Editor's note: An earlier version of this blog misstated the campaign with which Chrysler introduced the "America's Import" tagline.
SAN FRANCISCO -- We hear an awful lot about the sorry state of Detroit's luxury brands.
There is Chrysler, which uses the tagline "America's Import" -- a baffling choice, partly because the 300 sedan is actually assembled in Ontario, and partly because it implies that imports are the truly desirable luxury cars.
There is Lincoln, which has been in a state of reinvention for more than a decade, and is just now starting to get products -- most notably, the MKZ sedan and MKC crossover -- that look like something other than what picks you up at the airport.
And of course, there is Cadillac, which brought aboard the seasoned Johan de Nysschen to work the magic that he worked at Audi and Infiniti. His plan? Move Cadillac's marketing operation to Manhattan and start a neat, alphanumeric badge hierarchy.
But there's something missing here. It's the Escalade, which is a brand unto itself for Cadillac, and will remain outside de Nysschen's naming hierarchy.
This is a very important point. If you look at it objectively, Detroit actually isn't bad at selling luxury vehicles. It's just that the luxury vehicles are pickup trucks and SUVs.
After all, they are still being sold at astronomical transaction prices in numbers that put BMW, Mercedes-Benz and the rest of the luxury folks to shame. They may not feel luxurious to some tastes, but that's exactly the point: it's a matter of taste.
The car-buying service TrueCar Inc. made this clear on Wednesday when it released sales data for vehicles with transaction prices above $50,000. “Conventional wisdom says German premium brands would dominate the list of top-selling vehicles,” President John Krafcik said in a statement, but in fact, six of the 10 best-selling "luxury cars" in the U.S. market are pickup trucks and SUVs from the Detroit 3.
No. 1: Ford's F-Series pickup truck.
TrueCar projecs that Ford will sell 189,776 units of the F-Series this year at a transaction price above $50,000, roughly triple the number for the Mercedes-Benz E Class. Also breaking into the top five are the Ram pickup truck, Chevrolet Tahoe SUV and Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. Of models sold by the German luxury brands, only the E Class cracks the top 5.
This is not just true at the top of the list. Overall, among vehicles selling for more than $50,000 in the United States, about 43 percent are trucks and SUVs from non-luxury brands, a TrueCar spokeswoman told me.
Some of you may not find these numbers surprising, but I must be honest: they surprised me. My last two assignments for Automotive News have been in Washington and San Francisco, where Lincoln and Cadillac are rare breeds, and where, until you get out into the far suburbs, driving a pickup truck is considered roughly equivalent to spitting tobacco juice on someone’s freshly polished shoes.
This is a common experience for people who live in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco -- not to mention in Europe.
People who live in these places do not see Detroit's luxury cars, so they basically assume they do not exist. Detroit may have a long way to go in competing with BMW and Mercedes-Benz on its turf -- sport sedans, coupes, convertibles -- but with a few small exceptions, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are not making even a small dent in Detroit's dominance in pickup trucks and utilities.
Maybe these brands should move their U.S. headquarters to someplace frontierish like Lubbock, Texas, and rebadge the lineup with brash, American names like Explorer. Or Tahoe. Or Grand Cherokee. Then, everyone will know they’re tough.
Until they do that, they're not really trying.