By on February 17, 2017

2017 Buick Model Lineup from Buick Website

“Buick revealed its Cascada convertible, an elegant four-seater that will go on sale in the USA in the first quarter of 2016. This marks another example of the two brands’ successful collaboration, which already includes the jointly-developed Buick Encore and Opel Mokka, the Buick Verano and Opel Astra notchback as well as the Buick Regal and Opel Insignia,” proclaimed Opel in January 2016, just ahead of the Cascada’s reveal in Detroit.

One paragraph. Four products that intrinsically link Opel and Buick.

It’s no surprise, then, that General Motors’ possible sale of Opel to Peugeot has those in and out of the RenCen wondering: What of Buick?

Hit up Google and you’ll find multiple thinkpieces from journalists on both sides of the Atlantic regarding where the chips will fall once a deal is done … if it’s done. GM dumping Opel on the French after nearly 88 years of ownership is bound to have massive ramifications, most of all in Europe where Opel has plants in multiple countries throughout the continent.

The more things stay the same, the more they change

Opel, by most accounts, is thought of as a feeder for Buick product. You’d be forgiven for taking this approach to understanding General Motors’ global product as many of Opel’s nameplates predate their Buick cousins, and Opel in Europe easily outsells Buick in North America by a factor of four. But flip that on its head by placing Opel in the “Buick Junior” position and you’ll have a better understanding of the dynamics at play within GM.

In 2016, Buick was GM’s second-largest global brand with 1,432,679 sales. Only Chevrolet, with its massive footprint in the Americas (North and South) sold more vehicles — 4,177,484 units over the same period. Opel and Vauxhall combined don’t even make it on the podium; the third place spot goes to Wuling of China with 1,359,638 global sales. Instead, Opel/Vauxhall placed fourth with a combined 1,180,645 sales in 2016. (If you’re wondering, Cadillac is second last, leading Holden by approximately 200,000 sales.)

“Buick is GM’s second-largest international brand with 1.4 million sales in 2016. Our product line has never been broader or fresher, with seven introductions between last year and this year. Our customer base continues to grow and we’re confident in the brand’s future momentum,” said a Buick spokesperson.

So it’s Buick, and not Opel/Vauxhall, that’s driving more volume. And it’s Buick, not Opel/Vauxhall, that’s returning a profit.

Still, this sales counting by brand ignores the east/west balance of power Opel/Vauxhall provides Buick. Combining Opel/Vauxhall sales with Buick’s North American sales gives us a total of 1,429,329 units versus 1,229,804 units sold by Buick in China. Take those million-plus Opel/Vauxhall sales away from the western side of what’s possibly General Motors’ most global trio and you’re left with a Buick that’s distinctly Chinese, and the brand’s decision-making power moves to Shanghai as a result.

With that in mind, taking Opel out of play may not change Buick’s model line much in North America, but it could seriously upend where those products come from.

Going, going, gone (almost)

Stroll up to a Buick dealership today and you’re likely to find at least one or two Veranos languishing on the lot. Cars.com shows over 5,000 brand-new Veranos in inventory as of this writing. But make no mistake, the Verano, once built at GM’s Orion Assembly, went out of production in October.

2016 Buick Verano sedan white

It’s too bad, too, as the Verano was Buick’s best-selling model in Canada at the time.

So let’s cross Verano off the list for Buick’s 2018 roster.

2016 Buick Cascada

The other compact in the Buick lineup, the Cascada, is a niche player without domestic production. Surprisingly, the Cascada sells more often in America than in Europe by nearly 2 to 1, but it exists in America because Buick saw an opportunity to bring it from Poland without major investment. It would be a fool’s errand to produce it here after an Opel sale sees global volume halved for a next-generation model.

So that’s gone, too, sometime in the near-ish future.

Safety in numbers

Have you heard? Crossovers are so hot right now. And to say Buick’s crossovers are safe in America would be an understatement considering the brand derived 63 percent of its volume from vehicles not called Verano, Regal, LaCrosse, and Cascada in 2016. (That’s up from 53 percent the year before.)

