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Escalade tops car-theft list

But thieves rarely target the far less hip Taurus, study says

WASHINGTON -- 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.

Escalade had the highest rate of insurance theft claims for the fourth straight year, according to a study released today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It 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 to tempt thieves, from chromed wheels and leather seats to rear-seat DVD systems.

``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 institute.

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 station wagon, 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 unit of General Motors, sells its 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.

Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell said the theft rate was ``an unfortunate byproduct of the desirability of the vehicle." The 2007 model comes equipped with an improved antitheft ignition immobilizer.

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