By on October 23, 2016

Third-generation Buick GL8, Image: GM

It’s no secret General Motors’ Buick division does the majority of its business in China. The tri-shield brand offers up six separate nameplates in North America for 2017 while giving customers in China the choice of 10 (or 11, depending on how you count them) different nameplates.

One of the models Buick offers in China that it doesn’t offer here is this: the Buick GL8 — and it has a 30-year-old secret beneath its newly redesigned skin.

1986 Pontiac Trans Sport Concept

At the 1986 Chicago Auto Show, Pontiac brought out its successor to the Astro and Safari vans. The Trans Sport Concept was unlike anything else, featuring dustbuster proportions and a massive transparent roof that would make Ralph Nader cringe.

Three years later, that minivan concept would be turned into a production version of the Pontiac Trans Sport, which rode atop GM’s U platform and sat alongside the Chevrolet Lumina APV and Oldsmobile Silhouette on dealer lots for the 1990 through 1994 model years.

Fast forward to 2016, some seven years after killing off its minivans in North America, GM still utilizes the 30-year-old U platform in China to underpin the third-generation Buick GL8, albeit with some upgrades.

The new (recycled?) Buick minivan goes on sale in China this year with an updated 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and will cost — wait for it — 250,000 yuan, or about $37,000 Freedom dollars.

h/t to Henry

[Images: GM]

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58 Comments on “Buick’s $37,000 GL8 Minivan is Hiding a 30-Year-Old Secret...”


  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    Holy $hit. I thought they would’ve moved it to a more modern platform by now! I knew of the Buick minivan, just had no idea it was still on the U platform. I hope for China’s sake that they’ve upgraded the crash protection that was always so poor for them here in North America.

    I saw a Buick Terraza on craigslist not far from me, very cheap, in need of minor repairs and was fully loaded in excellent condition with 80ish K miles. I said to myself that it was a shame its such a terrible vehicle and most buyers smartly ignore it on the market, especially now that its awful reputation is generally well known.

    Then I wondered if it would be worth something in China. Now I see they’re paying damn good money for an “updated” 4 cylinder version lol.

    I’d gladly trade it for a RWD Zeta-based Park Avenue they had for a short while. It looks so much more stately than the Pontiac G8, although there is a resemblance of course. I think both are good looking cars, really (as is the Chevy SS), I would just love to have a modern V-8* RWD full-size Park Ave.

    Edit: Wikipedia says they received three V-6s, no V-8.

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    Depending on how you’re counting, it’s either 20 or 27 years. The production Trans Sport / Lumina APV / Silhouette appeared for the 1990 model year, and the GMT199 became GMT200 for 1997. That was a major overhaul, perhaps even a complete redesign. Not a lot of minivan fan sites out there, so it’s hard to dig up tech specs. I do remember that GM ditched the space frame and plastic body panels for the second iteration, and it was narrower so they could sell it in Europe with Vauxhall and Opel badges.

    • 0 avatar

      It would be 27 years if you’re counting the first year of production, which was 1989. But it’s 30 or more if you consider the time it took to develop the platform itself.

      • 0 avatar
        Tomifobia

        That’s assuming that the original U-Body platform is still being used. I don’t think it is, seeing as how the second-generations vans used completely different construction, two wheelbases, an AWD option, and a passenger-side sliding door. That would be an awful lot of unnecessary engineering when they could probably design from scratch cheaper and quicker.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          You’re right, that’s a lot of engineering, but the cost of engineering is minor. Incorporating existing parts bin components is what really saves money, even if engineers have to make tradeoffs. I had to do a lot of that while working for a state highway department.

          It was far cheaper for a contractor to modify an existing drainage system than rebuild it, or widen an existing road alignment rather than realign it, because the multi-agency approvals process and minor updated standards would have dramatically delayed completion, at higher cost.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s a derivative of a derivative of the U platform. As we all know, evolution happens, but the GL8’s bones still find their nexus in the U platform.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            I think the point is that this isn’t really a “secret,” nor is it uncommon. It certainly isn’t “bad,” which the tone of this article is trying to make it sound like. Toyota and Honda have been iterating the same platforms since the ’80s. They’ve been widened, stretched, massaged, enhanced, and made safer, but they go back that far.

