Luxury-Branded Pickup Trucks Don’t Need a Revival
Mercedes-Benz may be set to begin selling a pickup truck in the near future, but when the GLT goes on sale, it won’t be the first time a luxury brand has sold a truck. In 1999, hot on the heels of the Lincoln Navigator’s success as a luxury SUV, the company revealed an upscale version of the F-150 that would be called the Lincoln Blackwood. General Motors soon followed with a Cadillac version of the Chevrolet Avalanche called the Escalade EXT.
The Cadillac Escalade is still going strong, and the Lincoln Navigator is still on sale, but where are their truck versions now? The Escalade EXT finally sputtered out of production in 2013, and the Blackwood only lasted one model year. Lincoln later tried to restart its luxury pickup truck program by offering the Mark LT, an idea that barely lasted any longer than the original Blackwood did.
Despite the fact that previous attempts at selling luxury pickup trucks in the United States has gone terribly and Mercedes-Benz’s intent to develop the GLT for markets other than the U.S., for some reason, the idea that the luxury pickup truck needs a revival has begun picking up steam lately.
Theorizing what it would look like if Toyota decided to sell a Lexus version of its redesigned Tacoma, well-known car rendering expert Theophilus Chin grafted the front end of a Lexus LX 570 onto the Tacoma’s body. It’s a slick rendering, and it’s a cool styling exercise, but far too many people reacted positively to the idea of a midsize Lexus pickup truck.
While Chin never actually suggested Toyota should build a Lexus-badged Tacoma, Autoblog recently ran an editorial calling for Cadillac to develop its own luxury truck. Theoretically, it would slot above the GMC Sierra Denali and would cost at least $70,000.
Ignoring the failure of previous attempts, selling a luxury pickup truck does sound like a great idea at first. Pickup trucks are selling for record high prices, luxury vehicles come with higher profit margins, and buyers who are able to reasonably spend $75,000 on a car or truck would probably value having the more prestigious badge on the hood and would be willing to pay extra for it.
The Toyota Tacoma, for example, tops out around $40,000, but a Lexus version might sell for as much as $60,000. The GMC Sierra Denali, on the other hand, maxes out around $60,000, but a Cadillac version might even top $100,000 when fully loaded. The profit margins wouldn’t be huge. They’d be colossal, by automotive standards.
Considering that Johan de Nysschen has already stated that a Cadillac luxury truck isn’t going to happen and that a few people at Toyota told me a Lexus Tacoma was never seriously considered, it’s safe to say that the luxury-branded pickup truck is safely dead for now. Then again, you never know what Sergio Marchionne has up his sleeve. If a $100,000 Alfa Romeo-badged Ram 1500 shows up in a couple years, don’t pretend like it would be the most surprising thing in the world.
The real issue with selling a truck under a luxury brand is that it’s much more efficient to continue adding trim levels to trucks that already exist. Truck buyers already know the F-150, and if the Platinum version sells well, perhaps Ford will offer an even more expensive, even more luxurious F-150 that slots above the Platinum.
If the Toyota Tacoma Limited sells as strongly as I predict it will, there’s nothing stopping Toyota from offering the Tacoma Even More Limited. Even if it were to cost $50,000, the new most-expensive Tacoma would still have more name recognition than the same vehicle under the name “Lexus TX 350.”
It’s also not like the most luxurious versions of current trucks are lacking in luxuries that would be available on Cadillac, Lincoln, or Lexus versions. Drive a GMC Sierra Denali, for example, and from behind the wheel, it feels like a legitimate luxury vehicle, not a fancy version of a pickup truck. It even comes standard with Magnetic Ride Control, which makes it the best-riding truck I’ve ever driven. Like the names “F-150″ and “Tacoma,” the name “Denali” also comes with serious clout in the world of trucks and SUVs.
It might not make sense to everyone, but considering current trends in truck prices and the fate of luxury-branded trucks in the past, it appears that Americans are willing to pay serious money for pickup trucks but aren’t necessarily interested in one with a prestigious badge. There’s something decidedly blue collar about a pickup truck, and even though their prices often push past $50,000, their buyers have shown little interest in attaching a white collar name to their vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz may eventually decide to sell the GLT in the U.S. and end up proving me completely wrong in a few years, but at least for now, there’s no reason to think the luxury-branded pickup truck needs a revival.