After almost 10 years on the market, Cadillac's recently overhauled $56,000 Escalade SUV is hotter than ever, with first-quarter sales up 36 percent over last year.
But a less frequently used measure of the car's heat is its popularity with thieves. The Escalade's rate of insurance theft claims is higher than that of any other luxury car — by far — according to recently released data from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).
The HLDI tracks per-car theft losses and reports loss results in relative terms. A car with an HLDI theft loss score of 100 has average theft losses. Anything above 100 is higher than average. The HLDI theft loss scores for six of the seven most stolen luxury cars on our list range from 209 to 431 — and the HLDI says each of these cars has "substantially worse than average" theft loss results.
But the first place (or, perhaps, the last place) car on the list, the Escalade, racks up an astonishing theft loss score of 1,728 for the most stolen Escalade model, the $55,000 Escalade EXT pickup.
"The overall results show the Escalade has not only the highest rate of claims but also very expensive claims when they are filed," says Kim Hazelbaker, HLDI senior vice president, in a recent statement. "In fact, almost one-quarter of theft claims for the Escalade are for $40,000 or more, indicating that thieves often are stealing the whole vehicles and not just their parts."
Every 25.5 seconds, a vehicle is stolen in the U.S., according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Vehicle theft is the costliest property crime in America, costing consumers more than $8.6 billion annually.
Last June, the HLDI announced that for the fourth year in a row, the Escalade topped the organization's list of vehicles most likely to have a theft claim. In fact, four versions of the Escalade (different pickup and SUV configurations) headed the list of the worst overall insurance losses for theft among all passenger vehicles. The EXT has overall theft losses that are 16 times higher than average.
The vehicle with the second-highest theft loss rate, BMW's flagship 7 Series sedan, is another car that is desirable from front to back. The 7 Series' base prices range from $76,000 to $123,000, and the car features such upscale amenities as powerful V-8 and V-12 engines. Another car on our list, DaimlerChrysler's $87,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class flagship sedan, has massage chairs and an autopilot function.
The seven vehicles we have showcased in this feature are not necessarily the luxury cars that are stolen in the greatest numbers; they are, according to the HLDI, the seven luxury vehicles with "substantially worse than average" rates of theft claims. We formed our list by looking at all luxury cars on the market; these are ones made by manufacturers generally considered to be upscale. They include, for example, Mercedes, Porsche and Ford Motor's Jaguar subsidiary.
"Theft losses," in HLDI terminology, indicate "the relative average loss payments for theft per insured vehicle year filed under comprehensive coverages," according to the HLDI's Web site. The phrase "relative average loss payments per insured vehicle year" refers to "the dollar total of collision or theft loss payments for claims for a group of vehicles divided by the group’s exposure, or aggregate years the vehicles have been insured."
Each carmaker on the list earlier this week received an e-mail explaining the HLDI report's scope and methodology and asking for comment. By press time, only one had responded.
"Without knowing the scope and methodology of the HLDI study," wrote Toyota Motor spokesman Wade Hoyt in an e-mail, "it is difficult to comprehend how a Lexus model (the GS sedan) that sells in such small numbers could be so high on their theft hit list. I would imagine that it is the result of a statistically insignificant sample."
The HLDI states on its Web site that "results are based on the loss experience of 2003-05 models from their first sales through May 2006. For vehicles that were newly introduced or redesigned during these years, the results shown in this publication are based only on the most recent model years for which the vehicle designs were unchanged — either 2004-05 or 2005 only. The results in this publication are generally good predictors of the experience of current versions of the same vehicle models. But when automakers substantially redesign their passenger vehicles, the experience of an earlier model with the same name, but not same design, may not predict the experience of the newer design."
In forming our list of the seven luxury cars with the highest rates of theft losses, we looked at only one model per nameplate: the one with the highest rate. For example, our story includes the Escalade EXT pickup — the Escalade model with the highest rate of theft losses — but not the more commonplace Escalade SUV.
Note: The data on theft losses came from the HLDI's Web site. By publication time, the organization had not responded to requests for confirmation.