By on April 25, 2011

Ever since Bertel showed us the newest version of the Buick GL8 minivan, with its “Business Concept”-inspired design and executive airport shuttle mission, we’ve been curious about the chances of it coming to the US. After all, GM hasn’t sold a minivan in the US since the Uplander died in 2009, a far cry from the 336,000-odd minivans The General sold in America just ten years before. But when we asked our Best and Brightest if Buick could use a minivan, the response was a fairly resounding “no.” One particularly uncharitable soul even suggested that we were trying to goad GM into making a mistake in order to have something to bash them for. But, as it turns out, GM’s US execs didn’t need to be goaded at all to consider bringing the GL8 to the US market. GM China boss Kevin Wales tells Reuters [via the Baltimore Sun] that

They’ve looked at it on and off as long as I’ve been out here. They’ve made a fundamental decision that says demand for that type of product’s not strong enough. We say that’s fine. We’ll just keep selling out here.”

So that’s it? It’s simply a question of demand? Of course not. After all, there’s probably not a marketing man in the business who wants to try to generate some positive market research on the blue-sky concept of a Buick minivan. I mean, are there too words in the automotive lexicon that inspire more visions of dull, aging, white-bread, anti-enthusiasm than “Buick” and “Minivan”? (GM defenders please note that I realize Buick is making strides, but consumer perceptions always lag such improvements by years). Building a successful Buick minivan would, like any other high-risk product, would come down to execution: executed well, a Buick minivan could be a brand-defining move away from the modern crossover design malaise. But again, it turns out that execution would be a bit of an issue, given the GL8′s aged basis, a development of the U-Body platform which debuted in 1990. Joseph Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting explains:

The vehicle, built at a plant GM operates under a joint venture with China’s SAIC Motor Corp , generates a “boatload of money” because it is based on an old U.S. minivan platform that does not require a lot of investment, Phillippi said. However, it would likely be costly to upgrade the GL8 to match current U.S. safety and feature requirements.

“I doubt whether the electrical or electronic architecture could handle the kind of hardware and technology you’d want to put into it to make it for the U.S.,” he said. “I love the car, but it may be impossible without massive investment.”

Even Susan Docherty makes an appearance (!) from her GM International Operations exile, to make a typically banal point on the topic (and make us miss her so!).

For instance, Susan Docherty, head of sales and marketing for GM’s international operations acknowledged the vehicle lacks the third-row, fold-flat seats U.S. car buyers prefer.

Meanwhile, rather than admit that GM is just making a boatload of profits off an ancient platform and the relatively low expectations of the Chinese market, GMIO Planning VP Lowell Paddock

emphasized no changes would be made that would disappoint the GL8′s core Chinese executive customers. GM even markets the GL8 in China as “business class on wheels.”

“We wouldn’t tamper with that to meet another market’s requirements,” he said. “It’s important that that be spot on in the China market.”

Because when the Chinese think “business class on wheels,” they are specifically not thinking of a product that lives up to American expectations. Even as more and more global firms develop vehicles specifically aimed at satisfying both US and Chinese customers. The reality: at 50k units a year (albeit at a $35k-$48k price point), the GL8 doesn’t even sell all that well in China. It sells well enough for Wale to brag about the “unbelievable” demand in China (while analysts rave about its unbelievable profits), but not well enough to ever make the GL8 more than merely the last gasp of a platform that’s now entering its third decade.

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45 Comments on “Buick GL8 Minivan: GM’s Proudly Non-Global Product...”


  • avatar

    poor Buick, the foundation stone has so long suffered the incompetence and corruption of its misguided parent company.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    If any GM brand could use a minivan it would be Chevrolet.  On the other hand, GM could never figure out how to make a desirable and innovative minivan anyway.  What makes anyone think they could do it now?

  • avatar
    th009

    Hmmm … 50K premium-priced units on an old platform “doesn’t sell so well?”  That’s pretty close to the total Panther volume, and and more than the Taurus volume (which is surely not a premium product).
     

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      I don’t know what the Taurus has to do with the sales volume of Buick minivans in China, but it is certainly a premium product, especially given that a very large percentage of Taurus sales are high-content Limited and SHO models, and it’s also sold just under 70,000 units last year, and is on track to hit a similar number this year.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        @NulloModo, I intended to type “more than Panther volume and close to Taurus volume” but I got those backwards.  My bad.
         
