The fact that the Escalade fell so sharply after leading the theft list since 2003 may be a positive sign for an embarrassed General Motors, which has promised to improve its antitheft technology—something it plans to integrate into new versions of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups coming for the 2014 model-year.
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"General Motors has put a lot of effort into new antitheft technology, so that may help explain the decline in the Escalade's theft rate," said institute Vice President Matt Moore, who cautioned that, "on the other hand, sales of the Escalade have fallen in recent years, so there may be less of a market for stolen Escalades or Escalade parts."
Ford, meanwhile, contends that it is also taking steps to reduce thefts with new technologies.
Nonetheless, the F-250 had a claim frequency of nearly six times the average for all vehicles sold in the U.S., or seven per 1,000 insured vehicle years, according to the institute. That's the equivalent of having seven vehicles stolen out of every 1,000 over the course of a year.
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In terms of the average loss payment per theft claim, the F-250 came in at $7,060, second only to the F-350 at $7,517 among the 10 most stolen vehicles.
Then again, the average payment came to $13,803 for the Audi A4 sedan, the institute reports. But insurance companies don't pay out very often on that model, which had the third-lowest theft rate in the study.
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The bottom five include:
- The Dodge Journey 4WD, at just 0.4 thefts per 1,000 insured vehicle years;
- The Volkswagen Tiguan 4WD, also at 0.4 thefts;
- The Audi A4 sedan, at 0.4 thefts;
- The Acura RDX, at 0.4 thefts; and
- The Toyota Matrix at 0.4 thefts.
To a large degree, the vehicles at the top of the theft chart are higher-volume vehicles that thieves find they can either sell whole or strip for parts. Those at the bottom of the list are either relatively unpopular products or lower-volume luxury models, such as the Audi A4. But there also are some more popular vehicles, like the Honda CR-V, ranked seventh from the bottom, that may benefit from improved antitheft technologies.
Automotive immobilizers, designed to prevent a vehicle from being hotwired, were standard in 89 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2012, the last of the three years covered by the latest theft study.
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Nonetheless, a separate report released a week ago by the National Insurance Crime Bureau found that the national rate for car theft rose 1.3 percent in 2012, largely led by the Western U.S. It was the first increase the bureau has reported in eight years.
The average theft rate for all vehicles was 1.2 per 1,000 insured vehicle years, and the typical claim payout came to $6,532, the institute's study found.
—By CNBC Contributor Paul Eisenstein; Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau.