By on May 25, 2007

1938-buick-y-job-courtesy-seriouswheelscom.jpgBuick was the special child in the GM family: the beautiful and temperamental second-oldest daughter that somehow always got the most attention from Daddy. Sure, oldest daughter Caddy got to wear the family jewels and formal gowns, but Buick was lavished with style. Whether it was Harley Earl or Bill Mitchell, GM’s top stylists always blessed Buick with their best efforts. For decades, Buick was maintained in the style to which she had become accustomed, and remained America’s fashion-conscious upscale buyers’ wheels of choice. And then, not.

Scotsman David Dunbar Buick founded his eponymous automobile company in 1903. The following year, the inventor of the overhead valve engine sold the struggling concern to James Whiting, an ambitious wagon builder. Whiting turned to William Durant to help jump start Buick.

With an excellent product to sell (the Model C), Durant’s energy, affability and marketing genius ensured Buick’s ascension to profit and glory. Durant used Buick’s revenues to acquire dozens of other automakers and form General Motors.

Right from the get-go, Buick was GM’s anchor brand. Durant capitalized on the company’s engineering excellence and reputation to expand sales around the globe. In 1926, Buick sold a then-staggering 260k cars.

The Great Depression hit the brakes but good; annual Buick sales plummeted below 40k. GM President and future CEO Alfred Sloan used the downturn to rationalize GM’s brand portfolio. He slotted the consummate “doctor’s car” between affordable Oldsmobile and unapproachable Cadillac.

Priced at around $40k to $65k in today’s dollars, pre-war Buicks were the Lexi of their time: refined, smooth, powerful, elegant and built to last. They were the consummate “doctor’s car.”

By the late thirties, GM’s inter-brand demarcations had begun their inexorable erosion. Buick’s product line overlapped a significant portion of Olds’ and Pontiac’s price range. As internal competition intensified, Buick cultivated two selling points to stay ahead: performance and style.

Throughout the ‘30’s and into the ‘40’s, Buick espoused its General Manager’s “more speed for less money” maxim. In 1936, Buick had a brand-new 320-cid 120hp straight-eight, designed for the large and heavy Series 80/90. When the company shoehorned the big eight into the smaller and lighter Series 40, it was dubbed Century, for its readily attained top speed. Thus the first factory production “hot-rod” was born.

When Harley Earl joined GM in 1927, he created the Arts and Color Section: the car world’s prototype styling studio. Earl used the Buick brand to showcase his most significant creative output.

Earl’s Buick Y-Job of 1938 was the world’s first dream-car. Unlike the European salon specials sold to exclusive buyers, the Y-Job’s was created to build excitement for future GM products, and showcase their styling direction. The Y-Job succeeded brilliantly; it solidified GM’s global styling leadership. And Buick’s.

The 1951 Buick LeSabre and XP-300 dream cars initiated the GM Motorama era, a grand traveling carnival of GM-think. Until 1961, Motoramas showed Americans a tempting glimpse of the (ever better) good life to come, from cars to kitchen appliances. And GMAC would finance the dream.

The consumer era was now in high gear, and Buick style led the way.

Buick enjoyed its greatest market-share success in the mid-fifties. From 1954 through 1956, Buick was America’s third most popular automotive brand. During those heady days, models like the Century, Super, Roadmaster and Special defined affordable American automotive luxury, class and power.

In ’57, Plymouth’s radical models pushed Buick back to number four. But it was Buick’s horrendously overwrought ’58 models that really hurt. Renaming 1959’s Buick entire line-up (LeSabre, Invicta and Electra) didn’t help. By 1960, Buick’s market position had tumbled to ninth.

Buick desperately needed a new make-up artist, and found it in Bill Mitchell. The 1963 Riviera coupe was Mitchell’s tour-de-force: one of the most beautiful American cars of the post-war era. It had the class, cachet and authenticity of a Mercedes CL or Bentley Continental. The Riviera’s halo effect worked; by 1965, Buick was back to fifth place.

Fast forward a decade, and Buick’s hot new coupe is the execrable Skyhawk, a clone of Chevy’s Vega-based Monza. Alternatively, Buick intenders could contemplate the Skylark, a padded landau-roofed version of Chevy’s Nova.

The preceding and ensuing string of badge-engineered disasters were unleashed at the exact moment when Buick needed to strengthen its roots– style, performance and quality. Up-scale import competition from Mercedes, BMW, Audi and later, Lexus, stole traditional Buick customers by the tens of thousands.

Buick’s subsequent decline is too painful to describe in detail, especially during the mid to late eighties. After that, it was either too little too late, or another kick in the groin, like the Rendezvous.

