For a vehicle whose timing assures it will have an uphill climb to marketing success, Cadillac's name for its full-size sport/utility vehicle is right on target.

The Escalade, based on the same platform as the GMC Yukon Denali and Chevrolet Tahoe, comes to market this fall as a 1999 model. The name, according to Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, means "to climb or scale."

The luxury sport/ute will be the first truck ever offered by Cadillac in its 96-year history, culminating a five-year internal debate, in which Cadillac dealers finally prevailed on General Motors Corp.'s senior marketing executives. Dealers pleaded that GM's luxury division simply could not afford to see former customers migrate to luxury SUVs offered by nearly every other luxury nameplate.

"You don't kick a customer in the slats," complains a large exhibitor at the recent 1998 SAE Congress & Exposition. "We've been talking to ourselves. People come here to see what's new and exciting. We always had tremendous traffic. Now no one is coming."

He blames changes in SAE policy for what he deems sparser crowds, especially a $50 on-site registration fee established for '98 or a $25 pre-registration fee.

Before, pre-registration was free and the on-site fee was $25, usually waived if an exhibitor's discount coupon was used. Patrick M. Cantini, manager for SAE expositions and product development-Meeting and Exhibits Div., says the change was approved by the 17-member exhibitors' group to offset a high percentage of ticket-holding no-shows in prior years. "A lot of people registered and never came," he says. Mr. Cantini says the change didn't slow traffic, with attendance comparable to 1997. Another change - the addition of 47,000 sq. ft. (43,700 sq. m) to accommodate more exhibits - may have given the impression that crowds were smaller, he points out. That space allocation, however, prompted SAE to move the location of its banquet to a smaller site where half the traditional number of attendees - only 2,500 - could be accommodated. That move also was criticized by some exhibitors, but it was approved by the exhibitor committee, says Mr. Cantini. "They felt we could sacrifice the banquet for the extra exhibition space," he says. WAW also asked why numerous large traditional exhibitors skipped this year's show. "Some of them want to go directly to the automakers, some resulted from management changes and some simply don't want trade shows," he replies. Even so, SAE tallied nearly 1,400 exhibiting companies this year, up from 856 in 1997, he says.