2016 Buick Enclave

Buick’s largest people mover, the long-in-the-tooth Enclave, is due for a makeover any minute, and it’ll keep its larger-than-segment proportions, as did the redesigned Chevrolet Traverse. When the Enclave first arrived in 2007 for the 2008 model year, GM couldn’t make enough to satiate demand. Since then, demand and GM’s ability to meet it has only increased. Only last year, in its ninth year of first-generation production, did Enclave volume drop off significantly. To make up some of the difference, GM shipped a few hundred Enclaves to China, the only model that makes an Asia-bound trek across the Pacific.

2016 Buick Envision Front 3/4

Envision, thanks to its Chinese production location and America’s hunger for more crossovers, will be completely unaffected by a Opel sale to Peugeot. However, it does represent a shift eastward in power within the brand. It’s the first vehicle GM has ever imported from China, and — unlike the Enclave — it currently isn’t produced at any of GM’s domestic or global plants.

2017 Buick Encore

Which brings us to Buick’s smallest crossover of the bunch, the Encore — the brand’s sales leader in America.

The Encore and its Chevrolet/Opel/Vauxhall siblings are built in nearly every country you can find an electrical wall socket. However, it’s GM Korea that supplies all the Encores sold in America. (Another plant in China supplies that market.) After a deal is made with PSA, and considering the latest labor developments from Bupyeong, GM could move Korean Encore production to China as had been rumored in the past.

And why not? A Chinese-produced Encore would likely return higher profit margins, thanks to lower labor costs and other economic advantages, for a brand that’s much stronger in China and has no presence in Korea.

What is a car, anyway?

If you haven’t noticed, cars — and sedans in particular — aren’t in vogue anymore in America. Thankfully, Buick doesn’t have many of those left anymore.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

The Hamtramck-built LaCrosse sedan found just over 27,000 owners in America in 2016, a stark contrast to the 92,000 LaCrosses Buick sold in America in 2005. Granted, 2016 saw a brand-new LaCrosse and 2017 will be its first full year of sales, but January’s LaCrosse sales tally of 1,307 units isn’t confidence inspiring.

It’s a different story in China. The Chinese bought LaCrosses at the same rate Americans bought Impalas, accounting for over 80,000 sales there last year. And guess what? Not a single one of those LaCrosses was built in America. Not. A. Single. One.

Granted, engineering is done on the LaCrosse and it can share plant space with the Impala domestically, so it’s unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon, but don’t hold your breath for a next-generation LaCrosse.

Opel Insignia Sport Tourer

Regal introduces the most confusion to Buick’s domestic lineup.

With under 20,000 sales in America last year, it was outsold by the LaCrosse, Encore, and the now-nine-year-old Enclave in 2016. Adding to the confusion, the current Regal is built in Oshawa for North American consumption, and it was widely rumored the next Regal would be built in Rüsselsheim. A sale of Opel to PSA throws these rumors into disarray. And midsize sedan sales are dead. So why bother?

Again, China comes to the rescue.

Buick pushed almost 70,000 Regals out the door in China in 2016, and that was the worst year for Regal sales there since 2008. Both 2014 and 2015 saw over 100,000 Regals finding buyers in China.

If General Motors is committed to selling the Regal in North America — and that’s a massive “if” — tooling up a domestic plant for its production makes little sense considering dwindling midsize segment volume and the Regal’s historic inability to carve out a significant slice of the midsize segment’s pie. Instead, bringing a Regal from General Motors’ Shanghai factory, which already produces the Regal for that market, is a sound business decision, and will likely make it Buick’s second Chinese import.

[Images: General Motors]

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62 Comments on “What Would Buick Look Like Without Opel?...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    So I’m confused. It looks like GM is going to keep making Opels (under the Buick badge) after the sale is done. Why sell it off? And what happens to the margins on these cars once Opel is under PSA?

    • 0 avatar

      Remember, General Motors still owns the platforms and likely will after a sale is done. For GM to continue production of these models is easy. The onus is on PSA to redesign next-generation vehicles with their own platforms unless it licences those platforms from GM. See Saab under Spyker for a good reference.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Mark,
        I would think PSA will have access to existing Opel platforms as well.

