While American-made luxury car sales tumble, there is one luxury sector that is booming: luxury, full-size sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Sales have skyrocketed on the big vehicles with the big sticker prices, and they should remain strong as long as gasoline prices remain below $3 a gallon.
The Lincoln Navigator, from Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), saw sales rise 47% year-over-year in March to 1,097 units. For the year to date, Navigator sales are up 84% to 2,875 units. Every other Lincoln model, car or utility vehicle, posted a sales decline in March and they have lower sales in the first three months of 2015 than in the same period a year ago.
At General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM), Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV sales are up 125% and 114% year-over-year, respectively, and up 117% and 122%, respectively, for the year to date. Combined, the two models sold 2,758 units in March and have sold 7,899 in the first three months of the year. Only the luxury crossover, the SRX, sold more units of GM’s premium Cadillac brand.
The Ford and GM entries in the luxury SUV sector are priced competitively with similar full-size luxury vehicles from Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) and Daimler. The Lexus LX full-size luxury SUV from Toyota carries an MSRP beginning at $83,180. Daimler’s Mercedes GL full-size SUV starts at $63,600. The Navigator’s entry-level MSRP is $61,290 and the Escalade carries a starting MSRP of $72,970.
Why do the American full-size SUVs sell at least as well as their foreign-made competition? It could be that U.S. drivers simply have more faith in U.S.-made full-size vehicles. Toyota’s full-size Tundra pickup sold 11,508 units in March compared with 67,706 Ford F-Series pickups. That preference probably carries over to the full-size SUVs.
Another reason for the success of the big American SUV’s is that Ford and GM have marketed the same names for going on two decades now. The first Escalade hit showrooms in 1999, one year after the Navigator arrived. The names are easy to remember and do not require the mental math needed to decode the alphabet soup of some of the other vehicles in the lineup. Quick, what’s the difference between a Cadillac ATS, CTS, ELR, SRX and XTS and the Escalade? Can you picture any of these except the Escalade?