Some General Motors Corp. staffers were unnerved when Ford Motor Co. unveiled its Lincoln Blackwood concept luxury sport utility truck (SUT) at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January, 1999.
The reason for the concern: Cadillac was in the midst of working on its own cross between a luxury full-size SUV and a premium pickup truck — the Escalade EXT, a spin-off of the Escalade SUV.
Recalls Escalade brand manager Susan Docherty, “When I saw the Blackwood at that auto show, I said, ‘Geez.’ Some of our people panicked when they saw it because we had the EXT in the works.”
She tried to calm the troops.
“We could have rushed a concept to the New York show a few months after the Detroit show. But I said, ‘Chill out. Let's stick with the plan.”
The plan was to introduce the redone '02 Escalade in 2001, develop the EXT off that design, and introduce the EXT in model year 2002.
EXTs will arrive at dealerships in January. As it turns out, that's not far behind the Blackwood. It originally was due out last spring, then delayed again, and now is expected to hit showrooms in October.
For now, the EXT and Blackwood are the only contenders in the new luxury SUT segment.
GM executives bridle at the suggestion that the EXT might be perceived as a “me-to” product.
“If it were that, we'd have come out with it a year from now,” says David B. Schiavone, Escalade/EXT assistant brand manager.
GM says the EXT package outdoes the Blackwood in various ways, including V-8 power and price.
The EXT engine is 6 liters with 345 h.p., compared to the Blackwood's 5.4 liters with 300 horsepower.
The EXT is priced at $49,990, the Blackwood at $52,500. But the Blackwood comes with a standard sunroof. The EXT sunroof is a $1,500 option.
Cadillac is pitching EXT's posh versatality, Lincoln is pitching Blackwood's emotional appeal.
“The EXT combines the luxury attributes of Escalade and the functionality and adaptability of the Chevrolet Avalanche,” says vehicle line executive Gary A. White.
The Blackwood delivers “emotional ‘got-to-have-it’ appeal,” says Mark Hutchins, president of Lincoln Mercury. “We'll keep production limited to enhance its exclusivity.”
An example of those two different approaches is the truck bed of the vehicles.
The Blackwood's pickup-like “cargo box” is protected by a power tonneau cover that partially lifts up and down, but doesn't detach. Wood trim and strip lighting accentuate the box. It looks great, but almost too pretty to muss up. Lincoln's says its upscale Blackwood buyers aren't going to be wearing hard hats and hauling loads to construction sites, anyway.
The EXT's three cargo covers come off and stow on board. The bed has five drains and a removable rubber mat. “You can hose it down and easily clean it,” says Terry J. Woychowski, chief engineer for GM full-size trucks, anticipating heavy-duty usage.
The EXT's fold-down “Midgate” system allows the second row seating area to convert into an extension of the truck bed, increasing its length capacity from five feet three inches to eight feet one inch.
The all-wheel-drive EXT is a cousin of the Chevrolet Suburban and Avalanche. The Blackwood is built off the Lincoln Navigator.
EXT sales are expected to be 12,000 units a year. Lincoln expects to sell about 10,000 Blackwoods.
For now, it appears that the EXT and Blackwood will be the only competitors in the new luxury full-size SUT segment.
Toyota has elbowed into the full-size SUV and pickup truck segments with new products in the last two years.
But Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A Inc. General Manager Donald V. Esmond says the importer has no immediate plans to enter the luxury SUT market.
“It's not clear if that's the direction the market is going; they're pretty expensive rigs,” he says. “At this point we're pretty strong with SUVs and pickups, and we have no plans to expand.”
Ms. Docherty says Cadillac is working with dealership sales staffs so that they effectively pitch the EXT and explain features such as towing capacity.
“Our dealers have a 92-year history of selling cars,” she says. “Now they're selling trucks. We want to make sure they have all the information to do so.”