        GM will not strip the tooling out of the Opel and Vauxhall plants.

        Why would PSA even consider Opel?

        • 0 avatar

          Sure, but those platforms won’t instantly become PSA platforms that GM can no longer use. Insignia/Regal/Malibu are based on Episilon II. If PSA takes control of that platform, Chevrolet no longer has a Malibu. What sense does that make?

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          re: Why would PSA even consider Opel?

          It would almost double their sales and increase development costs by maybe 10%.

          PSA and Opel are both big in Europe, but they aren’t both dominant in the same countries. PSA is bigger in France, Italy, Spain (to pick only bigger markets). Opel is big in Germany and the UK (as Vauxhal).

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            heavy handle,
            My comment “Why would PSA even consider Opel” was in the event GM stripped Opel of its tooling, not which country sells what.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            Stripping the tooling means the same thing as closing-down every Opel plant immediately. That deal would never fly, and PSA wouldn’t want it in the first place.
            The only way this works is with the current Opel range intact. I’m sure both sides have plenty of bean counters who will figure-out a mutually agreeable royalty rate.

            Next-gen models would be developed by PSA-O, using staff who worked for either of the two parent companies.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            DenverMike,
            Doh!

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        The parallels with the Spyker/GM deal are very limited.

        PSA has equivalent platforms for almost every Opel model. They would most likely keep producing current Opels until they are due for renewal, and then have the replacements share Peugeot-developed platforms (like Audi/Seat/Skoda/VW share platforms).

        Spyker didn’t already have a full line of cars, so their plan was to develop all-new platforms.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Good article Mark.

    I would like to add that Opel’s involvement in Australia reached its peak with the VL Commodore in 86.

    In the 60s and 70s Vauxhall had a greater influence with GMH. By the mid 70s Opel and Vauxhall were essentially one and I believe Opel took the lead over Vauxhall. Even GMH had more control by then than Vauxhall.

    With the release of the VN Commodore GMH went more or less down it own design path.

    GMH actually moved towards Pontiac with the VT Commodore and with Caddy designed the current 3.6 V6.

    With the potential demise of Opel and the new Opel Insignia Commodore I see future Holdens coming from China, Korea and Thailand with much design work done at GMH and not Detroit for Buick.

    Australia is one of the best designers globally of mid size vehicles, even SUVs and utes.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      ?!?!?!?!?!?!

      Some random, barely-related words. That’s all I got. Oh, and “Australia rulezed/Amerikuh drools” sentiments as per usual.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Not really johnnie. It explains Vauxhalls loss of influence and Opels loss of influence outside of the US.

        Then add GMHes connection moving towards China.

        Yourself a Fraud fan might not appreciate what goes on outside of the US.

        Sit back, read and learn. I have hopes that one day you’ll be able to have an in depth and mature discussion. Other than that I would concentrate submitting your unwealth of knowledge at PickupTrucks.com.

      • 0 avatar
        caltemus

        Seems like a pretty succinct explanation to me. There’s always been a political interplay between GM brands and who gets to design what.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Big Al from Oz
      I think GM has massive problems in Australia, that 200,000 number quoted by Mark Stevenson, is rapidly falling as the imported cars do not sell. Chinese/ Korean? No they are as popular as Leprosy. GM could do a Ford and pour money into the Australian design centre that has been working on quite a few GM products globally

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    The truth is that Buick at this point is mostly a brand for the Chinese market. Lumping US Buick and China Buick together just confuses things. It’s just a coincidence that they chose the Buick name for their China production – the “Buicks” in China could have just as well been Holdens or Opels or Woohoos.

    Instead of feeding off of the crumbs of Opel in the US market, Buick will feed off the crumbs of the Chinese market. It’s true that Opel provided some engineering to the US market but they will get over it. As far as the suits are concerned, engineers are commodities like steel that can be sourced anywhere.

