latest Escalade, the successor of de Nysschen, Steve Carlisle, stated that the Cadillac has no plans for the Blackwing.
GM has already announced sweeping plans to boost its electric vehicle production using a new modular EV platform to be used among its 4 brands. Cadillac will have 2 electric flagships: the Celestiq, a fastback sedan, and The Lyriq, an SUV. The former will be hand-built in very limited numbers, and could cost be priced above $200,000 which is twice the price of a well-equipped Escalade and filling in the space meant for the Blackwing-powered escala. So as it turns out, the Cadillac being able to represent the pinnacle of GM engineering and technology may be materialized, as what de Nysschen wanted it to be, but not just the way he planned.