DETROIT – After 40 years of selling cars, Jere Law sees something new and shocking.
"People are writing $100,000 checks for a vehicle," said the general manager of Varsity Lincoln in Novi, Mich. "That may not sound like a lot in other places, but that's the first time happening for Lincoln here in Michigan."
Business executives, doctors, pro athletes and parents with big families are placing orders for the new Lincoln Navigator luxury SUV.
It's selling as fast as it can be made, with factory workers in Kentucky working multiple shifts seven days a week.
A basic 2018 Lincoln Navigator Premiere isn't cheap at $73,250. And, depending on the options added, known as "trim," consumers are spending even more for Select, Reserve and Black Label versions.
In fact, 85 percent of the Navigator sales top $81,205.
"I didn't expect that," said Robert Parker, global director of marketing, sales and service for Lincoln. "I mean, even our entry-level product is amazing. But customers are voting with their wallets. It's a pretty strong vote of confidence."
And the waiting list? "It's a good problem to have," he said.
Many consumers request the top-level Black Label, which starts at $96,905 and can reach $103,200. Extras include a rear entertainment system with wireless headphones and a cargo management package.
The price points are unprecedented for a Big Three automaker and among the highest in the industry. In January alone, Lincoln saw average transaction prices on the Navigator jump by $21,300.
Joey Maruskin, 55, a pump and valve sales representative from Highland Township, picked up his new Navigator a few days ago. "It's like driving a La-Z-Boy down the freeway."
He explained, "I went with the Black Label for the 30-way adjustable seats. This one has lumbar support in five different places, massage elements from the back of the knee to the back of your neck. It's amazing. You can adjust the seats not just forward and backward or up and down but around your legs and rib cage."
He drives more than 30,000 miles a year and sees a significant technology difference since his 2015 Navigator.
"It's like going from the Flintstones to the Jetsons," Maruskin said. "I can transport six kids and there's no arguing over USB outlets because there's enough for everybody. Nobody has worry about batteries dying. "
High-end features include Venetian leather seats, leather-wrapped instrument panels, suede head rests, plush carpet, Mahogany wood interior or teak wood accents, a panoramic roof, a 20-speaker sound system, aligned wood grain patterns, illuminated handles and safety belt buckles, and a piano key shifter on the console.
U.S. sales in the large luxury SUV segment have doubled since 2011 to 216,684 vehicles in 2017.
Viktor Gjonaj, 40, a commercial real estate broker from Shelby Township, Mich., traded his 2015 Navigator for a Black Label. "It's understated elegance. I'm 6-feet, 6-inches tall with a wife and four daughters, so we need a ton of space. Nothing else felt so refined."
For the past 10 years, General Motors has dominated sales in the large luxury SUV segment with the Cadillac Escalade, and still leads. Its sales slightly dipped to 37,694 in 2017. Navigator sales slightly rose to 10,593 in 2017.
Dealers say about half their new Navigator buyers are Lincoln customers, and the rest are turning in their other Range Rovers, Escalades and even Mercedes vehicles.
More Navigators are sold in Texas than anyplace else.
Chris Poulos, vice president and general manager of West Point Lincoln in Houston, remembers selling the Navigator 20 years ago for $42,100, so the latest price seems natural. "I have sold every one I can get," he said.
Buyers are skewing younger than traditional Lincoln shoppers, dealers say. And people are talking about Lincoln in the same breath as the $229,000 Bentley Bentayga and the $123,600 Mercedes G-Class.
"The stars have aligned perfectly for this vehicle," said Bernard Swiecki, senior automotive analyst at the Center for Automotive Research.
Bigger is clearly better for consumers these days.
The Navigator launch has even led to an increase in sales and transaction prices at Cadillac, said GM spokesman Jim Cain. "They've succeeded in stimulating new interest in the segment and we're benefiting. We're growing and not by a little."