            And that’s a good thing; it’s one key reason they’ve maintained their quality.

            The US automakers’ propensity to let a platform/architecture languish, then throw it out and start over with a new one has been to their detriment.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Mark: Really? We’re now going to count prototypes and show cars as production models? And we’re also going to ignore the improvements made on these from GM199 to the final in North America GM201? The vans were vastly improved from 2005 to the end of production. The 3.5 and later 3.9 V6s were introduced as well as a chassis structure that would pass the tests back then.

        Just as odd as I find the Mercedes Metris working vans (knowing full well that Daimler sells working vehicles all over the world), it would be equally audacious if GM were to reintroduce the minivan, but as an executive express model.

        But hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good post…

    • 0 avatar
      a1veedubber

      Heck, you can even say 34 if you want, the U-Van was heavily based on the A-body and much of the suspension is a direct swap and an upgrade for the earlier cars!

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        If you are going to include the FWD A body you really need to go back to the FWD X body since that was the basis of the A.

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          A friend who works for GM-MFD said they were building ahead U-van parts up until about 2006 for China. So more like about a decade old or similar to the Lambda triplet of Traverse, Enclave, Acadia.

  • avatar
    Carzzi

    I’m almost certain the GL8 would meet US crash test standards.

    • 0 avatar
      theonlydt

      Why such confidence? The platform is crap and Chinese crash standards do not match those of the US and EU.

      • 0 avatar
        thattruthguy

        The GL8 is based on the GMT201, sold new in the US in 2005. The GMT201 had the same federal crash rating as the concurrent Caravan.

        Passive safety is a key marketing feature of the GL8. It has all of the safety features of western passenger vehicles, including side impact airbags. It’s an executive transporter, not a cheap family hauler.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          This. GMT201 did vastly better in crash tests than the prior platform. Here is the GMT201 offset crash test done by the IIHS. It does very well, getting a “good” rating.

          The 1997-2005 (04 on some models) were death traps.

          www [dot] youtube.com/watch?v=wu_OmjfeZ6c

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Not surprising they would be using a 27 year old platform. Until recently there were still a version of the XJ Cherokee built in China. The XJ platform was introduced in the 1984 model year here in the states, later in Europe.

  • avatar
    markogts

    Can we consider it a retaliation for the hacker attacks?

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    I guess their one-child policy was a flop.

    Edit:

    Duh, me… Autoblog terms this an “Executive Express” which makes perfect sense in their chauffeur-centric car culture.

    The chauffeur will deal with the sliding door and the executive’s experience will be entirely 2nd row captain’s chair.

    Couldn’t be further from Americans’ use of vans. Floaty-boat Buick, Chinese style.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      This one is all you fridge man, “GET OFF MY LAWN man is beaten by teens”:

      Two teen girls arrested after 62-year-old man attacked in Facebook video

      SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Police arrested two teenage girls seen attacking a 62-year-old man in a viral post on Facebook in front of his Syracuse, New York home.

      The man told police he was assaulted Wednesday afternoon after politely asking a group of teens sitting on his lawn to leave. What happened before the video was recorded is not clear.

      Cellphone footage of the resulting confrontation, which has since gone viral on social media, shows one of the girls punching the man twice in the head, according to WSTM-TV.

      He tries to run after her, but a second girl spins him around as several teens laugh, one recording with his phone. The man continues to give chase, but stumbles and falls face-first in the street, his cane sliding away from him.

      http://fox61.com/2016/10/22/two-teen-girls-arrested-after-62-year-old-man-attacked-in-facebook-video/

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Who watchin dey babies wen dis go down?

        This is stunningly apropos of me. I hate lawn pests and I’ll be 62 next week. Already had my party!

        Fortunately, our local problems stem more from wildly overpopulating deer. They’re at least pretty. And mostly silent.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “It’s no secret General Motors’ Buick division does the majority of its business in China.”

    To the general public, it is a secret. Which means they still believe Buick caters to the US market.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Oh, good, so this pretty much guarantees an easy supply of front suspension & steering parts for when the wear out. And they do wear out. Constantly.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Yepper, here are the intended customers:

    blog.shootinggalleryasia.com/2012/11/08/shooting-gallery-shanghai-shoots-buick-gl8/

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Well, that’s why they don’t sell it here. The average American over 16 is at least 30 lbs. heavier than those guys.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        That’s good for Buick, actually. They are trying to make a full-sized minivan with a 4 cylinder engine.