        And while Taurus may be a premium product in the Ford universe, Ford isn’t a premium brand.  At least for now that’s supposed to be Lincoln, I think.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Just a side note on the last Buick minivan sold in the U.S., it sold so poorly in my area that the one I see most often in town belongs to the Adult Detention Center.  It makes me chuckle for some reason to see a Buick minivan with a cage between the driver and the passengers and a sheriffs department star on the door.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      GL 8′s are quite miserable I rented one before, it makes my cousins 09 Chrysler T&C look like a fine German car. Though it is a great way to reduce the recidivism rate. After riding in one many of the detainees promise never to commit another crime.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The “U” minivan platform spawned a lot of really marginal vehicles in the US. Don’t bring that platform back!

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    At the end the U-Body minivans for GM had morphed at least into something safe (vastly better than the infamous ’97 to – ’04 models) that at least rode very well and quiet, and was at least somewhat reliable once the God awful 3.4L and its self-destructing head gaskets were excised from under the hood. But the U-body was, never competitive in the market and was always subpar at best.
     
    I don’t think the last gen U-Body deserves the flack that it gets – they aren’t “that” bad and like a Kia Sedona drive one for 125K to 150K miles and be done with it; not horrific.
     
    Lets not forget, there are a lot of car companies making big bucks selling ancient platforms to emerging markets. But this vehicle has no business being sold as a new car in the North American market, and Buick selling a minivan won’t help the rebirth of its image. You can’t buy an Acura, Infiniti, or Lexus minivan.
     
    Here in North America, the Lambada platform needs to get updated, what was ground breaking in 2008 is falling behind, and the corners cut to get it to market although not horrific, are starting to show – a lot.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      “You can’t buy an Acura, Infiniti, or Lexus minivan.”

      Exactly.  Buick has done a great job of changing their image, a minivan would be a huge step backwards.  Make it a Chevy or better yet, pass until you have a product that will be competitive in the North American market.  And even then, make it a Chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      There are markets where you can buy a Lexus minivan. But North America isn’t one of those markets as you can’t sell luxury minivans in the US.
       
      And selling a luxury minivan as a Chevy doesn’t make any sense. That Buick minivan is the Chinese version of a limo, not a family car

  • avatar

    If GM had used this 10 years ago it would have been considered competitive. But, as usual, GM is 10 years behind everybody else in America. No point in bringing it in now. The market has moved on. Even the SUV has almost given way to the CUV.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    If the Chinese are willing to pay for several generation old VW Jettas as new cars, I’m guessing GM could find a way to successfully market an older minivan design to them.  Since most Chinese are moving up from scooters, motorcycles or bicycles even the most crude of cars would be seen as an improvement, and the U body, while nothing special by current standards, is still far from crude.
     
    As for the US market, Minivans are tricky.  The only Minivan I’ve even remotely liked was the Mazda MPV, and that never sold particularly well in comparison to the competition.  The only customers I ever get asking about minivans are retirees who want something with utility to cart their dogs, craft projects, and occasionally grand children around in, and who are so far beyond caring about being stylish that a minivan actually sort of makes sense.
     
    As far as younger families go, it’s crossovers all the way, although there is likely some selection bias as most customers who have embraced the internet know that Ford doesn’t sell a minivan, so if they are looking for one, they are probably going somewhere else.

    • 0 avatar
      baggins

      I have two little kids, and love our 2004 Sienna.  So easy to get them in and out, carried 7 people with enough room for adults in the 3rd row, and I get 25-26 on long hwy trips.  Cost me 25k with all the safety features – stab control, curtain bags, etc, as well as alloys and one powered door.  I think you can still get one with that equipment and that price.

      The crossover is more money for less utility.

      That said, I think I’ll get an Explorer in a couple of years.  Looks cool and both kids will be in boosters by then.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave W

        all the safety features – stab control,

        I wish the Oldsmobile and Ford station wagons my 3 siblings and I spent summers carted around the country in had had stab control, might have saved a few ribs.

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      What’s the pitch going to be for the upcoming C-Max? pray for $5/gal gas?

  • avatar
    baggins

    I have a 2004 Sienna, the first year of the new , bigger Sienna.  Its pretty damn good at its job.  Kudos to the Japanese lead engineer who drove the 50K miles around the US to figure out what the new Sienna would need.

    In 2006,  I rented an Uplander while on vacation. Uncompetitive doesnt begin to describe the uplander.  Too narrow, too crude and really funny looking.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      ” really funny looking”
      That nose job Bob Lutz did on the 2006 GM minivans was an absolute hatchet job. He was trying to disguise a minivan, but ended up with nothing but botched plastic surgery.
       

