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How to build a Cadillac ATS

by DrivingEnthusiast

Esquire magazine has an interesting article detailing how the new Cadillac ATS was designed and built. Esquire thinks that the ATS just might be the most important domestic car since the Model T.

We certainly can’t agree with that assessment, but we will agree that the new Alpha platform first seen in this new Cadillac ATS is extremely relevant to both GM and to the competition. If the Cadillac CTS failed to meet or match the hallowed BMW 3-series standard, the Cadillac ATS comes much closer. Not only within a few tenths of an inch in overall dimensions, but even closer in engines and drivetrains. And – at least by intent – in refinement.

Not all is perfect, of course, as we’ve seen in recent road tests where the 4-cylinder turbo ATS just barely lost to the BMW in straight-line performance *and* refinement (but, interestingly, not in skidpad). You may have been following the development of the all-new Alpha platform over the past several years, where engineers battled against conflicting corporate demands (switching back and forth over whether the platform would be able to house a V-8 or not – which has major ramifications for overall weight). But now the Alpha platform is locked in and in its first use for the Cadillac ATS.

Andrew Tingle
The ATS in Opulent Blue. It’s priced toward first-time luxury-car buyers at $33,990.

It’s a well-known secret that this same platform will be used for the next Camaro, as well as for the next CTS. Thank Bob Lutz for that. And it means that the ATS, which weighs 3415 pounds in base 4-cylinder form, could very well yield a 3200 pound 4-cylinder Camaro base model. Which, considering the morbidly obese 4000+ pounds of the current Camaro, is very significant. It’s even possible that it will weigh less than the next Mustang, which will not enjoy the benefits of an all-new chassis, having to live with a slight update to the current chassis (which itself is simply a very dumbed-down version of the DEW98 chassis dating back to 1999 – a chassis which in its original specifications could have competed very well against the CTS if Ford had continued to develop it. A smaller version was planned for the Mustang and a BMW 3-series competitor for LIncoln – both cancelled by Billy Ford).

This type of weight loss is the only way forward, given increasing emissions regulations as well as the 54.5 mpg CAFE Standard being phased in over the next several years and due to be completed by 2025. Future Mustangs and Camaros (as well as Corvettes) won’t be about the ultimate horsepower number anymore, instead they will compete on the new standard of pounds per horsepower.

For the sake of posterity, we’ve saved the images from the article below. Unfortunately, Esquire didn’t provide the one image that we’ve seen elsewhere, but hoped they would capture. We’ve seen a bare bodyshell and chassis of the ATS in press briefings, and took special note of the extent of the work the designers undertook in order to save weight. Very clearly a “gram strategy” (to use Mazda’s term) was used to keep the weight of every single component to the absolute minimum required to perform the task. The bodyshell was also lightened with large numbers of stamped-in holes in order to lighten the body wherever possible without compromising structural and torsional requirements.

What will the future Alpha-based Camaro look like? The ATS saves weight and reduces cost by using a McPherson strut-type front suspension. The tires are shorter and smaller than those of the current Camaro. The chassis can accommodate the next generation 5.5 liter V-8, which will be offered for as many years going forward as the CAFE average of GM can sustain. The ATS engineers have said in interviews that a precise and well designed suspension doesn’t need to fall back on gigantic tires. Same for rim size: 19s are the largest offered with this chassis and 20s are not needed. The Camaro will certainly use wider tires, but not any taller. We could probably predict the Camaro tire size based on the ATS specifications. The use of the new Alpha platform means a better performing Camaro all around, with far better dynamic characteristics as well as higher quality.

Cadillac ATS chassis on the line at the Lansing Grand River assembly plant
Andrew Tingle

Andrew Tingle
Installing windshields.

Andrew Tingle
Assembly line

Andrew Tingle
A recently pressed inner-hood panel in Flint.

Andrew Tingle
Assembly line, underneath the ATS

Andrew Tingle
The Journey team constructing driver composites using Post-it notes.

Andrew Tingle
The andon board at LGR displays information about each workstation.

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