Twenty Years of Cadillac Escalade, America's Bling Thing

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Where were you when you first saw an Escalade? Do you recall the lesser but identical Yukon Denali? Twenty years have elapsed since the Escalade’s introduction, and the luxury brand of wreath and crest has never looked back.

But today, we’re going to.

It was a real first-ever, in the true sense of the term. Back in 1998, marketing people didn’t just apply a “first-ever” to their product, then put a bunch of disclaimers in small print at the bottom (Ahem, EcoSport). The luxury company which from time immemorial produced sedans, coupes, and convertibles was going to enter into the burgeoning luxury truck segment. It was (and is) a segment full of young, juicy customers with hefty wallets.

Since the latter part of the 1980s, Cadillac tried to shake off its Old Folks of Florida image. Sporty Touring Coupes gave way to Touring Sedans, which gave way to things called “TS,” which probably meant Totes Sporty. But Cadillac needed more. Knowing it couldn’t hang with the brand prestige of its import competition, the brand went the other way.

The bling way.

Escalade got its start in 1998, when it debuted to the Louis Vuitton crowd at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The first Escalade wowed with differences to its twin, GMC’s Yukon Denali. There was a different grille, and Cadillac emblems in place of GMC ones. There were also a few slight revisions to the interior, and a Bose stereo. As the orders came in, GM realized it wasn’t enough.

Bigger, more square, and considerably more festooned, a second-generation Escalade followed in short order. Now with many greater visual differences to its plebeian GMC cousin, Cadillac took the time to get it right. The first generation was available only for model years 1999 and 2000; there was no 2001 model. For 2002, the new generation was ready for prime time. Presto.

Pitched against imports like the Range Rover and Lexus LX, the Cadillac was distinctly bigger, brasher, and chrome-ier. Just what Americans wanted, it was instantly a hit with youths, dealers of cars and illicit products, TV shows, and music videos. GM decoded what the younger customer wanted, and handed it to them on a heavily gilded platter.

The Escalade tilted the fortunes of the Cadillac brand. Sales of 23,346 in 2000 grew to 62,250 in 2004. Model offerings expanded as well, into the long-wheelbase ESV, and the Avalanche-like EXT. Even today, ask the average person what an Escalade is — they’ll point out this generation.

Since then, the power of Escalade has been Cadillac’s cash cow. A third generation on the GMT900 platform debuted in 2007, and was replaced by the current K2XL version in 2015. Outselling its passenger car offerings handily, Escalade racked up 37,694 U.S. sales in 2017. Competitor Lincoln cries in the corner with the Navigator, which managed 32,908 sales if you add up 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Even with Lincoln’s new-generation Navigator now on the scene, Cadillac still outsells its rival — 16,927 Escalades over the first half of 2018, to the Navigator’s 9,115.

Twenty years on, Escalade still wins.

[Images: GM]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Ronin The very asking of the question "Are Plug-In Hybrids the Future?" is an interesting one. Because just 2 or 3 years ago we'd be asking- no, asserting- that E cars are the future. We're no longer asking that question.
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  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.
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