  • avatar
    Michel1961

    I am currently walking away from my GM lease. Saturn Aura XE 2007, Car of the Year ! Yeah right. Actually not a bad ride and not a bad looking ride (despite the TTAC review) but my maintenance records are almost as extensive as the records on my former 2003 Focus (yes, I know…) On top of that, GM now takes up to a month to get me the simplest parts. It’s a 3.5 year old car for God’s sake ! Some poor taxi driver will probably end up with it because it looks good but is worth very little.

    I test drove an Equinox V6 LTZ (twice) to give GM a chance and found it generally unimpressive at the price.   It’s loud, plasticky, and beyond the look, the appointments aren’t that great. It’s also full of gizmos that will fail swiftly (sonar+rearview ?) Finally, you can get an A4 or 3-series wagon for that kind of money. I ended up with a loaded Santa Fe. That’s exactly what Chevrolet should be aiming for. Well-appointed, reasonably priced, solid ride, not too flamboyant and generally reliable.

    GM is still playing its old games. Lazy design covered in glitter dust. It will take a long time before I give them another look.

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      I’m no expert, but I did visit the autoshow in NYC on Saturday. After climbing in and out of the products, I’m convinced GM is still behind the 8 ball. You don’t see it until you go from one to another. Why GM even bothered with the “Sonic” only shows their ineptitude. Both my son and I found the backseat of the Cruze to be remarkably tomb-like. The upside? Well, if it wasn’t for the Cruze, I would not be certain that New Jersey school system has taught my son the word “claustrophobia.” But he said it first.

  • avatar

    Pontiac > Buick

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    “I ended up with a loaded Santa Fe” LOL. You got a HYUNDAI? You get what you pay for I guess. Enjoy all that high quality craftmanship and reliability. Ha ha!

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      I’ve owned both GM and Hyundai products within the past decade. Obviously Bridge2farr has not.

    • 0 avatar
      Michel1961

      LOL all the way to the bank actually. 8K less than the next cheapest competitor, the CR-V (if you factor in interest rates and depreciation over 5 years). 10K less than a Venza. 13K less than an Equinox.

      And speaking of high quality craftmanship, have you tried any of the comparable vehicles recently ? Why do you think the streets are crawling with Santa Fe and Sonata these days.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      You get what you pay for with a Hyundai, with Government Motors, it’s what you owe after the sale in unexpected repair costs.

      Been there, done that, multiple times. Never again Garbage Motors.

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    “I have two little kids, and love our 2004 Sienna” Thats a pretty scary statement there. Hopefully no runaway accelleration problems. At least it was in the shop we know what with the myriad of recalls!

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Attempts at humor are fine once in a while and in due measure, but do you actually have anything constructive to say?

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Philosophil: Let the guy have his fun. There are several anti-GM trolls who come out anytime there’s a post about GM on this blog. They too contribute little to an actual discussion. What goes around, comes around, IMO.

  • avatar
    NN

    GM is smart to keep this vehicle a China-only model.  Minivan’s decked out in leather, TV’s, etc. are simply executive transports in China, not family vehicles. Therefore there are no driver-centric concerns as we have in the US, and a sub-par vehicle can continue to print money.  We do the same here with limo’s…when you get in a limo do you complain that it’s a Town Car or DTS?
    I was in China on business last fall and rode around in a GL8.  Very comfortable in the middle leather captains chairs.  GM is simply lucking out here on being able to find a successful niche for an old and unloved product.  And they’re keeping it fresh enough..I can understand why Buick’s are aspirational in China.  When you see the Regal and Lacrosse on the streets in China, they really stand out as beautiful designs amongst the still many cheap VW, Hyundai, and older-generation Toyota/Hondas on the road.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I’ll look at it this way: the GL8 is still based on GM’s last “attempt” (note the quotes) at a minivan, which were mediocre and uncompetitive in every conceivable way – including safety – when they went on sale back in 1997. Giving them more “SUV-like” looks for their otherwise minor refreshes (and giving Buick and Saturn clones) was frankly pathetic. A from-the-ground-up, modern minivan platform from GM just isn’t forthcoming, as long as their Lambdas keep selling well. That said, perhaps the Lambda II platform will be more minivan-like, in order to entice those who’d otherwise buy a Sienna or Odyssey to abandon the van segment for four swinging doors.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Hyundais are on par with Honda, Toyota and better than Nissan in terms of reliability.  They outsell many other makes.  They’ve spent tons of money (along with partner, Kia) in putting two massive plants (WITH jobs) in the United States instead of doing what the once big-3 have done (export jobs). 