    The only fly in the ointment is that Trump is not going to be wild about GM bringing in lots of cars from China. We already have a horrible trade deficit with China even before Chinese cars start coming in in large #s. Probably they will have to build most of their Buicks here even if the models are the same as those sold in China. They have a US dealership pipeline to feed and one way or another they will find some models in their (Opel-less) global portfolio to badge as Buick.

    The real question is what is Peugeot going to do with Opel? There is a lot of overlap in the product lines. I don’t understand how this deal makes sense for them. How are they going to make $ on these brands when GM hasn’t for 20 years?

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      What did Renault do with Nissan?

      You will have parallel PSA and Opel products platform sharing.

      Renault has managed to keep a distinction between itself and Nissan and profit from the Nissan badge.

      PSA will profit from the Opel badge.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      The following is pure speculation on my part.

      Many European automakers have been splitting their lineups into two brands: one upscale, and one down-to-earth. Think VW-Skoda, Audi-Seat, Renault-Dacia, DS-Citroen, or Fiat-Alfa Romeo. It might make sense for Peugeot to acquire the Opel brand as their down-to-earth counterpart. (I heard they considered reviving the Simca brand for that, but that has a truly awful reputation even a generation after its demise.) The days when Opel didn’t have a cheapish ring to it are long since gone anyway, even though there is little reason for that in the current lineup.

      Still, it’s a well-known name (and not just in Europe either), and there is still a loyal customer base in Germany. (Same goes for Vauxhall in Britain, I suppose.)

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Without Buick, Buick-GMC dealers become GMC dealers. That was one reason that GM kept it.

      That was a lousy idea, of course. GM should have reduced its North American distribution to two channels (mainstream, luxury) instead of maintaining a third one for no particularly good reason.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        They kept GMC because it is a license to print money in North America. They kept Buick because it is a license to print money in China (which is dependent on it existing in North America).

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Is there a law that prevented GM from selling GMC trucks at Chevy dealers?

          There was no need to maintain three separate distribution channels, when two would have sufficed.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            Well, there are thousands of franchise agreements. GMC was traditionally the truck brand for the not-Chevy GM dealers. Buick ended up being the last man standing.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Those franchise agreements could have been terminated with the bankruptcy.

            The idea to keep three channels came from GM management. The task force could have eliminated it, but didn’t because management wanted to keep it.

          • 0 avatar

            No, but that GMC badge adds an extra $300 in profit per model sold (if it’s a pickup).

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            There was no reason why the GMC brand could not have been carried by Chevy dealers.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      It is not a coincidence that they choose the Buick name for their China production. Buick has long been popular in China, this is not a recent trend. The brand was favored by China’s last emperor and Mao’s second in command, so it has always been seen as a highly aspirational badge without the showyness connotations of the German brands (remember China is technically communist).

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I don’t think there will be large numbers of Buicks coming over, especially if it’s a crossover-only brand. But yes, the issue with Envisions being built in China has been on my mind for awhile. Knowing about Trump’s complaints about Ford building cars in Mexico, I imagine this will get his attention once somebody points out the Envision to him.

      I also wonder what kind of pushback dealers are getting, or will get, from buyers who notice that the Envision is built in China. The Korean-built Encore has been doing okay, but will Chinese-built Envisions get the same amount of slack? What happens if/when all Buicks are coming from China? I’m thinking the Buick may end up as a brand only sold in China (which I thought should happen back in 2009, when GM was shedding divisions). How well is the Envision selling in the US, anyway?

      • 0 avatar
        whynot

        The Envision sales looks like it well on its way to being a success for Buick. They sold 14,000 of them last year, which is pretty impressive when you consider that it only went on sale in the middle of the year and they didn’t have the cheaper trims available until the 2017 model year.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Jack Denve
      Last Emporer of China was chauffered around in a Buick. Hence Buicks popularity in China.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        It was actually a Holden if I remember, branded a Buick.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        The first president of China, Sun Yat Sen, also rode in/drove a Buick, as did his top administrators. Buick sent a team to train mechanics to maintain the Emperor’s fleet, and the availability of that expertise extended Buick’s popularity among the government class in the capital after the revolution.

