Cadillac gets something EXTra

2002 Escalande EXT
Length: 221.4 inches Width: 79.5 inches Height: 75.6 inches Wheelbase: 130 inches Weight: 5,853 pounds Engine: 6.0-liter V-8 Horsepower: 345

CARMEL, Calif. - Trying to shed its reputation for stodgy products, General Motors is shaking up the Cadillac lineup with the 2002 Escalade EXT.

This new type of vehicle, which GM calls a sport-utility truck, is a full-sized sport-utility with a pickuplike bed. The 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche was the first of these vehicles to hit the road. The 2002 Lincoln Blackwood and Escalade EXT follow this fall.

Although Cadillac estimates that the market for full-sized sport-utility pickups will grow dramatically in the next few years, demand is unproven.

The vehicles are aimed at luxury buyers who desire the look and versatility of a pickup but neither need nor want the load capacity and bumpy ride that accompany it. These truck buyers are more likely to be antique collectors and architects than carpenters and bricklayers.

Although the successful mid-sized Ford Explorer SportTrac was the first sport-utility-based pickup, GM is targeting the more profitable full-sized market. It expects to sell more than 130,000 of the vehicles by 2005. For comparison, GM sold a total of 414,392 full-sized sport-utilities in 2000.

200,000-unit market

Susan Docherty, Cadillac Escalade and Escalade EXT brand manager, said the market for full-sized sport-utility pickups will grow to 200,000 by 2005.

Docherty's projection is based on an estimated growth in sales by the Blackwood, Avalanche and Escalade EXT, along with new entries. Chevrolet is aiming for 100,000 Avalanche sales next year, followed by the Escalade EXT with 12,000 units and Blackwood with 10,000.

Docherty spoke at the preview for the Escalade EXT in Carmel, Calif.

Besides the Escalade EXT and Avalanche, GM is gearing up for the Hummer H2 SUT, which will bow around the 2004 model year for this segment. The four-door Hummer will be developed off GM's full-sized truck platform and have a small pickup bed along with GM's Midgate, a cargo door at the rear of the passenger cabin. Annual sales of 15,000 to 20,000 units are expected.

Avalanche vs. EXT

At first glance, the Escalade EXT appears to be nearly a twin of the Avalanche. Both have four doors and a short pickup bed. Both feature GM's Midgate. When open, the Midgate lengthens the bed from 5 feet, 3 inches to 8 feet, 1 inch. With the longer bed, the EXT can carry 4-by-8 sheets of plywood.

The Escalade EXT takes 94 percent of its parts and components from GM's full-sized sport-utility lineup, including the Chevrolet Avalanche and Suburban, and the Cadillac Escalade. The Escalade EXT has its own front-end styling and sheet metal (except for the doors) and interior touches.

But while the two-wheel-drive Avalanche carries a $30,965 sticker including transportation, the Escalade EXT starts at $49,990. High-tech features and powertrain separate the two vehicles. For example, the Escalade and Escalade EXT models come standard with a 345-hp, 6.0-liter V-8, all-wheel drive and StabiliTrak stability control.

The suspension on the Cadillacs features automatic damping to reduce roll and pitch and to provide better wheel-to-road contact.

The Chevrolet Avalanche does not offer these features, although some of them may be optional for the 2003 model year.

Luxury SUVs to level off

While Docherty expects the luxury sport-utility segment, with players such as the BMW X5, Lexus LX 450, Lincoln Navigator and Escalade, to level off at 100,000 annual sales, she expects the sales of sport-utilities with pickup beds to more than double that by 2005.

"When we look at luxury-car buyers, people who are in luxury sedans, 7 to 10 percent of that population every year trade in their luxury car for either a full-sized pickup or a luxury utility," she said.

Escalade EXT production begins in October. Traditionally strong truck markets, such as Florida, California and Texas, will get the first vehicles. Following Job 1, it may be three months before all Cadillac dealers have the Escalade EXT.

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