No wonder Buick packed her bags and slipped away to China, where she’s once again adored and idolized. All she left behind moldering in American showrooms are ghosts, pale shadows of her former stylish self. And plenty of beautiful memories.

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46 Comments on “General Motors’ Branding Fiasco Part Five – Buick, Fading Fast...”


  • avatar
    Rastus

    Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind…

    You know what? Oftentimes, GM is criticized for its complete negligence.

    No, Sir!! Nobody destroys a company like this they way “management” has. No, it take EFFORT.

    Only the kind of EFFORT and the systematic molding of personalities and corporate “culture” throughout the decades (DECADES) can you achieve what is now a simmering pot of crap called “GM”.

    How can a company go from rolling art on wheels to becoming the Wal-Mart (and not even a successful one at that) of the auto industry?

    Systematic Destruction!!!

  • avatar
    danms6

    Great article, although I had hoped for a mention of the last Buick bright spot: the 1987 GNX.

    Although I believe it was designed by McLaren, it was grossly underrated from the factory and ate Porsches for breakfast (0-60 in 4.7 stock). I believe it was the fastest production car in the world that year and I can only dream that it graces my garage in the future.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    danms6,

    Good point about the GNX. Cars like it (and other GM bright spots) showed that they always had plenty of engineering excellence. The problems stemmed from the top.

    It was anachronistic. The GNX really didn’t really say much about what the rest of the Buick line-up in the eighties was all about.

  • avatar
    TeeKay

    Sadly, Buick will always have at least 1 loyal customer in my father in law.

    He of at least 4 prior Buicks just DROOLS over Buicks. Case in point, a used 10-year old model with 90k miles (KBB for $4000) was listed locally for $6000 at a shaddy dealership. They told him they would sell it to him for $5500, but when he came there with cash, they jacked it up back to $6000. Undeterred, he went back a few times to admire the car, not without them taking notice. When he came back again (unbeknownst to me & my wife) they said it got so popular that the new price was $7000. He actually put his $5500 up as downpayment and financed the rest at, oh, 20% or so. Out the door, including financing + tax, was about $8000 on a $4k POS.

    His reasons? They’re “very reliable.” The last Buick he got lasted over 100k miles, and he only had to change (not rebuild) the engine once and the transmission once. And it only cost him less than $2000 a year for maintenance!

    I guess there are at least a few nuts like him spread across the country to account for the 6 new sales/Buick dealership/month.

    Sad…

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    No other car epitomizes Buick’s fall from grace like the Riviera. In the beginning, it was a beautiful rendition of one of Bill Mitchell’s best work. As it progressed, it became cartoonish with it’s boat-tail design, but still unique. Then it became dull. They tried to revive it by grouping it on the same platform as the Eldorado and Toronado, but by the time the 90’s rolled around, it had degenerated into utter mediocrity.

  • avatar
    confused1096

    Oops. Let's try that again, more politely. It drives me nuts that Buick went from such a high standard to what they are now. Various car nut relatives had a few of the older ones. Comparing one of these gems to the '90 Century or the '92 Regal I owned was just painful. While both were really good, durable cars they didn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the classics. My first car was an '84 Cutlass with T-Tops and all the bells and whistles. One of my friends had a 1985 Buick Regal as his first ride. With the exception of the grille and the tail lights they were identical. And my Olds, being a higher trim package, had a better interior. That seems like it sums up GM's branding issues…

  • avatar
    AGR

    Paul,
    Great series, and a concise piece on Buick by including the Y Job, and “doctor’s car”.

    Buicks were smooothh and refined, obvious when Buick was a Buick. The Dynaflow made sure that a Buick had a distinct identity. They were cars for the individual that preferred to be discreet as compared to a Cadillac.

    The all aluminum 215 cu.in V8 from the Skylarks of the early 60’s powered a slew of English cars once GM sold the tooling to Rover, or some other English manufacturer. I think the first Rolls-Royce V8 was emulating a Buick engine.

    Tommy Ivo always used Buick engines in his dragsters and hot rods.

    Buick got lost concurrent with all the other divisions, the process started in the mid seventies and culminated in the early 80’s with the infamous front wheel drive cars.

    The loyal GM customers be it Oldsmobile, Buick or Cadillac by the mid eighties had nowhere to go except German imports. At that time it was very easy to sell a German car to a GM customer. To help matters Cadillac came out with the 8-6-4 engine, and prior to that Oldsmobile and Cadillacs had the 350 diesel. The entire full size “luxury class” of GM was dissatisfying a good number of existing customers.

    The Chinese market not having experienced some of the poor product, relates to Buick as we understand Buick from our distant memories.

