DETROIT – Style and chrome mark the ’07 Cadillac Escalade, the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV and the Cadillac EXT pickup, the stars of a party hosted by General Motors Corp. on the eve of the first day at the North American International Auto Show here.

GM’s goal was to stay true to the Cadillac philosophy and offer a new Escalade that takes the fullsize SUV over the top with an opulent interior, 403 hp and 22-in. wheels, says Gary White, fullsize truck vehicle line executive.

The Escalade goes on sale this quarter, with the EXT and ESV due in showrooms in May.

When the Cadillac Escalade originally launched, sales were forecast in the 20,000-25,000 range. Cadillac sold 51,144 in the U.S. in 2005 (including the Escalade ESV and EXT), according to Ward’s data.

GM expects small growth in the competitive segment with the new-generation models, says Product Manager David B. Schiavone.

2007 Cadillac Escalade ESV

Included in that is the start of exports to Europe of the short-wheelbase Escalade in early summer.

Pricing, which will be announced closer to launch, will stay close to current levels, Schiavone says.

The ESV and EXT are fully loaded, with only one trim level offered.

The demographics continue to expand with the popularity of the Escalade family. Average household income for an Escalade buyer is $175,000, Schiavone says. For the ESV buyer, it is $250,000 and $120,000 for the EXT.

The new Cadillacs replace the outgoing 6.0L with a new aluminum 6.2L V-8 with variable valve timing delivering 403 hp at 5,700 hp and 417 lb.-ft. (565 Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm.

While the Chevy Tahoe’s 5.3L V-8 is capable of running on E85 fuel, a blend of 15% gasoline and 85% ethyl alcohol, the 6.2L in the Escalade is not. (See related story: GM to Spotlight E85 Capabilities )

Schiavone says GM is working on E85 capability with the 6.2L, but it likely still is a year away.

GM’s new 6-speed automatic transmission makes its truck debut on the new Escalade. The auto maker says it provides a 4% improvement in fuel economy and boosts performance 7%.

The trucks have a new fully boxed and stiffer frame, a new independent coil-over-shock front suspension and 5-link rear suspension with a real-time damping system to eliminate body roll.

The star of the interior is the segment-exclusive power fold-and-tumble second-row seating for easier access to the third row.

The long-wheelbase models come in 6-, 7- or 8-passenger configurations.

Features include a touch-screen navigation system, rear parking assist and rearview camera system, DVD rear-seat entertainment system and heated window washer fluid.

Chevrolet Escalade EXT

Power-articulating running boards will become available at the end of the summer.

GM began production of the new GMT900 fullsize truck family Dec. 1 with Job One of the ’07 Chevy Tahoe six weeks ahead of schedule in Arlington, TX. (See related story: Crucial GM Fullsize Truck Program Launches Early )

Arlington is adding the Escalade to the line this week.

The ESV and EXT begin output in March. While the outgoing ESV was assembled in Silao, Mexico, the new generation moves to Arlington, White tells Ward’s. Silao will continue to assemble the EXT.

The new fullsize pickups (Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra) that also will come from GMT900 are targeted to launch in the fourth-quarter, also in Silao.

apriddle@primediabusiness.com