NEW YORK -- Cadillac added some much-needed interior refinement but kept the bling for its fourth-generation Escalade, which should help the large luxury SUV retain its cachet among professional athletes and celebrities.
Still striking an imposing stance, the redesigned Escalade unveiled at a media event here on Monday is tauter and less truck-like. Inside, General Motors engineers and designers added some of the functionality and refinement missing from the current model, such as a fold-flat third row and plenty of real wood and suede trim.
Even as GM positions Cadillac as a performance marque to challenge German luxury brands head on, the Escalade remains a vestige of the brand's big, brash past, and it's one of GM's most profitable vehicles.
"It's the car that the Germans can't do, and it makes a ton of money for the dealers," says Jim Hall, principal at consulting firm 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, Mich.
Production of the '15 Escalade, including the extended ESV model, will begin in the spring in Arlington, Texas, GM said in a statement. It's expected to reach showrooms by April, marking a short model year for the outgoing '14. The EXT pickup has been discontinued.
"The 2015 Escalade is completely new and elevated in design and technology," Bob Ferguson, senior vice president of global Cadillac, said in a statement. "The clear objective is to once again assume the leadership position among luxury SUVs."
The Escalade has a loyal fan base in the United States and is important for Cadillac in the Middle East, a key market for the brand as it looks to accelerate growth overseas, Hall said.
Despite the improvements, the Escalade's U.S. sales are unlikely to approach their peak of 39,017 units in 2006. Through September, sales this year are down 4 percent to 8,953.
IHS Automotive predicts that U.S. sales will rise to around 21,000 next year and to about 24,000 in the following two years.
In the meantime, industry insiders believe, GM likely will move forward with a unibody, seven-passenger Cadillac crossover that would more directly compete with vehicles such as the Mercedes GL class or Audi A7.
That crossover, slotted above the SRX and below the Escalade, is likely to arrive by late 2015 and would be built on the same platform that underpins the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave.
"A new seven-seat crossover could sell at higher volume and appeal more as an all-around" vehicle, IHS analyst Stephanie Brinley said.
The treatment of Cadillac's vertically arranged headlights, among the most noticeable styling cues on the brand's recent vehicles, is especially striking on the new Escalade, with "four vertically stacked crystal lenses and LEDs," GM said.
The taillights feature a tall, slender string of LEDs that stretch to the top of the vehicle.