Dead-End Technologies

Dead-End Technologies: Cadillac DeVille

The Cadillac DeVille nameplate was already old and tired by 2000 and adding night vision didn't do much to help boost sales.

The Cadillac DeVille itself, both with its original name and with the DTS moniker given as part of Cadillac’s weird renaming push of the last decade, was obviously not a dead end. What was a flop in connection to this car was the briefly offered night vision feature, first fitted to the car in 2000. This was the first car to incorporate such a system, and although a handful of other manufacturers briefly fitted it to one or two of their models, it has overall been a big dud.

Fitting the DeVille with night vision was actually a pretty logical move on the part of Cadillac. It wasn’t itself a great idea, and Cadillac did also largely fail to follow it up, but the logic of the move was solid. This was a period in which Cadillac was doing everything in its power to emulate the German luxury brands to which it had already lost so much of its market share. This would include changing the names of nearly all of its models to alphanumeric designations (like the Germans) and would only later include actually building better cars. But the Germans all had tech-laden big flagship sedans, and Cadillac seemed to think that this was a must.

The DeVille therefore needed some new technology, and preferably the sort of technology which you can actually see working. The DeVille was new for 2000, then in its eighth generation. The nameplate had started as a trim level for the higher-end models in the Cadillac lineup, in particular the Series 62, and first became its own model for the 1959 model year. Offered as either a sedan or an almost comically huge coupe, the DeVille served Cadillac well over the years, but by the end of the Nineties it was looking seriously under-powered and outdated when compared to the German and now Japanese competition.

The 2000 gen-eight redesign really did a lot for the car. The exterior benefited from a far more modern look, and Cadillac now had the ability to boast about the car’s technology. Night vision systems would spread to about a dozen or so models from various manufacturers, but this would take several years, and was never done particularly effectively. Systems designed by Mercedes-Benz and BMW would pop up in 2005, but these systems would display the night vision imaging on either the navigation screen or the instrument cluster. This made it necessary to constantly shift between looking at the screen and looking out the windshield, making it difficult to use.

Cadillac’s system, in addition to being first, was also more practical. It evolved the heads-up display technology which GM had been using for years and upgraded it so that the night vision images were displayed right on the windshield. It was this configuration which was later adopted by Honda and Toyota when they tried out the technology. This was all well and good, but it did nothing to curb the decline in DeVille sales. One or two good bragging points just weren't enough to make up for DeVille still being, in essence, an old person’s car.

The system was designed in a partnership with the defense contractor Raytheon, which had predicted that eight different GM models would be using the technology by 2004. This didn’t happen and, in fact, 2004 was when GM dropped the option from the DeVille, and a year later dropped the nameplate entirely. The problem had been that, realistically, night vision is fairly pointless. The ability to see a few hundred yards further is somewhat useful in rural areas, but in urban or even most suburban areas (where most luxury car owners live), it doesn’t really help at all. In the end, this new and highly evolved technology was undone by one far older than even the car itself: the streetlight.

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