  • avatar

    Walmart of the auto industry? Come on Rastus Walmart is not only profitable but has captued the hearts and pocketbooks of the American public by giving the public what they want quality goods at low prices. GM wishes they could be an automotive walmart.

    GM would be the Kmart of the automotive industry. Bankrupt, abandoned by the general public and offering cheap cut rate goods at low prices.

  • avatar

    So to follow to child analogy a bit further, we have the following brands in the GM “Family” :

    Cadillac : Drama queen oldest daughter
    Buick : Sibling envy younger daughter
    Hummer : Military academy oldest son
    Pontiac : Grunge playing younger son
    Saab : Shy son who wants to be a poet
    Chevy : Smallest child with dubious paternity
    Saturn : Foreign Exchange student

  • avatar
    beken

    Well stated article, Paul. I own a 1999 Buick Century. The price I paid was about the same as my dad’s Accord or my brother’s Camry. Actually, my doctor owns a Camry too. However, they all get in and say how much more comfortable the car is and how bigger inside it feels….like a Lexus. But they also notice the lack of fit n finish, the constant reliability problems. My neighbor was the person that talked me into buying a Buick ( Actually, I found the car conservatively attractive). He is a retired VP of a major brewery. He has never owned anything else but Buicks and buys a new car every 5 years. He recently told me his next car is not going to be a Buick. Neither is mine.

  • avatar
    windswords

    [email protected],

    Brilliant. I might swap Hummer and Pontiac as younger son/oldest son because Pontiac is older, but otherwise you hit the nail on the head.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    I presume Buick is taught in business schools as a FUBAR. My dad was a Buick man for decades, indeed his memories of his beloved ’55 2 door (that he took to Japan with us when he was stationed there in the late ’50s) kept him enthralled with the brand. I remember when he bought his last one, a ’79 LeSabre that he was overjoyed with as he drove it home. Whew. What a hunk of junk. Barely 70k lightly driven miles and needing a second (!) motor. Nothing but Hondas and BMWs since for him. Many of his fellow seniors own Buicks still, and whichever one it is, it will be their last (alas, sometimes for the wrong reason). Congratulations GM. Seriously, for a lot of of folks in their 70s and into their 80s you have no idea how iconic those ’48 to ’56 Buicks really were.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Even though the 1980s were not a bright spot for Buick, those models had more luxurious trimmings than their current counterparts. Any Buick with the “Limited” trim came with decadent seating and cushy door panels, even the Century.

    Have a seat in a 1982 Park Avenue, then plop yourself in a Lucerne and tell me I’m wrong.

    And let’s not forget the new Riviera is a nice custom show car, but its for China’s eyes only. Unbelievable.

  • avatar

    I eqgerly awaited this installment – my first car was a 1937 Buick Special Luggage-back 2-door sedan. Got it for high school graduation in ’68, kept the car until 1987, and was one of the founders of the local AACA chapter.

    That was class. 248ci straight eight, one comfortable riding position, and it would top 100 on a downhill – which, given the brakes, was only something a college student would willingly do.

    Have had two other Buicks in my life, both inheritences: 89 Century Limited wagon (the whole zoot, fake wood, fake wire wheel covers, velour interior), and a stripper 86 Century four door sedan. Loved them both, got better service out of them than most anything else I’ve owned, including some of those foreign marques held so near and dear on this list.

    Either bring the marque back, for real, or kill it – now.

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    Paul, excellent series that captures the absolute essence of the state of the automobile. I still admire the Riviera of the 60’s, such a beautiful car. In fact I can’t think of anything other than a Jaguar XK-E that even approaches the beauty and grace of those early Rivieras. It realy is a shame that GM gave up on styling because when they went to the “same shoe fits all” concept they lost much of their competitive advantage.

  • avatar

    Lyndon Johnson had a ’53 Buick, “Hannibal,” which got him in trouble. (Go to motorlegends.com, click on CarToons, and scroll down.)

  • avatar

    that y-job pictured above is absolutely gorgeous!

  • avatar
    Hippo

    A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away I owned 3 Impala’s (1 convertible), 1 Olds 442 convertible and 2 Bonneville’s, but never really owned a Buick. I had a Riviera once but it only lasted like for a month as I didn’t like it, but don’t remember why.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    Buick was never marketed in the UK so I can’t comment too much on the brand specfically. However, this name still seems to follow the “GM mismanagement” rules. Now I’m sure that Buick, made lovely cars and that they were reliable, yada, yada, yada. But there is one thing I can’t quite figure out.

    If Cadillac represents the Luxury bracket for GM and Chevrolet represents the “everyday” bracket, what does Buick represent? I looked at the Buick range on the GM website and it seems to be a mix of SUV’s, CUV’s and sedans. So I can’t even argue that it represents the best of a particular model (e.g GMC for SUV’s). So my most logical assumption is that Buick just cannibalises sales from Chevrolet. Which is bad, needless to say.

