The Cadillac Escalade, the bold and shiny luxury sport utility vehicle popular with Hollywood’s A-List, rappers and star athletes, apparently also attracts an ill-intentioned constituency: car thieves.
Escalades had the highest rate of insurance theft claims for the fourth straight year, according to a study released Wednesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Escalade was followed by the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Dodge Ram 1500 quad cab pickup.
The Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the insurance institute, noted the Escalade offers plenty of eye candy to tempt thieves, from chromed wheels and leather seats to rear-seat DVD systems. Not to mention a marketing campaign that links the Escalade to the hip and trendy.
“This is the car that Tony Soprano drives. It’s seen in a lot of rap videos. There are a lot of NFL players who are photographed in it,” said Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute. “It’s part of our pop culture as a very large, flashy SUV.”
The institute calculated which newer vehicles were most likely to be stolen by assessing theft claims per 1,000 insured vehicles from model years 2003 to 2005. The Escalade had a claim rate of 13.2, while the Lancer Evolution had a rate of 11.9.
The lowest-ranking vehicle, the Ford Taurus, had a rate of 0.3, followed by the Pontiac Vibe 4-wheel drive at 0.4 and the Buick LeSabre and Park Avenue, both at 0.5. Cadillac, a division of General Motors Corp., sells the new 2007 Escalade at a starting price of $57,280.
Hazelbaker said about one-fourth of the claims for the Escalades were for $40,000 or more, providing evidence that thieves were stealing the entire vehicle instead of seeking its parts.
Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell said the theft rate was “an unfortunate byproduct of the desirability of the vehicle.” The 2007 model comes equipped an improved anti-theft ignition immobilizer, which prevents the vehicle from being started without the proper key.
The Lancer Evolution, a high-performance version with more than twice the horsepower of a standard Lancer sedan, was likely targeted because thieves coveted its rear spoilers and special tires and wheels, Hazelbaker said.
Theft losses for pickups, meanwhile, have increased sharply since 1999, the institute found, based on high claims for the Dodge Ram and the Ford F-250 and F-350 trucks.
Hazelbaker said the Ram has an available option of 20-inch wheels capable of fitting previous versions of the pickup, potentially making it more desirable to thieves.
The study found that the Dodge Stratus and its twins, the Chrysler Sebring and Plymouth Breeze, had high theft losses in Washington, D.C., while losses of the 2003 Nissan Maxima and Lexus RX 330 were high around New York City. The group attributed the losses of the Maxima and RX 330 to their expensive xenon headlights.
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