Today’s topic is: pickup trucks. More specifically: luxury pickup trucks. This may surprise you. It may cause you to think: Am I really reading a story about trucks that isn’t lamenting the demise of the midsize pickup? And the answer is yes, although I have about a month’s worth of those if you’re interested. (One is called: “What Will Orkin Drive?”)
Anyway, back to luxury pickups. If you’re not into pickups, you might not be aware of luxury pickups, so allow me to provide a little background.
It all started in 2001, when GMC released an upscale version of its Sierra called the C3. No one knows why they called it this. I, of course, have a theory, which is that General Motors was looking to cut costs – General Motors is always doing this, even when it’s asleep – and they didn’t want to do that inside the truck, which was supposed to be luxurious, so they decided to save money on badging by giving the trim level a really short name.
But the Sierra C3 was so popular that, for the 2002 model year, GMC was able to convince General Motors accountants to spring for a longer name. And so the Sierra Denali was born.
The original Sierra Denali was kind of cool, not because of its luxury features – which amounted to leather seats and an upgraded center console with panel gaps the size of a ballpoint pen, rather than a flowerpot – but because it included a feature called Quadrasteer.
Quadrasteer was a neat four-wheel steering system that gave the Sierra Denali the same turning circle as a compact car. I think it’s cool. So cool, in fact, that I follow every Quadrasteer-equipped pickup I see, just to watch the system in action, until the owner gets out and asks me what I’m doing in his driveway.
Of course, we all know what happened to the Sierra Denali, which is that it became an instant success. Here’s a rough overview of its history:
2004: Sierra Denali includes leather, chrome wheels, and – according to a GM press release – panel gaps that have been reduced to the size of “a couple of rubber bands on top of each other.”
2007: Sierra Denali redesigned to include reclining rear seats, an optional in-dash fish tank, and mood lighting. Customers continue to pretend they use it as a work truck.
2009: Sierra Denali updated to offer blankets made out of tiny animals they find in the rainforest. Sierra Denali owners applaud and swear that’s precisely where they intend to use their Sierra Denali, you know, once they put a few thousand miles on it.
2011: GMC adds the Denali trim level to heavy-duty models. Press photos no longer show it towing construction materials, but rather large trailers on I-95 between suburban Toronto and the Florida Gulf Coast.
These days, a Sierra Denali 3500 Heavy Duty 4X4 Crew Cab – which is the name of an actual trim level – starts around $52,000, and that’s before you add the optional indoor basketball court. Panel gaps are the size of a paperclip. And people buy these things by the dozen.
Obviously, the Sierra Denali’s success isn’t lost on other automakers. Chrysler, for instance, has released a lot of high-end Ram trim levels, all of which have really large badges on the tailgate to let everyone else know precisely which one you’ve chosen. And Ford comes out with a new luxury version of the F-150 every week or so. Today’s F-150 includes the Limited, which is better than the Platinum, which is better than the King Ranch, which is better than the Lariat. Seriously. And each of these trucks start over $37,000.
So my question is: How the hell did Cadillac and Lincoln fail?
You may remember, if you think really hard and possibly do a couple Google searches, that Cadillac sells a pickup called the Escalade EXT. Although it looks like the sort of vehicle that might be driven by the kind of person you’d never, ever, want to meet, it’s actually quite capable as a luxury pickup, in the sense that “capable as a luxury pickup” means looking nice and occasionally transporting boxed wine.
Lincoln, meanwhile, has offered two pickup trucks. First, there was the Blackwood. We all know why the Blackwood failed, namely that it was only came with two-wheel drive, and it was tremendously incapable of actual truck things, and it was really expensive, and they painted fake wood slats on the outside of the bed. But I don’t want to go into any further detail here, because I said some negative things about the Blackwood on my website, and this inspired a rather angry visit from a guy on the Lincoln Blackwood forums.
So let’s move on to Lincoln’s second pickup effort, the Mark LT. This was really the ultimate F-150 in the sense that it was just like any other F-150 except it had really big Lincoln badges and leather seats.
Based on the intense popularity of luxury trucks, you’d think these pickups would’ve been runaway success stories. But that isn’t what happened. Instead, they were miserable failures. They’ve all sold poorly, they’ve all been discontinued, and it doesn’t appear that any luxury brand is planning to launch another pickup anytime soon. My question is: How did they manage to fail?
I’ve ruminated on this for quite a while – roughly 11 minutes – and now I’m passing the question along to you, TTAC. My theory is that pickup buyers prefer their trucks from a “truck company,” which – to them – is stronger than the weight of a luxury brand. But maybe you have some more insight. You might even have some theories on what Orkin will drive.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.