GM Full-Size SUV Sales Are Riding Towards A Nine-Year High, Poor Buick
11.3 percent of the new vehicles sold by General Motors in the United States in September 2016 were full-size, body-on-frame, truck-based SUVs.
The Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, and GMC Yukon and Yukon XL combined for 28,172 total sales in September 2016, a 45-percent year-over-year increase worth nearly 9,000 more sales.
September marked the second consecutive month — and just the tenth month in the last five years — that GM produced more than one out of every ten of its U.S. sales with full-size SUVs. Not since November 2011 has GM produced such a hefty portion of its sales with large SUVs.
So why can’t Buick have one?
The answer, according to Buick spokesperson Stuart Fowle, is a rather obvious one.
“We operate as a sales channel partner with GMC and our showrooms are shared,” Fowle told TTAC via email yesterday. “From that standpoint, every dealership already has a full-size SUV.”
And it’s not as though that specific U.S. dealer network is suffering from a shortchanged SUV/crossover lineup.
“With the Acadia’s step down in size, a customer can now walk into a Buick/GMC dealer looking for an SUV and have seven totally different options from smallest to largest: Encore, Envision, Terrain, Acadia, Enclave, Yukon, Yukon XL,” Fowle says.
BIGGER IS BETTER
Yet the increasing strength of GM’s biggest SUVs highlights the low-volume nature of the Buick brand in America. Formerly a major player in the United States, Buick now derives its strength from China. U.S. Buick volume is about half as strong now as it was in 2002.
GM’s six large SUVs outsold Buick by 7,250 units in the U.S. in September 2016; by 25,640 units through the first three-quarters of 2016.
Buick’s significant September growth — the brand jumped 14 percent to 20,922 units, year-over-year — was powered largely by the entry-level Encore crossover’s best-ever month and a 65-percent increase in sales of the discontinued, entry-level Verano sedan.
But sales of GM’s hugely profitable full-size SUVs are rising across the board.
Total Escalade volume has increased by 1,557 units this year. The full-size Cadillac flagship tandem sells more than twice as often as the ATS, Cadillac’s entry-level model.
At GMC, total Yukon/Yukon XL sales are up 17 percent to 59,438 units this year, numbers similar to those of the GMC Acadia in its (admittedly rather slow) transition year.
Chevrolet produces the top-selling full-size SUV tandem. The Tahoe, America’s 25th-best-selling utility vehicle, reported in September a 21-month sales high. Tahoe volume is up 8 percent this year. Combined, Tahoe/Suburban sales are up 9 percent to 109,282 units this year, more than the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickup trucks combined.
Of course, General Motors is far from the powerhouse that it once was, and GM’s full-size SUVs aren’t the powerhouses they once were, either. Though GM is on track to sell a fairly astonishing 270,000 full-size SUVs in the U.S. in 2016, the numbers sound less impressive when one realizes GM sold more than 500,000 of these behemoths as recently as 2004.
But after averaging fewer than 220,000 annual full-size SUV sales over the last eight years (and falling below 200,000 units in 2009, 2010, and 2012) there’s no denying the renewed strength of GM’s six remaining SUVs. Glory days? GM isn’t back there yet, but gone are the days when observers wondered if Lambda-platform crossovers could replace full-size SUVs at GM.
In September 2016, with tolerable fuel prices and incentives intended to remove 2016 models from dealer lots — current offers show up to $9,930 off 2016 LT 4WD Tahoes — GM’s 28,172 full-size SUV sales represented the best September for the sextuplets since 2007.
But don’t be surprised if GM produces a big uptick in full-size SUV sales come December. Traditionally, GM sells 45-percent more full-size SUVs in December than the company averages in the preceding 11 months, suggesting a near 32,000-unit result in December 2016.
Perhaps, deep down, Buick would like to get in on the action, too. But the current group of six have never offered much space to interlopers. Among volume brand full-size SUVs, GM owns 73 percent of the U.S. market so far this year, leaving few leftovers for the surging Ford Expedition, the forgotten Toyota Sequoia, and the transitioning Nissan Armada.
Throw premium brand full-size nameplates into the mix, including the Escalade and Escalade ESV, and GM’s 61-percent market share figure still reflects a highly unusual level of dominance.
And what of Buick’s lineup on the other side of the Pacific? In China, the only full-size SUV in GM’s network is the previous-generation Cadillac Escalade ESV. In a thoroughly different regulatory and tax environment, that SUV is priced at the equivalent of USD $250,000.
TTAC’s Matt Posky provided the above rendering of what a Buick Encounter might look like. (Encompass? Ennui? Entrapment? Entrails? Endometriosis? Enough?) But no matter what Buick doesn’t call it, it’s not going to appear in showrooms. Not here, and not in China.
[Images: © 2016 Matt Posky/The Truth About Cars, General Motors]
Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.
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Back when the great brand cull was going on I argued: "Chevrolet and Cadillac matter, everything else is noise". I stand by that view. The Buick-GMC-Cadillac sales channel is largely a distraction. Do you think Lexus would be a better brand if it was sold alongside "professional grade" trim options versions of Toyota Tundra pickup trucks? NO! GMC and Buick are both massive wastes of design, marketing, advertising and support staff and expenses. Imagine if all of those resources were instead directed at further building Chevrolet and Cadillac? Alternatively, imagine if half of the resources wasted on those redundant brands went into the viable brands and the other half were used to improve profit margins. China loves Buicks? Fine, let China have Buicks. Europe used to love Opels, but every attempt to sell them in North America has been a failure (including when Opels have been renamed Saturns, Cadillacs and Buicks).
I know they don't all have waterfalls, but the grill on your "Buick" is disturbingly horizontal.