    You people who “diss” Hyundai are about 10-15 years behind the times. 

    Disclosure:  I’m on my third Hyundai Sonata now, and have driven the new direct injection job too.  Had a 2002 V6, a 2005 four and still have a 2009 four. 

    Tell me any other US market full-sized sedan with 4 cylinders which’d get the same MPG as our ’09 Sonata (except the new one, of course) and I’ll then give you back some of the respect you lost with your innane comment about “you bought a HYUNDAI?”

    Chrysler and FIAT executives would just about die and go to heaven to get half the success that Hyundai has accomplished while Daimler-Benz, Cerberus and now FIAT continue to allow the once storied (and once American) company to die on the vine. 

    GM would LOVE to have the reliability of Hyundai – which managed to pull itself up by the bootstraps with sheer hard work and determination. 

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Uhhh…grudgingly – yes. I’m really afraid there will be no more domestic OEM’s in a very few years. Hyundai is the new Chevrolet (good grief – say it ain’t so!).

  • avatar
    ixim

    It looks like an updated Uplander, which, I guess, it is. Didn’t the Aztek/Rendezvous use a shortened version of the same platform?

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Could not get over the cosmic irony of “business class on wheels.”  If there was anything that the GM execs could use right now is a busness class, on wheels.

    Or maybe Susan Docherty can salvage her reputation by choosing a color for the GL8 that will boost sales.

  • avatar
    mjz

    GM could never figure out how to make a competitive minivan, just forget it already.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Some will be surprised to learn that GM actually invented the transverse engine, front drive minivan years before Chrysler. They never brought it to production out of fear that it would cannibalize station wagon sales. Instead, Chrysler and others cannibalized GM’s station wagons! Minivans are a declining segment, though, and I would not expect GM to field an entry in the near term.

    I am a bit curious why folks are so impressed with the Korean’s sales. Sonata is the lone Korean vehicle that makes either the top 10 cars or top 10 trucks lists. GM has 6 vehicles on the list, more than any other maker.  Equinox is #3 in its segment behind only CRV and Escape.   

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    I like the name of this van – Gleit (GL8). Must be good to go for ‘flied lice’ =)

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    “13K less than an Equinox”. Really? 2011 Santa Fe AWD V6 MSRP $30,845. 2011 Chev Equinox AWD 2LT with V6 MSRP $30,530. You see, this is the kind of blatant misinformation that is spread as gospel by the b&b.

  • avatar
    Michel1961

    I’m not going to argue this forever but here goes:
    Fully loaded 2011 Santa Fe Limited with Nav and towing: 38,5K CAN, 0% over 7 years
    Fully loaded 2011 Equinox V6 AWD LTZ with Nav and towing: 43,5K CAN, 5,68% over 7 years (to compare comparables)
    Difference: 5K more on MSRP alone, 13,5K with interest. On top of that, Hyundai gave me a 3K rebate. Chevrolet wouldn’t budge.

    Let’s be clear, I do not hate GM (or Ford, or Chrysler for that matter) but I do not like giving my money away. I want to pay the best price on similar products. Nobody can argue that an Equinox is worth even 5K more than a Santa Fe.

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    Sorry. Didn’t realize they are piling on cash and giving away $ at 0% for 7 years! Does sound like a fire sale. And if it is true that they have all those incentives, what does that do to the resale value of a Santa Fe? And even with all the low interest and hood money it is important to note that Santa Fe US sales thru March 2011 are 14,392 units. Equinox at 43,230 units. And that’s without the manufactuer trying to “buy” sales with gimmickry.

    • 0 avatar
      Michel1961

      I’m not too concerned. Hyundai has been doing this for years and their resale value is similar to GM’s. I factored that into my decision as well.

      Just for comparison’s sake, my current 07 Aura XE (loaded), lost 69% of its value in 4 years. Ouch ! But it was a lot cheaper than a similar Camry or Accord at the time. I think I came out on top.

      Defining what constitutes true value in a car is a really complicated process. You’d think it could be simpler.

    • 0 avatar
      Michel1961

      If Hyundai is willing to ‘buy’ me off with comparable products at lower prices, then I guess I’m sold !

      Jokes aside, if GM can sell 3 times more vehicles at a higher price, then I guess they are doing something right. Good for them. I wasn’t that impressed, the dealership experience was horrendous and I wasn’t willing to plunk down more money for an Equinox. Then again, I wasn’t willing to plunk down more money for a Honda, a Toyota, a VW or a Subaru. Value is in the eye of the beholder.


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