Once unchallenged as the leader in automotive luxury, Cadillac defined American style in the years following World War II with long, sleek models with tail fins.
In the last two decades, however, Cadillac has sputtered and stalled except for one model, the Escalade, which is one of the most profitable vehicles ever built by General Motors. First Introduced at the 1998 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Escalade is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year as GM prepares the next generation for its scheduled introduction in 2020.
Since its public debut in 1998, the Cadillac Escalade has become a defined the full-size luxury SUV segment just as the Cadillacs of the 1950s and 1960s defined post-World War II luxury.
“Over the past 20 years, the Escalade has prevailed not only as a highly regarded full-size luxury SUV, but also as a cultural icon that is synonymous with style and sophistication,” said Steve Carlisle, Cadillac president. “From the highway to the big screen, the Escalade has been embraced by drivers and fans around the world.”
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Escalade quickly grew to dominate its segment, leading in total sales since 2014 and for 15 of the last 20 years. In fact, each year since the Escalade was redesigned in 2015, consumers have spent about $3 billion or more on the model. Sales have topped more than three-quarters of a million in the U.S. and 836,000 cumulative global sales (including ESV, EXT and Hybrid models).
Early on, the Escalade quickly established itself as the segment’s preeminent entry, channeling Cadillac’s signature design, technology and performance in an all-new proportion.
Customer response was quick and intense, as buyers embraced the Escalade’s spaciousness, capability and unmistakable presence.
“That combination immediately struck a chord,” said Carlisle. “It introduced Cadillac to an entirely new generation of luxury customers via popular culture and changed perceptions of what the brand could offer.”
The Escalade’s strong initial sales leaped more than 35% when the second-generation model was launched for 2002 and grew another 55% the following year, when the versatile Escalade EXT model entered full production.
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By its fifth anniversary in 2004, Escalade sales had ballooned approximately 230%, and the vehicle had changed the lexicon of luxury vehicles for customers, trendsetting influencers and valets.
The Escalade established a history of innovation and earned a reputation as a technology leader, with features such as the first full LED headlamps in 2009 and first LED high-beam headlamps and taillamps with total internal reflection in 2015.
Throughout the years, Escalade has earned Industry accolades, including Consumer Guide Automotive’s Best Buy Award for five consecutive years and 16 J.D. Power study awards. The also Escalade has been J.D. Power’s “Highest Ranked Large Premium SUV in Initial Quality” five times: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2018.
The first Escalade rolled off the assembly line in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 8, 1998, and VIN 001 now resides at the GM Heritage Center.
There also have been four generations with the fifth getting ready to roll in about two years. Escalade’s signature grille design has evolved with each generation and the Cadillac logo, making it arguably the vehicle’s most recognizable feature.
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For 2019, the Escalade offers 65% more horsepower with 52% greater EPA-estimated highway fuel economy than the original 1999 model (2WD models compared): 15 mpg (1999) versus 23 mpg (2019).