    This is a shame because both Buick and Chevrolet are two brands with a great heritage and a great loyal fanbase, but it’s because of the similarities that these brands can’t co-exist. At least not in the same market…..

    Now in other markets, GM use Opel/Vauxhall as their everyday cars and they are missing an opportunity to go after the luxury bracket (for the record, they are trying to break that segment with Cadillac, but it’s such a pathetic attempt, I won’t even entertain it). Why don’t GM use Buick to break the luxury segment in other markets? Buick have some nice curvy cars (always a good feature for European cars) and they don’t look too shabby. Cadillac’s designs are too square and linear for European tastes (Want proof? How square and linear are BMW’s?).

    I think Buick isn’t dead yet, but it’ll have to look to Europe for its future. Trouble is, will GM take the bet to save Buick, or let it die in a sea of mediocrity…….?

  • avatar

    In America of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, Buick was the Bentley to Cadillac’s Rolls-Royce. A slightly quieter form of luxury.

    In 1940, Buick actually made Limited seven passenger limousines, just as luxurious as the Cadillac’s, but at a slightly lower price. Cadillac division yelled bloody murder, and by 1941 the limos were gone.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    To Sherman Lin: “GM would be the Kmart of the automotive industry. Bankrupt, abandoned by the general public”

    Let the TRUTH ring again—GM has hardly been abandoned by the general public (wishful thinking I know by some)—-GM still leads in US market share…even if you exclude fleet.

    To all—-with all due respect to your 1980’s Regals etc. lets talk about today—not when Ronald Reagan was president.

    Today and in the near term—Buick will have 3 models—the LaCrosse, Lucerne, and Enclave. According to Consumer Reports both the LaCrosse and Lucerne are very reliable. I happen to believe the Lucerne and Enclave are extremely competitive in their segments and offer a distinctive if not elegant look.

    Reliability and elegance should be a good base to rebuild and are true to the historic Buick brand.

    Net, Buick has taken good steps to rebuild the brand. That said—we all know they must go farther–and fast. Capitalizing on the Velite concept + cherry picking a model or 2 from Buick China seems like a good next step to me.

    From the messages on this board—it seems like there are many people who are rooting for this transformation to happen….stayed tuned…I would love to see this iconic American brand make the comeback.

  • avatar

    umterp85: I appreciate your optimism and enthusiasm, and share your good wishes for a once-proud brand. But Buick is dead in the water. Buick dealers are selling less than four new cars A MONTH. The market has spoken: the Lucerne and LaCrosse are a drug on the market. The V8 SS variants are a joke that betray an ongoing lack of understanding of branding in general, and what Buick has become in particular. [You and I have gone back and forth on the Enclave, so we'll leave that one be.] Yesterday's $4.1b loan against the remaining 49% of GMAC  highlights the salient fact: GM's out of both ideas AND time/money. To irony is sad. The division whose profits created GM can't get the resources it needs to recover from central HQ's arrogance, ignorance and idiocy. As Mr. Neidermeyer says, all that are left are ghosts.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    It has been said that Harley Earl was asked why packard dropped the styling ball on the 1949 restyle of it's entire line (a single hit that might have cost packard the ballgame). He said when you don't change often enough you forget how to. I don't have the statistics, maybe a blogger can help here, but in the 80's a huge number os engineers and stylists retired. This was the gang that navigated gm through the post war boom years. Thus, gm became the new packard, not having a corporate memory (within people) to make creative change. Mix in with this a top eschelon insisting on cost cutting between brands and you have the toxic formula for where gm is now. No longer styling or engineering leaders, look alike products, below average quality. (with some new models excepted, but at such a late date). In short, a follower of trends rather than a creator.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    RF: I appreciate you pessimism and dour outlook.

    The TRUTH is that GM leads in US market share…your conjecture on the out of business sign in GM’s future may be wishful thinking.

    While you can quote financial factiods that back your case—-I have mine. GM’s stock price is $30 + a share. Much greater than it was 18 months ago. While I do not know whether a positive UAW outcome is built in the price (I doubt it) ….this will add value as well. Surprisingly to some I know, this stock price increase has come during a period when new GM product is its best in years (I think we can agree on this one at least)…so the stock price runup has not come at the expense of product.

    As far as Buick branding…. As an “expert” in branding principles, you should understand that a broken brand is not as easily fixed as a bicycle…it does take time if done right. Additionally, I have spoken my case on the postive steps Buick has taken over the past 2 years and others they could easily make in the next 2-4 years…this would seem to follow the Aacker branding model. Good people can agree to disagree on this one as well.