    • 0 avatar
      1998redwagon

      not entirely true. buick has a history in china that goes way back. chinese leaders rode in buicks and cemented the image of buick not only as a mark but an aspirational mark in chinese psyche. importing holden or opel or woohoos would not have had the same success.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    It surely doesn’t help the LaCrosse that they redesigned it to look like an older generation than the last generation. Similar to what Hyundai did with the latest Sonata, only worse.

    In any case, I’m sure they’ll work out a deal where Buicks still come from PSA’s Opel. Either that, or finish out the current Opel product cycles.

    The Encore is from GM Korea and an Opel-source product so there’ no issues there. Verano’s dead, and Cascada and increasingly the Regal as well are so low-volume they won’t really be missed.

    I kinda get tired of saying this, but like Mitsubishi, Buick will continue to be fine as long as it remains relatively strong in markets other than America.

    In fact, I see Opel’s move to PSA as a timely catalyst for Buick’s realignment away from unpopular sedans.

  • avatar

    If future Buicks will come from China, and especially in a Trump administration, is the marque even necessary in North America?

    Is there a Buick being sold today that couldn’t simply be rebadged as a Chevy?

    Yeah I know, GMC dealers need a car to sell…sorry, not good enough.

    Just make better and more premium Chevies. Like Ford has done for decades, making Mercury irrelevant.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I still want a redone Regal. :-/

    I think that it could have been a contender if it had the interior room of the current Malibu.

  • avatar
    pdieten

    “92,000 LaCrosses Buick sold in America in 2002”

    I assume this is a typo. Which year? There were no LaCrosses sold in 2002; the nameplate didn’t exist until 2005.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    So, it looks like we’ll have Buicks that are at least designed in China. Ah, globalism.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Buicks may still be designed in Germany, depending on how the Opel deal is structured. Design is dependent on the engineering underneath, and even then gets modified for plant efficiency. The corporate platforms will probably still be engineered by Americans. Sajeev can probably write an article on how designers are constrained by the platforms they’ve been given and manufacturing limits of the plants and equipment.

  • avatar

    I am enjoying my 2017 Lacrosse. it rides and handles very well. I will buy a new Enclave if it has near the styling of my 2008. short of that it’s a new Regal next depending on point of origin. meanwhile I refuse to sell a Chinese made vehicle. Stop the Invasion, Boycott Envision! so far, I have personally stopped a considerable number of potential purchasers from considering this Commie Car, having only lost one sale to date.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Buick died on August 22, 2008 anyway.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    I’m anxiously awaiting the importation of the Woohoo Regency Elite Brougham.

    Another symbol of GM’s decline, they can’t even sell Buicks in North America.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Buick without Opel would look like Pontiac before the fall–featuring waterfall grills.

    Would probably do just about as badly as Pontiac sales as well.

  • avatar
    scwmcan

    Just a thought but with the Canada eu free trade deal ratified does gm need the German factories? Maybe they can utilize their under utilized Oshawa plant to make product for the eu. They might even decide to sell them as Buick there as well to make Buick a true global brand. I alast would not be so sure that the Former Opel engineering operations will be sold in this deal.

  • avatar

    I have an idea why not engineer and design Buicks in America. This is a country that can produce excellent products like the Boeing 777, GE Genesis Locomotive, and F-22 fighter. Surely, we can produce a decent Buick.

    GM outsourcing to Opel just contributed to the company’s 2009 bankruptcies.

    Barra is such a classic short term thinker she probably had little awareness on how the PSA deal would effect Opel’s relationship with Buick and other GM divisions.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Then you look at the fact that the F-35 is fifteen years late and $trillions over budget. You look at car companies that only barely survive bankruptcy one way or another with one of them purchased by an Italian auto company (that has subsequently headquartered itself in northern Europe). You look at no less than three American brands dying in the ’00s and one disappearing in the ’90s (We’ve lost Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn and Plymouth.)

      And you ask why we can’t design and engineer a single car brand in the US?

  • avatar

    Duplicate post for some reason. Read above.

  • avatar
    Pig Hater

    Can’t say I’ll shed any tears if Buick quits producing their cars out of Opel platforms. Maybe the folks in China will.


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