Almost since its inception in the late 1990s, the Cadillac Escalade has had both admirers and detractors. The large body-on-frame truck stuffed with leather and slathered with chrome has been a desirable luxury ride for some, but derided as ostentatious and wasteful by others.
But there’s one segment of our population that’s been particularly smitten with the hulking Caddy: car thieves. Year after year, the Escalade turns up on lists published by the insurance industry of most-stolen vehicles, and those theft rates result in big payouts of claims.
It seems that the same thing that makes the Escalade relatively easy to build also makes its parts interchangeable too. It’s no secret that to make a Cadillac SUV, General Motors just does a bunch of upgrading to a Chevy Tahoe. And the Tahoe shares almost all of its mechanical underpinnings with the Chevy Silverado pickup.
The flip side is that Escalade parts will bolt right on to a Tahoe or Silverado, if you were to somehow end up with the proceeds of a vehicle theft and chop shop operation. Escalades are routinely stolen, stripped, and then abandoned, with the tab to make them whole again via new parts running deep into the thousands.
In a rare corporate admission that there’s an inherent problem with Escalade thefts, GM made some changes for the 2012 model year to make it harder to steal. How do I know this? Because the company issued a press release touting the new features.
First up is a new kind of ignition key, the latest version of technology that’s been in play for awhile thanks to a microchip embedded in the key. If a key put into the ignition doesn’t match the code of the one that’s supposed to be there, the engine will not start.
Further, the ignition lock itself has been fortified to make it more difficult for a thief to simply pop it out and hot wire the ignition. With the ignition lock stoically in place and the steering wheel unable to turn, it’s then much more difficult to roll an Escalade onto a flatbed tow truck.
Merely lifting the vehicle, such as with a traditional kind of tow truck, triggers a sensor which will then set off the alarm system. Likewise, breaking any of the windows to gain access will trigger a different sensor that will also activate the alarm.
The lifting sensor also should help to deter wheel thefts too. About 75% of all new Escalades are equipped with optional 22” wheels (some trim levels include them), and obviously they too can be bolted onto any other full-size GM pickup or SUV. A set of four costs $2995 from the dealer, plus tires at another $1000+ per set.
So even if a thief doesn’t grab the whole vehicle, heisting the wheels and tires will result in the owner or the insurance company forking over well over four grand to replace them. In addition to the tilting sensor, 2012 Escalades also get an improved wheel lock design.
All these fixes remind me of the radio theft problem in the 1980s. So many vehicles had their stereos removed by burglars that we saw interesting solutions from the car audio industry. First, slide-outs (and people walking around with little stereo purses to carry them in), then detachable faceplates. Today, pretty much every car sound system is built into the dashboard of a new car, so that problem has effectively gone away.
With a new Escalade starting at $63,000 and some models with options carrying sticker prices of well over $80,000, that’s a lot of potential loss for the insurance industry. With that, rates for insuring an Escalade (not to mention the hassle of having your car stolen) may have been dissuading some potential buyers. GM’s admission that their top SUV gets nabbed more than most, and their fixes to change this, is an usual marketing move. But if we see an uptick in Escalade sales this year (even with record gas prices), they may be on to something.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave