By on July 7, 2009

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.

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27 Comments on “On A Clear Day Can You See Buick’s Product Planning?...”


  • avatar
    danms6

    Would it be too much to ask for if they could kill off everything but the LaCrosse and make that Riviera concept as a hybrid?

    The older folks would still consider the LaCrosse and Buick might actually have a model to attract customers not yet receiving social security.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Bring back the Roadmaster.

  • avatar
    threeer

    My God, I have a headache after reading that! It’s obvious that GM has learned nothing as of late, and will continue to strangle Buick. I still contend that if done right, Chevy, Buick and Cadillac could have survived and made sense. Reading all of this now…not so much. The model overlap is to close together to make a Cadillac better than a Buick, Buick better than Chevy…

  • avatar
    motownr

    Way to hit the nail on the head, Edward: the problem for GM is that the demise of Pontiac makes the BPG channel nonviable. Pontiac represents greater than 50% of the sales volume for the majority of dealers, and the demographics of Buick prevent any rational migration path.

    A number of prominent GM dealers have walked away from brand new BPG palaces, leaving banks and GMAC holding the keys to buildings and floorplans that are deeply underwater.

    For whatever reason, the Task Force members couldn’t bring themselves to announce GM NA for what it is destined to become: Chevy & Cadillac.

  • avatar
    th009

    motownr: the problem for GM is that the demise of Pontiac makes the BPG channel nonviable. Pontiac represents greater than 50% of the sales volume for the majority of dealers, and the demographics of Buick prevent any rational migration path.

    Actually, if you check the “deep dive” data posted yesterday, you will find that Pontiac represented only 34.9% of the BPG channel unit volume for the first half of this year.

  • avatar
    ExtraO

    @motowner “For whatever reason, the Task Force members couldn’t bring themselves to announce GM NA for what it is destined to become: Chevy & Cadillac.”

    My bet is that it’s just gonna become Chevy, if anything survives. Cadillac is road kill already. Hell, there hasn’t been a Caddy for the last five years that wasn’t at least as ugly as a cockroach’s rear end. For my money they’d be better off trying to save Buick, if they must have one of them, although they’re both pretty much toast in NA. —Really, there’s nothing going to happen here. GM still doesn’t have a clue. They’re no more likely to come out of this than California is likely to solve it’s deficit.

  • avatar
    dwford

    The problem is that there is no room in the New GM pricing structure for Buick. With Chevy’s getting up into the $30s and Cadillac moving down into the $30′s, there is nowhere to go. Couple that with the problem of New GM still not having enough development money to get unique products to each brand, and we are left with lame platform (over)sharing.

    So we are to be left with a Buick Astra clone, A Buick Insignia/Regal clone, a Buick LaCrosse, the Buick Lucerne, a Buick GMC Terrain clone and a Buick GMC Outlook clone. Ugh.

  • avatar
    CaliCarGuy

    this whole articel is another point in the column “buick makes no sense, shouldve kept pontiac”. buick makes no sense. i dont even think henderson is sure about wat it is. the lineup shouldve kept pontiac as the performance brand. near luxury doesnt work. just take a look a mercury if you need an example

  • avatar
    motownr

    @thoo9:

    As a former BPG channel participant, I believe the data is a bit misleading. Yes, Pontiac has worn the fleet queen tiara and for many dealers, the demographics/sales are biased toward older customers (Buick) and truck/suv (GMC). All points well taken.

    However, for larger, metro market dealers, Pontiac has frequently been the majority of units, as well as the only source of younger customers onto the property. Take away “P”, and “B” & “G” can’t pay the rent.

    My guess is the NYC quants on the task force looked at the profit margins by division, and ignored the fact that “P” allowed “B” and “G” to exist in many cases. Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if “BG” can even break even in NA…the retail volumes are going to be really, really small, especially if fuel prices and government CAFE mandates jointly diminish large car/SUV volumes, as many anticipate.

  • avatar
    motownr

    @dwford:

    Great point.

    GM and the task force have learned nothing from the lessons of Olds & Saturn when it comes to understanding customer expectations and branding. The current thinking that sexy sheetmetal will revitalize Buick is the same flavor of delusion.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    So, if I have this right, instead of “purifying” Buick and Cadillac, Buick has absorbed Pontiac except that there won’t be any performance aspect, so Buicks will be high end Chevy’s and low end Caddy’s.

