Small premium vehicles could remake Buick in America
I’m a car nut. I’m middle aged, I can afford any car I want within reason, and I have to admit, I don’t know the names of Buick’s current line-up. I wouldn't know a Verano if it bit me on the ankle. By the way, the spellcheck software I use does not know the word "Verano" either. It does know Camry, Civic, Accord, Lexus... I could keep going.
Of course I know the name Regal. Over the course of car history that car had some pizazz. It is the second word in the phrase “Buick Regal Grand National.” That was a car from my formative car years, the 1980s. It meant cool. Buick now means nothing if you ask me. That could change and here’s how.
The reason Buick exists, and Pontiac, Saturn, and Oldsmobile don’t, is because in China the phrase “entry level luxury car” is pronounced “Byoo-wik.” GM scored a while back with the brand in its largest market (China) and thus, when it came time to thin the herd, it kept Buick and killed off the other three. So Buick is still here. Unfortunately, the American people (old) that used to buy Buick are not really around as much (dead). GM has made a stab at bringing some vitality and younger buyers to the brand. I drove some Buick sedans recently and all I could think was “more expensive than the Chevy they copied, but not even close to the Cadillac line.”
In a recent interview by Automobile’s Jamie Kitman, Mark Reuss, GM’s current Global Product Dude, and former President of GM North America, was asked about small premium cars for GM in North America. During the interview Reuss said that the very small premium crossover, which Buick calls the Encore, is a success. It is based on a platform that Buick already made for other markets. Reuss said of the car’s success “I wish I could get in the same room all the journalists who told me not to do the Spark in the United States “because no one will buy a car that size here.” Well, we can’t get enough of them. We’re the only game in town here. It’s an experiment, but we’re selling four or five thousand a month, constrained. The other one was, “Don’t bring over the Buick Encore…that’s a really bad idea.” Well, guess what, that’s from Korea as well and we’re selling the heck out of it. I love doing things that make sense that no one else is doing.”
Next he was asked about the small European Opel Adam, a car that GM makes for the European (German) market. Kitman asked if it could be a good GM product or North America. Reuss said “It ain’t a bad idea. You’d have to run it through Buick and make it a little expensive.” By that Reuss means it would have to be a premium offering because it would otherwise just compete with the Chevy Spark.
There is no small premium car automaker based in the US. MINI, Audi, and maybe BMW are really the only players right now. The new Encore is selling relatively well. It beats the Regal and Verano most months and is close in sales to the LaCrosse. There seems to be an opportunity here for Buick to garner some younger affluent car buyers. A small premium car might just find some first time buyers' homes, rather than nursing homes.
This would require that GM reshape Buick in America. It would have to start advertising the Buick to young affluent people that want a cool upscale car. As you can see from the international advertisements in the pictures and video here, GM already knows how to do that.
Perhaps younger wealthier car buyers want something even more fuel efficient (green) and even more novel (like the Encore) than what GM has been pushing for the last decade. More to the point, the front-drive, compact and midsize vehicles Buick is relabeling from Chevy are just not that group’s thing right now. Trying to sell “sort of luxury” sedans is something GM has not done well since about the time of the Buick Regal Grand National. GM should give very small premium a try.
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Photos from GM media site. Video credits shown when viewed.