Rumors surrounding a possible Buick Theta-based CUV are being amplified by rumors that the Saturn VUE plug-in hybrid will make it to market under a different brand. GM’s Tom Stephens confirms to Reuters that a plug-in ute will be available in 2011 (as planned), just under a different brand name. With rumors of a hybrid powertrain in the works for the forthcoming LaCrosse, green may be yet another new attribute for the brand confusion that is Buick. “We’ve got a strategy that says there are no silver bullets,” as Stephens says, curiously ignoring the Volt. “We need all of this.” Which, in a nutshell, is the attitude that is destroying Buick…
Motor Trend makes an admirable attempt at talking up possible Buick products, but runs into the numerous walls GM has placed in the way of that brand’s success. A new Lucerne is pitched as a possible step up from the LaCrosse. This model is rumored to be built on Holden’s so-called “Super Epsilon” platform, an FWD/AWD platform that is longer and wider than the LaCrosse’s Epsilon II architecture. MT notes that this platform will cannibalize Commodore (aka Pontiac G8) sales in Australia, but conveniently omits any mention of possible Caddy DTS/STS cannibalism. The Lucerne replacement is pegged for a 2012 release, just in time for all of that nameplate’s brand equity to be squandered in deep uncompetitiveness.
No piece on Buick’s product plans is complete without the perennial calls for a Regal rebadge of the Opel Insignia. Of course, this would create another bad-old-days scenario for Buick, in which it would be competing with Chevy (Regal vs. Malibu/Impala), Cadillac (DTS/STS vs. Lucerne) and itself (Regal vs. LaCrosse vs. Lucerne). Motor Trend suggests that the next-generation Insignia could be the basis for a new Regal, but there’s no guarantees that Opel will be part of the GM family by the time that bridge is crossed. Plus, there’s no adequate explanation for how this would avoid the usual cannibalism.
After Cadillac receives its Converj version of the Volt (possibly in two- and four-door trim), Buick will be the third brand to get its own Voltec. MT says this will be an MPV, likely in the mold of the recent Buick Business concept. This would be based on the Chevy Orlando, an MPV version of the Delta II-based Cruze. This would likely lead to some head-scratching among buyers who will be forced to choose between a plug-in Theta CUV or a smaller (but not likely to be much cheaper) extended-range electric MPV.
Despite being an avowed non-fan of rebadging, it seems that Fritz Henderson and company are considering a Buick rebadge of the Chevrolet Cruze as well. Even MT seems to sense that this is a bad idea. “Where would an upmarket Buick version fit in the tight pricing gaps between Cruze, Malibu and four-cylinder LaCrosse?” is the question. “Unless the Buick gets its own bodystyle, it’s likely to be much closer to the Cruze than the LaCrosse is to the Malibu,” comes the reply. Can you feel the cynicism?
Consider that all of this is taking place amidst Buick’s need to become a volume brand in order to keep the new Buick-GMC dealer net afloat, and you have a sense of the real problem. Easy answers, like rebadging the G8 and building it in Oshawa have been elusive. G8 is actually smaller than the new LaCrosse, but costs more. RWD doesn’t help Buick’s volume argument, while a raft of tightly-positioned FWD sedans doesn’t help the premium argument. Meanwhile, without a true Cadillac flagship (or money to develop one), the differences between Caddy and Buick are fading as well. Meanwhile, GM is asking consumers to “take a look at [Buick] now.” But even on a clear day, can consumers tell what a Buick is? Besides “all of this,” of course.