  • avatar
    mrdweeb

    I remember my father stopping by the local Buick dealer one hot, summer afternoon in the early ’50’s. On prominent display was the type of sales demo gadget that still populates auto parts stores. Attached to one side of a coffee-maker size clear plastic cylinder was a crank, which was connected to a turbine-like wheel inside the enclosure. It was inches from a matching wheel, which connected to another crank outside the enclosure. Both wheels were immersed in transmission fluid. Turn one crank and the crank on the other side would turn. Behind the strange-looking device was a big sign reading “Dynaflow”.

  • avatar
    AGR

    From the mid 70’s GM embarked on a strategy that encompassed probably everything and anything, except the customer and the product.

    Customers relunctantly walked away from GM after many years, once the customer of a certain age that was driving the “luxury class”(Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac) left the GM family for a German import, his children bought a Japanese car.

    After owning a German car for a period of time, these customers never went back to a GM product.

    Its refreshing and encouraging to see GM attempt to redress many years of “muddling along” with improved product, improved reliability.

    Hopefully with time GM will regain a position that they once owned. Its costing them billions to regain and re establish a market position that they used to own.

    A recent example is BMW almost losing their way a few years ago with their “English Patient” until the Quandt family put their foot down.

    GM in the early nineties did somewhat of a “house cleaning” only to fall victim to the P&G folks and the group think that a Buick was like a box of Tide.

  • avatar
    Turbo G

    I also feel the 1986-87 Turbo Regals deserve a mention in an otherwise excellent summary of the fall of yet another of the General’s once powerful brands…

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    umterp85:

    Buick is still in a very steep sales spiral, easily the worst of all GM’s brands (and that’s saying something).

    Buick’s sales, year to date (Jan-April 07 vs. Jan-April 06), are down 30.9%, after years and years of previous declines (down 14.7% in 2006 (Jan-Dec), down 8.8% in 2005, down 8.1% in 2004, and down 22.0% in 2003). In 2002, Buick sold 432,017 vehicles. In 2006, Buick sold only 240,657 vehicles, a 44.3% decline in only 4 years. Add in another 30%ish drop if the current pattern keeps up for the full year, and things look very bleak indeed.

    The Lucerene’s sales are “only” down 13.3%, which is as close to a success as they have, since all thier other models are down more (although everything other than the LaCrosse is being discontinued).

    Because the Rainer, Rendezvous, and Terraza are all being discontinued, the Enclave is going to have to sell as well as all three combined, which, no matter how good a vehicle it is, it probably won’t be able to do.

    All this being said, Buick can survive with minimal sales-it’s the Scion part of a Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealer (IE, an afterthought, a sub-brand at best), except Scion is a “hip” entry-level sub-brand and Buick is a “broken-hip” near-luxury sub-brand.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Geotpf,

    Thank you for adding the sad sales statistics.

    Your comments about the Enclave sales are right on, and apply to other GM divisions: Lutz is the Dutch boy running around trying to plug the holes in the dam with his new vehicles, but for every one he (sort-of) plugs, two or three more start gushing.

    That’s really the GM problem in a nut shell.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    To Geotpf: Buick still outsells both Acura and Infiniti….so while down ….certainly not out if it can continue to bring good product to market like the Lucerne and Enclave. It should also be noted that in certain parts of the country—Buick is not an afterthought brand at all.

    Buicks current mission is NOT be a full line brand (thank god) thus declining year-on-year sales will be be there as they lap full line vs. the limited line that they are migrating to…..to be fair the YTD numbers you quote are a bit misleading in this respect.

    That said, If Buick are unable to stabilize year-on-year sales 2-3 years from now…I will join your death chorus….for now I am willing to let the cards play out.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    When I think about Buick, a mid-1990’s LeSabre or Park Avenue comes to mind.

    I always loved the design of those two vehicles. The chrome accents were distinctively American, and the drivetrains were perfect for the near luxury cars of that time.

    Everyone has an opinion on Buick and let’s face it… no one’s an expert. I honestly don’t know why Buick has gone down as quickly as it has over the last five years. But I would hazard a few conjectures at this point.

    1) Cannibalization: Buick’s biggest enemy was Buick. At one point a few years back, Buick had three different models (Regal, Century, LeSabre) that could appeal to the same older conservative buyers. If this had been a time where there was little competition in this segment (America way up until the mid-80’s) this would have been a successful strategy. Now though, thankfully, people have choices.

