General Motors (NYSE: GM ) took the wraps off of its all-new 2015 Cadillac Escalade at a posh media event in New York on Monday night, revealing an SUV that, while instantly recognizable, has taken a huge step forward in luxury and refinement.
I was there in New York when the wraps came off GM's latest Cadillac. We weren't offered the chance to drive the new Escalade, but I did spend some time sitting in (and poking around) two different pre-production examples, and I was able to talk with several of the key executives involved in the new truck's development.
The verdict, based on what I've seen and heard so far? The 2015 Escalade looks to be another strong new product from GM. Read on.
Out with the bling, in with the luxury cred
Cadillac's global chief, Bob Ferguson, used the word "reinvention" several times when talking about the all-new Escalade. It's a good word to use: While the new Escalade is superficially similar to the Escalades that have come before -- it's like a Chevy Suburban, only a lot posher -- the personality of the new truck is very different, and very different from that of its new Chevrolet siblings, which were introduced last month.
First and foremost, the "bling" that we've long associated with the Escalade nameplate has been toned way down. The Escalades we saw were both on big 22-inch wheels, but they're well-proportioned. They don't look flashy, just right.
That's true of the rest of the Escalade as well. It still has that big brash grill, but the rest of it has been toned down considerably -- while at the same time, moved upscale in overall effect.
The interior is very well done, with rich leathers in several shades and textures, and high-quality wood veneers, all assembled (at least in the pre-production examples we saw) to a high standard of fit and finish.
While GM officials touted some of the Escalade's new features (the second- and third-row seats fold flat at the touch of a button, for instance), the work that went into the Escalade's interior design and trim was emphasized over and over throughout the evening.
It's clear why. It's a superb interior that makes the Escalade a lot more competitive with other luxury SUVs. Expect it to be a big selling point.
More separation from the Tahoe and Suburban
GM design chief Ed Welburn told me that with each new edition of the Escalade, the work involved in differentiating it from its Chevy and GMC siblings has become more and more extensive. The latest Escalade takes the biggest leap yet.
As Welburn and other GM executives noted, some major engineering changes were made to the platform -- which is shared with GM's new pickups, by the way -- at the request of the Cadillac team. One of those involved reengineering the rear doors to improve back seat access over the old model, something that Welburn felt was extremely important.
That was a costly change. But several of the GM officials I spoke with on Monday were at pains to emphasize GM's commitment to making Cadillac a serious global luxury player. As we've said plenty of times at The Motley Fool, that is not something that can be done cheaply: It's an intense, huge, expensive undertaking.
The 2015 Escalade, like the new CTS and ATS before it, emphasize that GM really is serious about its Cadillac renaissance.
The upshot: The new Escalade gives GM another serious luxury contender
Stepping back a bit, the move that GM has made with the 2015 Escalade mirrors the move that it made with the all-new 2014 CTS sedan. In both cases, while the old model was generally well-regarded, the new one represents a big move up in quality and refinement.
Early reviews of the CTS have been extremely positive, with some reviewers saying they'd choose it over the comparable BMW (NASDAQOTH: BAMXF ) or Mercedes-Benz product. I won't be surprised if they come to similar conclusions about the 2015 Escalade.
Of course, in the case of the Escalade, Cadillac's big SUV is a product that none of the big three German luxury brands can really match.
But BMW and Mercedes and Audi do have big crossovers, something that Ferguson hinted that Cadillac is considering as well. Ferguson also hinted that such a product could also wear the Escalade name -- suggesting that "Escalade" could become a Cadillac sub-brand, in the way that Toyota (NYSE: TM ) has turned "Prius" into a small lineup of vehicles.
But long story short: While it's hard to know for sure without driving one, the 2015 Escalade certainly looks to be another success for GM -- and another step up the luxury ladder for the Cadillac brand.
One programming note: My Foolish colleague Rex Moore and I will have much more on the all-new 2015 Escalade, including hands-on footage and interviews with key GM executives, in this week's edition of "Motley Fool Motor Money". Stay tuned.
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