On A Clear Day Can You See Buick's Product Planning?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Rumors surrounding a possible Buick Theta-based CUV are being amplified by rumors that the Saturn VUE plug-in hybrid will make it to market under a different brand. GM’s Tom Stephens confirms to Reuters that a plug-in ute will be available in 2011 (as planned), just under a different brand name. With rumors of a hybrid powertrain in the works for the forthcoming LaCrosse, green may be yet another new attribute for the brand confusion that is Buick. “We’ve got a strategy that says there are no silver bullets,” as Stephens says, curiously ignoring the Volt. “We need all of this.” Which, in a nutshell, is the attitude that is destroying Buick…

Motor Trend makes an admirable attempt at talking up possible Buick products, but runs into the numerous walls GM has placed in the way of that brand’s success. A new Lucerne is pitched as a possible step up from the LaCrosse. This model is rumored to be built on Holden’s so-called “Super Epsilon” platform, an FWD/AWD platform that is longer and wider than the LaCrosse’s Epsilon II architecture. MT notes that this platform will cannibalize Commodore (aka Pontiac G8) sales in Australia, but conveniently omits any mention of possible Caddy DTS/STS cannibalism. The Lucerne replacement is pegged for a 2012 release, just in time for all of that nameplate’s brand equity to be squandered in deep uncompetitiveness.

No piece on Buick’s product plans is complete without the perennial calls for a Regal rebadge of the Opel Insignia. Of course, this would create another bad-old-days scenario for Buick, in which it would be competing with Chevy (Regal vs. Malibu/Impala), Cadillac (DTS/STS vs. Lucerne) and itself (Regal vs. LaCrosse vs. Lucerne). Motor Trend suggests that the next-generation Insignia could be the basis for a new Regal, but there’s no guarantees that Opel will be part of the GM family by the time that bridge is crossed. Plus, there’s no adequate explanation for how this would avoid the usual cannibalism.

After Cadillac receives its Converj version of the Volt (possibly in two- and four-door trim), Buick will be the third brand to get its own Voltec. MT says this will be an MPV, likely in the mold of the recent Buick Business concept. This would be based on the Chevy Orlando, an MPV version of the Delta II-based Cruze. This would likely lead to some head-scratching among buyers who will be forced to choose between a plug-in Theta CUV or a smaller (but not likely to be much cheaper) extended-range electric MPV.

Despite being an avowed non-fan of rebadging, it seems that Fritz Henderson and company are considering a Buick rebadge of the Chevrolet Cruze as well. Even MT seems to sense that this is a bad idea. “Where would an upmarket Buick version fit in the tight pricing gaps between Cruze, Malibu and four-cylinder LaCrosse?” is the question. “Unless the Buick gets its own bodystyle, it’s likely to be much closer to the Cruze than the LaCrosse is to the Malibu,” comes the reply. Can you feel the cynicism?

Consider that all of this is taking place amidst Buick’s need to become a volume brand in order to keep the new Buick-GMC dealer net afloat, and you have a sense of the real problem. Easy answers, like rebadging the G8 and building it in Oshawa have been elusive. G8 is actually smaller than the new LaCrosse, but costs more. RWD doesn’t help Buick’s volume argument, while a raft of tightly-positioned FWD sedans doesn’t help the premium argument. Meanwhile, without a true Cadillac flagship (or money to develop one), the differences between Caddy and Buick are fading as well. Meanwhile, GM is asking consumers to “take a look at [Buick] now.” But even on a clear day, can consumers tell what a Buick is? Besides “all of this,” of course.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Campisi Campisi on Jul 08, 2009
    If Buick was going to be positioned as a Lexus competitor, the G8 should have stayed, even more, they should bring the Chinese (aussie based) Park Avenue. Why? The G8 was expensive to import into the United States, and its admirable driving dynamics would be unnecessary considering the mission of the new Buick. Cadillac could use the performance of such a car, but with the presence of the CTS there is no need for a rebadged G8. A Buick the size of the orphaned G8 could be built using a FWD/AWD platform at a lower cost with no detriment to the purposes of a large Buick.
  • John Williams John Williams on Jul 09, 2009

    Right about now I'm wondering why GM, in its rather finite wisdom, thinks it's a good thing for Cadillac and Buick to fight over the same soggy biscuit. Apparently they're still in the mindset that buyers still purchase these cars based on brand name and brand name alone. Not price, features or looks even. Either that or GM still doesn't know what the fruck to do and the execs are throwing any and everything on the wall, praying that something sticks. Here's an idea, although at this point, GM is too hard of hearing to even consider it (or maybe because I'm not somewhere where I can feed these ideas to a board director): 1) Put Cadillac back on the top pedestal. Target: Mercedes, then slowly move UPWARD. Eventually, with enough care and guidance, Cadillac will find itself in the same circles as Bentley and Rolls Royce. This means you'll have to nix anything that even remotely looks FWD. The BLS and GM's ambitions to appeal to the 3-Series people will have to go, too. The DTS and GM's desire to sell rebadged Buicks to old snobby people who don't want a Buick, but will never have the cash outlay to buy a Rolls will have to go. 2) Buick's new mission is to stop trying to be Cadillac and learn to love it's place. Which is as a Lexus competitor, per Campisi's suggestion. FOCUS on overall long-term quality, not the 90 day BS that brings fake awards. Hell, just think for the long-term and it'll be okay. Price range should be between about $38k and $80k. Cadillac? Well, just look at 1) and you see where it'll fit. Since Buick owners will be more concerned with comfort, amenities and reliability, it can have all the FWD it can handle. No SUVs, but a couple of CUVs like the Enclave won't hurt it. 3) Chevrolet.........it's the everyman's brand, save for the Corvette (which actually should be it's own marque -- it is in the UK). Focus on reliability and improving the woeful interior materials. Prices starting from $8k to about $30k. This means no more Suburbans with $50k price tags and every option under the sun. In fact, Chebby should wean itself off of these SUVs, lest it and the dealers use them as a profit generating crutch. 4) And speaking of dealers, one thing I would like to see more of is orders straight from the factory. In the case of the Chevy Chevelle SS (which is what the Pontiac G8 will now be known as after the brand goes Tango Uniform), you can have the option of paying that $10k "dealer adjustment" if you want one now, or you can order one online, in the color, interior and tranny options you want, put down a deposit and wait a few weeks, then just drive down to the dealership and pick it up. This way, GM can still keep Buick for the Chinese/overseas market and finally separate Cadillac and Buick, assigning each to their own proper price range and mission targets. As for GMC, it should go back to being a manufacturer of Top Kicks and larger-sized trucks, but seeing as that's not going well, GMC might as well be merged into Chevy Trucks. I also left out the Volt, but I can't really fathom a place for that boondoggle in any of the above marques. Just claim defeat and move on.

  • Redapple2 Another bad idea from the EVIL gm Vampire.
  • Daniel J Alabama is a right to work state so I'd be interested in how this plays out. If a plant in Alabama unionized, there are many workers who's still oppose joining and can work.
  • ToolGuy This guest was pretty interesting.
  • NJRide So this is an average age of car to be junked now and of course this is a lower end (and now semi-orphaned) product. But street examples seem to still be worth 2500? So are cars getting junked only coming in because of a traumatic repair? If not it seems a lot of cars being junked that would still possibly worth more than scrap.Also Murilee I remember your Taurus article way back what is the king of the junkyard in 2024?
  • AMcA I applaud Toyota for getting away from the TRD performance name. TuRD. This is another great example of "if they'd just thought to preview the name with a 13 year old boy."