    There will be tiny Buicks and huge Buicks and the only thing they’ll have in common is 3 portholes on each front fender….

    Great move Government Motors!

  • avatar
    dwford

    @Lokki:

    There will be tiny Buicks and huge Buicks and the only thing they’ll have in common is 3 portholes on each front fender….

    Which, in reality, is what Buick was in the 80′s and 90′s, with small Skylarks, larger Centurys, then the LeSabre and Park Avenue.

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with a small Buick, I have a problem with a small, cheap, rebadged Buick! If a Buick has to be based on a Chevy platform (and in reality that’s what GM has to do), then it needs to be at least 20% more expensive and have the quality and features to back up that price. If Audi can sell $30-40k A3s, Buick should be able to sell a quality small car.

    But there’s no reason for a Cadillac cheaper than a CTS.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    In another few years the “New GM” will find itself in bankruptcy. Chevy is on the decline and has been for 30 years due to a lack of timely investment among other things. GMC will be squeezed by the industry move away from trucks. Buick and Cadillac are too close in price and offerings, and both have lost/are losing any cache they once had. Like it or not Southern California is the nation’s bellwether. There, the few Cadillacs on the road are lost in a sea of similarly-priced Audis, BMWs and Mercedes. New Buicks are seen just a tick more than Bigfoot sightings. The only way GM thrives is if massive investment is committed to the kind of urgency and continuous improvement demonstrated by Hyundai over the last 10 years. They might be able to get there by dropping everything but Chevy and starting fresh today.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Buick doesn’t need a boat anchor like the Volt/Converj twin sisters of doom, which are each guaranteed to lose money for a while (ever).

    When you’re only selling 10k cars a month like Buick, you can’t afford to dilute the product mix very much. Why not a pickup truck, too?

  • avatar
    texlovera

    gslippy: “why not a pickup truck, too?”

    HA!!

    Killing Buick always made more sense than killing Pontiac. Which explains why Government Motors is killing Pontiac. Hope & Change!!

  • avatar
    mtypex

    It’s not over until Buickman has opined.

    Of course, I’d kill off Buick in the US before they got a Buick rebadge of the Cruze. While we wait for the implosion of the Buick-GMC sales channel, let’s think of names for it.

    GM names for small cars have to be clunky and unappealing (Achieva? Cobalt? Bueller?), so that people have to trade up to Impalas and Lucernes.

    Buick Anchovy anyone? It’s ‘small.’

  • avatar
    charly

    Buick exist for keeping GM in the Chinese market. Without it GM is the biggest name in world third largest market, and waiting for the executioner.

  • avatar
    ajla

    In GM’s defense, Motortrend‘s future model predictions are usually 100% different from what actually comes to market. I remember them showing off a predicted Ford/Lincoln/Mercury lineup in 2005 that included several RWD cars to compete with the “game-changing” Magnum and 300.

    In Motortrend‘s defense, GM has no clue what it’s doing, and I see no reason to doubt that the Cruze and Theta CUV will find their way into everything.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    Way to hit the nail on the head, Edward: the problem for GM is that the demise of Pontiac makes the BPG channel nonviable. Pontiac represents greater than 50% of the sales volume for the majority of dealers, and the demographics of Buick prevent any rational migration path

    Amen. Keep Buick for China. Keep Pontiac for America. The killing off of Pontiac never made sense to me.

  • avatar
    th009

    joeveto3: Amen. Keep Buick for China. Keep Pontiac for America. The killing off of Pontiac never made sense to me.

    The trouble is that as soon as you make Buick a China-only brand it will lose its cachet in China. You need to sell Buicks in the US to keep them desirable in China.

    Pontiac, too, had precious little differentiation, apart from a few niche models like Solstice and G8. GM really didn’t do a very good job of brand management — but, then, Fiat hasn’t done much better in the past, either, so it’ll be interesting to see whether they can sort out Chrysler.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    The killing off of Pontiac never made sense to me.

