Recently, GM introduced the Cadillac Escalade IQ, an electric equivalent to the gas-powered Escalade the company has been selling for some time now. We’ve already covered the announcement, but I wanted to drive a key point home about the future of GM and EVs in general that our initial article only briefly touched on.
I’ll start out by saying that I grew up riding around in Suburbans. My parents found them to be a very versatile vehicle for our family’s needs. I have four siblings, so they actually used the seating capacity (7, 8, or even 9 seats were available). The cargo room behind the third row was more than enough for all of the family’s luggage. My parents used our “burbs” to haul large trailers carrying hay, horses, automotive parts, farm machinery, excavators, and occasionally a camper. We lived on a dirt road that was frequently subject to deep flooding, mud, and washouts, so the four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive Suburbans with a locking rear differential weren’t just for fun.
But, GM figured out in the 80s and 90s that the Suburban was a great vehicle to market in the suburbs and cities. For families that lived closer to their neighbors and on pavement, the Suburban was often overkill, and wouldn’t get used for more than what a station wagon or a sedan would get used for. The basic working man’s interior of the older Suburbans might come without carpet, but as the 90s wore on, leather seats, Bose stereos, and all manner of luxury features started to appear in the vehicles on dealers’ lots.
Then came the Escalade. Realizing that the Suburban could be marketed as a luxury vehicle, GM decided to make a rebadged luxury version with a Cadillac grille and nameplate. What was once a vehicle for people who worked with their hands to feed a bunch of kids on a farm or ranch or carry a construction crew to a jobsite became the preferred vehicle of wealthy actors, hip hop artists, lawyers, and dentists. It also qualified for some tax breaks that were meant for people who put such large vehicles to actual work, so sales skyrocketed.
These days, both Suburbans and Escalades are luxury vehicles. Even the most basic Suburban LS starts at about $60,000. While it’s got cloth seats, it has a touchscreen and many other luxury features that a farmer or rancher could do without (fleet buyers can save around $4,000 on a slightly more basic version). If you want a top-of-the-line Suburban with four wheel drive and every option, you’re paying almost as much as you would for a Tesla Model X. Escalades start at $116,000, and are basically the same vehicle with a Cadillac badge.
So, the $130,000 starting price for the Escalade IQ isn’t really that astronomical at $130,000, but that’s only because automakers have been busy driving up truck prices in the luxury segment for decades now.
What About Someone Who Wants A Basic 3-Row Rural Work Truck?
This brings me back to the Suburbans I grew up riding in. Unless my dad is really good at keeping secrets, he never had a platinum rap album and he wasn’t a doctor, lawyer, or such. He got into real estate, but wasn’t some hot shot New York mogul with ambitions to become a dictator. He cleaned, repaired, and painted the rental houses himself, and ran an agricultural business on the side. These days, he has a business with my brother building custom electric trucks as a side hustle.
If he wanted to go to a dealer and buy an electric Suburban next year, he’d be completely out of luck. The local Chevy-Cadillac dealer would love to sell him an Escalade IQ (probably with a hefty markup), but that’s not only out of reasonable financial reach, but probably isn’t something he’d be caught dead driving anyway. Besides, us kids are all grown and moved out, so he’s happy with a couple of older pickup trucks he doesn’t have any payments on.
My grandfather is much the same way. He’s got an old Chevy pickup truck and a 1999 Suburban that he’s still very happy with for his fishing trips, and he doesn’t plan to buy anything else before he dies. He drove my Bolt EUV around a bit and he’s fascinated with it, but he’s turning 88 this year, and says he doesn’t want to spend a bunch of money and learn new things.
The sad fact is that GM doesn’t have anything electric that appeals to people like my dad and granddaddy, and likely won’t for some time. As long as the GM order book stays full taking care of dentists and developers (of both the real estate and software variety), they don’t really care what rural people and retired printers-turned-fishermen would need and want in an EV.
What GM Should Be Doing
Before I go on, let’s take an honest look at what a Suburban and Escalade really is: a Chevy Silverado pickup. It’s a body-on-frame pickup truck with a longer body that covers the whole frame. In other words, the pickup truck’s bed has been removed and replaced with a really long cab. Another popular variant of this formula is the Chevy Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT. These vehicles started as a Suburban, but went partway back toward being a pickup truck with both a tailgate and a “mid gate” to make for adjustable interior and cargo room.
The Silverado EV is continuing down this path, with a one-piece body on the Ultium platform, and an available “mid gate” that won’t be sold on the cheaper work trucks. Initially, the pricing for the work truck variant of the Silverado EV was supposed to be competitive, starting at around $42,000. But, the price for the bottom work truck is now in the $50,000s, while the more luxurious options for individual owners starts north of $100k.
What Chevrolet needs to do is basically offer a $40,000 Silverado EV with a third row instead of a bed. This variant would be very bare-bones, with no touchscreen controls (or a very small one), a very basic set of speakers, vinyl work truck seats, a hard plastic floor that can be hosed off, and a battery pack under 100 kWh.
Better versions can obviously be sold, but this most basic version isn’t meant for people trying to keep up with their neighbors that live within spittin’ distance. It’s meant for real work and/or retirement play and meant to be affordable to people doing that real work to pay the truck payment.
If we fail to do this, we’re only going to inspire further resistance to EVs and exacerbate an already awful urban-rural divide in the United States. This “let them eat cake” attitude, where we expect people to buy an EV they can’t afford and perform the essential work we all need to live, isn’t going to cut it. If we fail to include families like the one I grew up in, the EV revolution is going to be, as my grandfather puts it, “a hell of a mess”.
Featured Image: A portion of a 1973 Chevrolet Suburban advertisement. Fair use, commentary.
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