I still have a hard time getting my head around the notion of a luxury truck; the concept being foreign to me as chocolate covered bacon. Each on their own perfectly wonderful but when they're blended together something gets lost in translation. I look at a luxury car as a tuxedo and trucks as work appliances and never shall the two meet. After all, would you wear a tuxedo to work at a construction site? Apparently, I'm alone in that sentiment given that the instant full size luxury SUV's were available people of considerable means gobbled them up.
Well, let's not get carried away here. While luxury SUV sales are literally and figuratively big business for Ford and General Motors accounting for massive profits since the moment Ford cold cocked General Motors with the Lincoln Navigator in 1998, they've never sold tremendously well; they're just tremendously profitable. Little more than a new for 1997 Ford Expedition with Lincoln styling details and plusher leather, the first generation Lincoln Navigator had such an impact that in 1998, for the first time ever, Lincoln surpassed Cadillac in total number of vehicles sold. Cadillac still beat Lincoln in automobile sales but with the influx of the unique, trailblazing and most importantly trendsetting Navigator, Cadillac could no longer claim to be the best selling luxury nameplate in the United States. Again, we're not talking about a huge number of vehicles sold compared to say, U.S. sales of the Toyota Camry year in and year out, but when it comes to bragging rights and one upmanship, Lincoln suddenly had the upper hand.
With that, Cadillac, remarkably and admirably, wasted absolutely no time when not a year later they slapped "Escalade" on a GMC Yukon Denali. Even more obvious that it was really something else than the Navigator was, Cadillac was successful in wrenching back the sales crown from Lincoln even if the notion of a Cadillac truck, at the time, was laughably absurd. I still feel that way but again, I'm fairly alone with that sentiment. The subjectively more premium looking Navigator, by the way. still outsold Escalade.
"Escalade" is a fitting name for Cadillac's full sized luxury SUV since "escalade" is a military tactic from medieval times where an army attempts to broach an opponent fortified by a stone wall; think castle and a moat. After their first fore ray over the Navigator's formidable game changing walls, though, Cadillac delayed introducing a more compelling vehicle until model year 2002 as they tweaked and refined what ultimately would be a fatal salvo at the Navigator. Waiting also allowed GM to amortize whatever tooling costs putting "ESCALADE" on a Yukon were despite the fact that in 2000, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon rode on an updated chassis. Buyers could buy the next generation Escalade in 2000 by purchasing a loaded Denali, save thousands. and not even know they bought what was, in essence the next Escalade. But...it wasn't a Cadullac.
Timing being everything and patience being a virtue, it was clear by January 2001, when Cadillac introduced this new 'Slade, that the luxury SUV market segment had significant long term profitability. So, if the 1998 Lincoln Navigator introduced the world to the concept of a full size luxury SUV then our 2002 Cadillac Escalade here truly defined it. While far more of a stylistic departure from the GMC Yukon Denali it's based on than the 1999 Escalde was, the 2002 Escalade was still a most capable vehicle, especially when equipped with four wheel drive like most SUV's sold here in northern Ohio are. Not that many people would take advantage of it's prodigious towing or off road prowess capabilities. Not that buyers of "lesser" full size SUV's equipped with four wheel drive do much of that either.
Ironically, the only thing that puts any damper on Escalade sales is Cadillac's other SUV, actually it's what's called a crossover or "CUV", the SRX. Dubbed "XT5" for 2017, since it's wildly successful reintroduction in 2010, the SRX has become Cadillac's best selling vehicle far outselling the Escalade. Offering similarly decadent levels of luxury in a far more manageable size, along with the white glove service that Cadillac has always been famous for, the XT5 is poised to do what Lincoln could never do and that's push the Escalade back over the wall.
The SRX/XT5 being exactly what the Escalade is - a premium vehicle that people want in lieu of the fact, in many instances, that it's a Cadillac. Cadillac a brand that, unfortunately, continues to struggle even though what their cars are the equal or better of European brands. Who'd ever think that was possible. Their problems now have more to do with pricing than anything else since "Cadilllac" still doesn't have near the cache that "BMW", "Mercedes" or even "Audi" has. With Cadillac pricing on par with the German makes they're finding few buyers since those with the means to afford a prestige car are sticking with the imports. However, when it comes to prestige SUV's and CUV's Cadillac's got the market cornered. I still don't get it and me thinks I never well.