Buick: Going Nowhere Fast With Class
Fair disclosure: I love Buicks. More accurately, I love Buicks from the ’60's and earlier. For the last forty years or so, GM's “near luxury” brand has forsaken me at the altar without so much as a text message. Me and everyone else. The carmaker that cranked out overlapping, maligned, entirely functional automobiles like the Regal, Park Avenue, LeSabre and Century is in dire straits. This year, the average Buick dealer sold fewer than seven units per month. So when Buick brass invited ttac.com to check out their latest rescue plan at a Manhattan bank vault-cum-restaurant, I was good to go.
Going in, I knew what automotive delights would be sur la table: the face lifted Buick LaCrosse and the new “Super” LaCrosse and Lucerne. Entering the building which once catered to Buick’s doctor-lawyer-mid-management buyers, I harbored unreasonably optimistic expectations. After all, the Buick brand is clearly on the rebound– in China.
Working with its mandatory “partner” in the military dictatorship known (without apparent irony) as The People’s Republic of China, Buick has resurrected and stabilized its protean image of fast with class. No, they haven't pawned off the Chinese with the same lameduckmobiles available in The Land of the Free. The Chinese Buick LaCrosse is priced to go, looks great and comes complete with an honest-to-God, I-can’t-believe-this-is-a-GM-product, top-shelf interior.
When Buick’s extremely tall U.S. Brand Manager Steve Shannon kicked off his spiel about the “new” Buick, giving heavy play to the company’s profitable inroads into the burgeoning Chinese market, I knew exactly what was coming. I nudged the hack next to me and told him we were about to see a striking facsimile of the sharp looking Chinese LaCrosse. Anyone got a bridge to sell?
The “refreshed” 2008 LaCrosse is a 2007 LaCrosse with a bigger chrome grille. I hate to say it, but I preferred the old schnoz. Steve then told us the new LaCrosse Super will earn its monniker with an Olde but Goode: The General's 5.3-liter small block V8.
Provided you believe that Buick’s geriatric audience want a tire smoking vehicle that gets mid-20’s mileage, or think semi-successful rappers will suddenly raise this milquetoast motor from obscurity, or feel there's a huge market of misguided pistonheads looking for an American luxobarge that sends 300 horses through the front wheels, the Super is a guaranteed hit.
To entice the latter demographic, GM marketeers assured me that handling, braking, and steering were all improved on the LaCrosse Super. I forgot to ask whether they were referring to an improvement over the standard LaCrosse or the torque steerific Impala SS and Grand Prix. No matter. Neither possibility holds forth much prospect of pistonhead passion.
The ”Super” Lucerne offers more warmed-over kisses, leftover love. Buick’s tuned the Lucerne’s Northstar V8 from 275hp to 292hp. Rivet counters rejoice! You’ve got a new factoid to flaunt to your friends. The Lucerne Super offers eight fewer horses than the LaCrosse Super, a car that sits below it in Buick’s product line. While I’m sure the pumped-up Northstar is a refined woofler, when it comes to marketing, numbers speak louder than mufflers.
Still, driven with a careful right foot and a company gas card, I'm sure there’s nothing particularly wrong with either the LaCrosse or Lucerne Super. The problem– the eternal General Motors problem– is the competition.
Only shoppers like me (who fancy Buick in an entirely unnatural way) would think about dropping $35 large on a LaCrosse Super. Everyone else will [continue to] drive off in something cheaper and more sensible, or opt for luxury branded cars from Germany and Japan. The same goes for the Lucerne Super, which will sticker at around $40k. BMW 335i anyone? Exactly.
There’s only way these cars could become the smash hits Buick needs to avoid tumbling into the grave next to Oldsmobile: price. If Buick offered the Buick Supers at the same price as the standard issue LaCrosse and Lucerne– around $27k and $32k respectively– you might see some serious movement on Buick's dust-covered showroom floors. Ad campaigns could proclaim “Every LaCrosse and Lucerne comes with a 300 horsepower V8. This isn’t your father's
Given Buick's razor thin margins there ain’t no way in Canada they can afford to adopt that strategy. This leaves Buick right where I found it before I sampled their fine food and less delectable spin. (Perhaps I should have eaten in the back of the bank, where the money men held their enclave.) If Buick’s aesthetically challenged crossover doesn’t pick up some serious slack for the Lucerne and LaCrosse, Buick will continue going nowhere fast. You can take THAT to the bank.
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