        What the heck, VW did that successfully for decades!

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          I was behind an old VW Vanwagon coming into Santa Fe NM this afternoon. It was so loaded down it had a hitch-hauler hanging off the back.

          The driver had helpfully put a sign in the back window “55 mph maximum”

  • avatar
    JimZ

    my only question is “so what?” Today’s Camry traces its lineage all the way back to the original 1982 model. I’m convinced you people have no idea what a “platform” actually is.

  • avatar
    Magnusmaster

    This is not uncommon in the third-world, sadly. But even cars built with modern platforms can be death traps if enough corners are cut.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “This is not uncommon in the third-world, sadly.”

      Yeah, China claims third-world status when being criticized for its lack of human rights, pollution controls or intellectual property protection. Otherwise it’s The Chinese Century!

    • 0 avatar
      Sjalabais

      First world: Western democracies.
      Second world: Socialist/communist regimes.
      Third world: Banana republics.

      The whole scheme is so hurtingly outdated though that even when trying to troll, it’s just not good enough anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Agreed. We need to face reality and both categorize & discriminate according to birth rate. Ain’t nobody makin’ a lotta babies worth a sh*t. Never were, never will be.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The GMT201 platform is not a death trap.

      It received a “good” rating in the 40 MPH IIHS offset crash test in 2006 (link above).

      it’s just really old.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I already knew this. The better story TTAC would be *why* GM/Buick still sells a minivan in China and doesn’t in North America. Something other than, there are a billion Chinese, US buyers are too stupid for vans, and Canadian’s only want the Canada Value Package Caravan so why compete there.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      The Chinese want them. No one else does.

      Americans buy crossovers. Europeans buy MPVs and panel vans made for their market.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        We we’re always told by GM (when they built something that made no sense) that: “the dealers wanted it.” Well my local Pontiac, GMC, Buick dealer was never happy to see Buick minivans, G3s, or G5s on a transporter.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          I’m sure that the dealers like the theory of having a full lineup of cars. But they don’t necessarily want the cars that GM ends up producing.

          • 0 avatar
            Mandalorian

            The Chinese don’t give a rat’s butt about driving experience, because they’re not the ones driving. The owners of these vans sit in the back seat. Traffic/Driving sucks and labor (ie: hiring drivers) is very cheap.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          It is common for the mfg to require a dealer to stock certain modes. However the dealer normally wouldn’t have to reorder another unless they sold the one they had in stock. So there isn’t a reason that he should be unhappy because it meant he made a sale and if he didn’t have the Buick minivan he likely wouldn’t have made the sale that made it order another.

    • 0 avatar

      Because Americans want crossovers, so Buick is building more crossovers. /article

  • avatar
    319583076

    I think TTAC has become a Toyota astroturfing platform.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    Sure is ugly. Glad China is so far away.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Dang that show version is so good looking!
    The production model was somehow transformed to awkward unsightly proportions

  • avatar
    Lynn Ellsworth

    Please bring me up to date. I remember the X frame and its obvious side impact problems but not the U frame. What is a U frame and what was wrong with it?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “U” has nothing to do with the shape of anything structural. It’s simply the “old” GM way of categorizing platforms/architectures. e.g. Camaro/Firebird were the “F” body, Caprice/Roadmaster were the “B” body.

      modern GM uses Greek letter names for architectures now. Malibu is on the “Epsilon” platform, Camaro/ATS are “Alpha,” etc.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I saw a dustbuster van parked on a street during my walk this morning. They’re ugly, but not nearly as ugly as this Buick thing. That concept is a beauty.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “Ugly” is unknowable in advance when marketing to Asians. Those people worship carp. Whatever they enthusiastically buy becomes beautiful to whomever’s selling it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’m a little confused – why did you cut off the date of the original vans to 1994, when they went until 1996?

    Also, funny to think these vans were the replacement for the Astro and Safari, which outlived even their later generations. Couldn’t kill those things (though they’d happily kill you in a crash.)

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Additionally, it seems quite odd to me that the Lumina APV and the Trans-Sport both got facelifts for 94, but the Silhouette (the most expensive one) didn’t.

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