    Me, neither, but that happened decades ago. Let it go.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Turbo charge a G8, paint it black and call it a Grand National. Alas, I can always pretend. *sigh*

  • avatar
    Campisi

    Those confused about GM branding need to ditch the vertical-linear model hierarchy. The layout is roughly as such:

    Cadillac —- Buick
    ||
    ||
    Chevrolet —- GMC

    Cadillac is the BMW/Mercedes competitor, while Buick is the Lexus competitor. Lexus is a luxury brand like the Germans, but the type of luxury offered by each is vastly different from the other. Buick will serve the customer looking for a full-on screw-the-Nurburgring luxury car, a sort of vehicle which will no longer fit within the German-fighting mission of Cadillac.

    Branding is important, but focus on it too much and you’ll miss the forest for the trees.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I read the MT article yesterday.

    I can summarize it pretty well by this: Buick=Pontiac

    Which is just plain WRONG.

    If Buick was going to be positioned as a Lexus competitor, the G8 should have stayed, even more, they should bring the Chinese (aussie based) Park Avenue.

    As I understand, Buick stands for some luxury. Luxury is not exactly synonymous with mass volumes.

    The true volume to those dealers is going to be supplied by GMC.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Is it true they’ll be naming their new small crossover the “Rendezvue”?

  • avatar
    Campisi

    If Buick was going to be positioned as a Lexus competitor, the G8 should have stayed, even more, they should bring the Chinese (aussie based) Park Avenue.

    Why? The G8 was expensive to import into the United States, and its admirable driving dynamics would be unnecessary considering the mission of the new Buick. Cadillac could use the performance of such a car, but with the presence of the CTS there is no need for a rebadged G8. A Buick the size of the orphaned G8 could be built using a FWD/AWD platform at a lower cost with no detriment to the purposes of a large Buick.

  • avatar

    Right about now I’m wondering why GM, in its rather finite wisdom, thinks it’s a good thing for Cadillac and Buick to fight over the same soggy biscuit. Apparently they’re still in the mindset that buyers still purchase these cars based on brand name and brand name alone. Not price, features or looks even. Either that or GM still doesn’t know what the fruck to do and the execs are throwing any and everything on the wall, praying that something sticks.

    Here’s an idea, although at this point, GM is too hard of hearing to even consider it (or maybe because I’m not somewhere where I can feed these ideas to a board director):

    1) Put Cadillac back on the top pedestal. Target: Mercedes, then slowly move UPWARD. Eventually, with enough care and guidance, Cadillac will find itself in the same circles as Bentley and Rolls Royce. This means you’ll have to nix anything that even remotely looks FWD. The BLS and GM’s ambitions to appeal to the 3-Series people will have to go, too. The DTS and GM’s desire to sell rebadged Buicks to old snobby people who don’t want a Buick, but will never have the cash outlay to buy a Rolls will have to go.

    2) Buick’s new mission is to stop trying to be Cadillac and learn to love it’s place. Which is as a Lexus competitor, per Campisi’s suggestion. FOCUS on overall long-term quality, not the 90 day BS that brings fake awards. Hell, just think for the long-term and it’ll be okay. Price range should be between about $38k and $80k. Cadillac? Well, just look at 1) and you see where it’ll fit. Since Buick owners will be more concerned with comfort, amenities and reliability, it can have all the FWD it can handle. No SUVs, but a couple of CUVs like the Enclave won’t hurt it.

    3) Chevrolet………it’s the everyman’s brand, save for the Corvette (which actually should be it’s own marque — it is in the UK). Focus on reliability and improving the woeful interior materials. Prices starting from $8k to about $30k. This means no more Suburbans with $50k price tags and every option under the sun. In fact, Chebby should wean itself off of these SUVs, lest it and the dealers use them as a profit generating crutch.

    4) And speaking of dealers, one thing I would like to see more of is orders straight from the factory. In the case of the Chevy Chevelle SS (which is what the Pontiac G8 will now be known as after the brand goes Tango Uniform), you can have the option of paying that $10k “dealer adjustment” if you want one now, or you can order one online, in the color, interior and tranny options you want, put down a deposit and wait a few weeks, then just drive down to the dealership and pick it up.

    This way, GM can still keep Buick for the Chinese/overseas market and finally separate Cadillac and Buick, assigning each to their own proper price range and mission targets. As for GMC, it should go back to being a manufacturer of Top Kicks and larger-sized trucks, but seeing as that’s not going well, GMC might as well be merged into Chevy Trucks. I also left out the Volt, but I can’t really fathom a place for that boondoggle in any of the above marques. Just claim defeat and move on.


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