    2) Continuity: The average car buyer STILL knows more about Buick’s former models (LeSabre, Park Avenue, Riviera, Century, Regal) than their current crop (Enclave, LaCrosse Lucerne). GM decided to nix brands that still had a lot of positive connotations to them. The Century had been cited as the most durable model in the mid-sized segment by J.D. Power back in 2005 (Five Year Durability Study). Then they discontinued it. So much for a potential competitor for Toyota.

    The LeSabre was still seen as a quintessential American luxury car a few years ago. In fact, the Le Sabre has been lauded as a ahigh quality vehicle for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, the LeSabre and the Buick City plants that built this high quality American vehicle were thrown into the dustbin of GM’s ‘old history’. Even today, I still believe that the Lucerne would have registered better sales if it had been kept as either a LeSabre or a Park Avenue.

    People KNOW those models thanks to several decades of brand equity. Buick, out of all GM brands, is probably the most closely associated with quality these days. But who in the public can tell you which models are the high quality ones these days?

    That brings me to the big #3

    3) The Customer: Buick no longer has a clear perspective as to who their customer is in the American market. Or to put it another way, they’re now trying to take on Toyota with ‘value oriented’ offerings that have no track record. That could have worked in the past, but not now. The competitors are simply too established and too successful for GM to convert. At least with what they’re now offering to the marketplace.

    If GM were willing to make Buick a ‘world car’ (a.k.a. alter the Chinese models so that they fit NA standards), I believe Buick would have a good shot in the States. As it is now though, Buick will likely become a footnote and little more.

  • avatar

    umterp85 Here's my perspective. I live in Tampa Florida, I use to work the graveyard shift in St Petersburg and I would listen to a radio show hosted by Al Leo general manager of Scott Buick about car prices. They use to always proclaim that they were the 4th largest volume Buick dealer in the US. I noticed that the callers asking about trade in values etc concerning Buicks were all frankly old. This was in 94, They announced earlier this year or last year that Scott Buick had reached an agreement to close down and the real estate was to be sold. Now that is the 4th largest Buick dealer located in the heart of retirement community in Florida. Ferman Oldsmobile is a dealership that advertises that they are over 100 years old, Closing down and selling for real estate. You come on down to Florida and you tell me what you see on the road as far as import versus domestic. GM has been abondoned by the public. Out here they are down at least 5 percent from their national sales marketshare. Thats the truth

  • avatar
    umterp85

    Sherman Lin – I live in Pittsburgh….see alot of Buicks… and other domestics…..thats the perspective I have and it is also the TRUTH.

  • avatar
    Qwerty

    Sherman Lin – I live in Pittsburgh….see alot of Buicks… and other domestics…..thats the perspective I have and it is also the TRUTH.

    Both perspectives can be true. Cycling is my hobby and I spend a lot of time riding fifty to sixty miles from where I live and back. You can see stark differences in different areas.

    In rural farmland there is a huge percentage of domestic trucks and the cars are usually domestic also. Sometimes I can ride quite a few houses in a row and not see a japanese car. What is amazing is that I can then ride a mile away to where someone has sold their land and it has been turned into McMansions and it is the exact opposite. Most of the cars are foreign and the vehicles by the Big 2.5 are pretty much just SUVs. Even the SUVs are now giving way to foreign makes. It almost gives me the impression that the difference is due to social class.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Buick in the US is so dead it is sad. I will never understand why Buick was sadled with some of the worst minivan/SUV designs of modern times or why they changed the names of all the products. Absolutely nuts. Lame horses need to be finally put out of their misery. Very sad, but very true. So what if the Enclave is a good effort. It had the Terraza and Rendevous horror stories as predecessors. Why GM is putting out four versions of it’s new big unibody SUVs is a mystery to me.

    Oddly enough, the Chinese Buick managers understand the brand and how to build and market cars under that name in the modern era. They really are making the Detroit management look like complete idiots. They also do not have any GM competing brands to deal with in China. GM China has Chevrolet on the low end, Buick as the near luxury manager/doctor/lawyer car and Cadillac as the top end luxury vehicle. Makes more sense than the US GM lineup by a long shot.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Paul and RF: This has been a great series of articles and it is quite interesting to read both the editorial and the feedback from the car-loving TTAC readers. Personally I’m waiting for the Saab story (pun intended) about how a once very proud group of Sweedish engineers and designers built some of the most original cars ever seen only to be Saturn-ized into the GM muck.
    I’m also curious if Paul has intentions of doing the overseas GM brands – Opel, Vauxhall, and Holden. It looks like this site has more than a few non-American readers so their feedback should be most interesting.
    Onto Buick – I personally believe that Buick should have set sail off of a cliff by the mid- to late-1980’s. Badge engineering just removed any kind of identity at the same time Ford was starting their aero movement, the wealthy and young were establishing the 3-series as the car of choice, Lincoln was the car that older and wealthy buyers who wanted something American purchased, and the Japanese makers were making serious inroads into all parts of the country with their reliability and image (even if they were a little boxy at the time.)
    What did Buick have? Besides extra chrome trim and maybe a few extra buttons and lights on the dash, was there a difference between the LeSabre, Park Avenue, Electra and their trim packages? Skylark? Skyhawk? The Reatta with the miserable digital controls, overused 3.8 engine that was about as anti-performance as a semi engine, and electronics problems that did everything from shutting the engine down to frying the displays. When GM had yet another chance to fix the mess, they gave us the coupe Regal (family car with two doors – good luck with that), a Century that looked like a four door Regal that was like the LeSabre that was like the Park Avenue. Way too much overlap there.
    The less said about the Rendezvous, the better except I’ve always wondered how many MPG were lost due to the failed attempt to jack up a minivan platform. Really – doesn’t it look like most of the mechanical bits are almost dragging on the road?
    To both the GM-lovers and GM-haters on this site: We are not praying for the end of a massive part of the American industrial machine and landscape. The country would have a tough time absorbing the massive loss of jobs not just from the assembly lines and engineers, but also from the thousands of suppliers and consultants that keep everything humming along. I’m assuming that most that read this site are not high-level execs and insiders with the industry. We are car fans-we enjoy all things cars and the industry in general. However, it is just disturbing that if these kinds of readers exist in RenCen, their voice just isn’t getting heard. Who the xxxx signed off on junk like the G5, Aztek, Rendezvous, Colorado, and the torture test implemented on their roadster’s tops? Who had the total lack of vision to allow the Hummer factories to continue to crank out guzzling SUVs while sales were drying up and gas prices were a constant upwards arrow? How do these people have jobs? I get the feeling that a massive black hole exists on each floor of their offices and that any original idea and free thought gets sucked in and is never heard from again.
    Would they just take a chance?

  • avatar
    cliveh

    As a 40-something, I grew up with and have always owned “imports”…Hondas, Toyotas, Mitsus. Then I bought my first-ever GM product…a Daewoo import, the Chevy Epica (Suzuki Verona in the US). Epica is still sold outside NA…and I’d buy another one if it were offered here. The Chinese version of Buick’s current Lacrosse is fabulous…I’d buy that too, if it were offered. And the new Chinese/Australian Buick Park Avenue? I’d buy that too. So there is hope for GM, even with those of us used to “imports.” But it seems GM’s Korean and Chinese partners have a much better handle on GM customer’s tastes…hopefully that wisdom will trickle over here to NA for either more GM imports, or design changes to NA models.

  • avatar
    John

    GM should kill Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Saab and Hummer. If they can’t afford that sell them off. Even if it’s for a song. Let Chevy be Chevy only better. Improve the quality, but keep the American character. Turn Saturn into the American Opel. And move Cadillac into a position to compete directly with the European luxury brands.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Buick still outsells both Acura and Infiniti….so while down ….certainly not out if it can continue to bring good product to market like the Lucerne and Enclave

    I’d bet a paycheck that 30-40% of the Buick sales are fleet. I’ve never seen a rental/fleet Acura or Infinity.

    I vote for bringing back the LeSabre and Electra names. Century and Regal sound too old……

  • avatar
    Humourless

    My father was a GM man for over two decades. Included in that mix were three consecutive Buicks: two Regals and a LeSabre.

    My father (despite not yet being 60) is now a BMW man. Five in the last 15 years for him and my mother. This coming from the man who once told me in my early teens that he didn’t buy foreign cars (“But Dad, we’re Canadian – they’re all foreign cars.”) If a GM (and specifically Buick/Cadillac) partisan like him can switch, then the game is up.

    But ignore that point. I have far more car-buying years ahead of me than he does. I’m in my mid-’30s and finally making a bit of decent coin. Is there anything in the Buick lineup that looks the least bit promising or aspirational? Or let’s aim a little higher: cometh the hour, cometh the motor? Nope. nothing. I see a couple of dressed-up minivans, a crossover that doesn’t bring anything other than pretty sheet metal to the table, two bland sedans without manual transmissions or RWD and…er… not much else. No current equivalent to the Grand National, Wildcat, mid-’60s Riviera, Gran Sport…. I could go on. So, like my father, when the time comes to trade in and trade up in a year or two I’ll likely pay a visit to my local BMW dealership.

    So sad.

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    One of the first cars I remember as a child was my grandparent’s ’53 Buick Roadmaster, a big, hulking black car. I remember riding on the rear passenger arm rest, looking out the windows, feeling like a pasha (young ‘uns gasping in horror – this was the late ’50s!) This car was subsequently shifted to my parents when the grands moved into NYC. I spent my young years in that car, and always wished I could drive it.

    After the Roadmaster (which held out for about 13 years before the tranny went), my dad owned a variety of Buicks and Chevys (and one Dodge, which I learned to drive in). By the mid ’80s he was tired of the GM marque – the cars of the time were problematic. He bought a Subaru when he moved to Florida. After 18 years (!) he sold it to a local kid whose still driving it around (!!). At 89, he’s still driving around in his 2nd Subaru.

    When I asked him why he made the switch from Buick to the Subies, he told me he didn’t have the time or inclination to fix his cars anymore, or wait around in the dealer; he wanted something that held up and ran well, like his early favorite – the ’53 Roadmaster.

    One final point; I was recently talking to my GM salesman (whom I’ll call “Bob”), a nice guy whose been with the dealership 25 years. He sells Buick, Pontiac and GMC. I bought my GTO from him, and he’s been a straight shooter. He was telling me he sold the most Buicks in the dealership last year and that number was “under 15”. He also said he’s sold 1 so far this year. All of his customers are repeat customers, either widows whose husbands always bought Buicks or couples in their retirement. “Bob” is a positive, cheerful guy, but you can read between the lines he knows that the salad days are behind him unless some miracle happens at GM (or he moves to a more lucrative marque in this multi-vendor dealership!)

    Humourless: (”But Dad, we’re Canadian – they’re all foreign cars.”)

    Brilliant – that gave me my laugh for the morning!

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    If the point here is that Buick had some glory days long ago, and that the GM of the 80’s and 90’s let it waste away, I’m in agreement. But I would not go so far as to say that Buick is dead.

    More that it has hit rock bottom. By reducing fleet sales and redundant vehicle lines, Buick has retrenched to a 3-car lineup from which it can expand.

    The LaCrosse is not special right now, in fact it is a mediocre vehicle, but at least it is well manufactured. If it is replaced in 15 months by a luxurious and quiet version of the 08 Malibu, it’ll be a winner. The Lucerne is a bit better, although not quite where Avalon is, probably even with the revamped Sable.

    The Enclave — according to every single review I’ve read except Megan’s — is a great vehicle. The idea posited above that it can’t possibly replace the sales of the Ranier, Terraza and Rendezvous is simply false. These 3 vehicles were selling at a combined 50K annual rate in 2007, and 70K in 2006. This is easily within reach for the much stronger Enclave, especially if we compare only retail sales to clients under 60.

    So here we have a solid, focused lineup of 3 vehicles that are well aligned with the needs of their target market. Doesn’t sound dead to me.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    SherbornSean By your own accounting only one of Buick’s current offerings is in the best-in-class running and that is a hulking van/suv thing. There remains no reason to keep Buick alive. If a better Malibu is built, let Chevy sell it! Your accounting already has Toyota’s Avalon besting the Lucerne, so why exactly is a Lucerne needed? Why can Chevy offer a complete range of trim levels for the Impala. Heck, they could even bring back the Caprice Classic trim line for the loaded to the gills version. Buick no longer is a brand name with any special cachet.

    Product Positioning isn’t about what the company thinks, it is about what the customer thinks, and Buick has already squandered the customer perception of it’s name. Even Buick admits this by the fact that they have gotten rid of all their historic model names. The reason a company ditches once proud model names, and that is because those names have over time become associated with uncompetitive products. GM might as well finish what they started and ditch the Buick name as well. It already doesn’t mean anything. There is no such thing as the Buick Division anymore. The division structure is long gone.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    jthorner,
    I definitely see your point. Buick’s current product does not stand out, but it does bring $6B in the door each year for GM, and I don’t think you can turn your back on that kind of revenue stream.

    To answer the question of why not kill Buick, I offer this: it’s too damned expensive. GM paid billions to unwind Oldsmobile, and can’t afford the hit.

    Better to keep Buick alive, investing only enough to differentiate the product with quiet tuning, comfort options, and attractive styling. Break even for now, until Chinese Buick is so strong it can do for American Buick what Opel is doing for Saturn.

  • avatar
    Jon Paul

    Hasn’t Acura become the new Buick? Acura fits perfectly between Honda/Toyota and BMW/Lexus with high quality that are an excellent value for the money.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Acura the new Buick? Sounds right, looking at the local doctor’s parking lot.

    In the early 1990’s, the Skylark came out with an odd pointy-nosed beak, trying to be bold and attract younger customers. It was just another speed bump on the way to, uh, China:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fb/1992-93_Skylark.jpg/800px-1992-93_Skylark.jpg

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