Buick Death Watch 1: Buick Must Die

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
buick death watch 1 buick must die

“When The Donald calls aspiring apprentices into the boardroom to determine which one to fire, I’m always hoping for a miracle. I want him to can ALL of them.” Thus spake Robert Farago nearly thirteen years ago when he started the General Motors Death Watch. Just fifty-one months later, General Motors filed for Chapter 11. Our august founder got his wish. Or most of it, anyway. The weak-sister brands were sold off — although, looking at the stunning resale value of Hummer H2s on the West Coast, one wonders if perhaps that nameplate should have been retained; it would certainly play well in an era where $100,000 is the new normal for a loaded full-size SUV. (One also has to admire Farago’s Muad’Dib-style prescience regarding Donald Trump’s relevance in the future, but that’s slightly besides the point.)

Robert was wrong about one thing: while General Motors did die in the the legal sense, most of what normies consider “GM” is still very much present and accounted for. I recently sat down with a senior “New GM” person who told me, “We used the bankruptcy to keep the good people and make some much-needed changes,” by which he meant “cutting the dead wood.” I think that much of the current product line reflects that rejuvenation. The Corvette is the world’s finest sporting automobile, at least on the value-for-money scale. The Equinox has been a bright spot for more than half a decade now. The Denali line is a license to print money, and justifiably so. I’m no longer much of a skeptic when it comes to the General. Last year, I did something I’d never done before: I spent nearly 60,000 of my favorite dollars on a brand new GM product. While there are certainly criticisms to be made regarding America’s largest-by-a-whisker automaker, I believe it is now safe to say that the company is on solid footing everywhere from 755-horsepower supercars to electric-dreams city commuters.

Except, of course, for Buick. That’s got to go, and nobody’s going to miss it.

Before any of the business-school dropouts get too excited, I should note that I am not suggesting the death of “Buick,” the Chinese brand that sells Chinese cars to Chinese people. That seems to be doing pretty well, and it’s a big part of the reason why China is now a bigger market for GM than the United States. No, I’m talking about the walking-dead nameplate currently limping zombie-like through hundreds of rural showrooms.

To begin with, Buick is now clearly the dumping ground of GM product. If you look at GMC, for example, you’ll see fresh faces and shiny grilles and waiting lists for products like the four-cylinder Terrain. Buick? Well, they have

* A Korean blob (Encore)

* A Chinese blob (Envision)

* A Polish blob with a folding roof (Cascada)

* A sedan that nobody buys (Regal)

* Another sedan that nobody buys (LaCrosse)

* A monstrous CUV that weighs 4,800 pounds in its cheapest FWD variant and which has no visible market whatsoever (Enclave)

In January of this year, Buick sold under 14,000 vehicles. Half of those sales went to the Far East Encore/Envision duo. This is considered “good news” by the servile lapdogs of the automotive press, who will turn around and tell you in the same breath that the 2018 Honda Accord is a “slow seller.” A quick look at the numbers tells the truth: The Accord, by itself, outsells Buick by about 30 percent. The CR-V sells more than double the volume of the entire Buick brand. The Honda product that most closely matches Buick’s overall sales? The Pilot, by itself. That’s amazing, because the Pilot isn’t that popular. Once you remove the imported cars from Buick’s sales totals, the brand trails the Odyssey… and finds itself in a dead-heat race with the Honda HR-V.

Imagine a Honda dealership where all you could get was the HR-V. That’s pretty much your Buick showroom, plus a few ringers from the Chinese crowd.

This disaster didn’t happen overnight, but it’s worth noting that Buick was often the fourth-best-selling brand in the country during the Seventies. It’s been all downhill from there, but these last few years have been particularly dismal, no doubt in part because the marketing and advertising that supports the brand has gone from bad to worse. It’s at the point where all but the most committed journosaurs are stepping off the Buick bus; despite some very expensive West Coast luxury travel and accommodations tossed their way during the past few months, I can’t find anything but the most lackluster copy-and-paste faux enthusiasm among the shrimp-and-Rascal-scooter set. One of my little sources in this business tells me that Buick PR is being very generous to people and getting nothing in return. What could be more pathetic than trying to cosplay Geoff Day at his prime only to have people treat you like the people who stand in the aisle at Costco asking you to try a new DirecTV package you don’t want?

I could go on, perhaps by talking about the LaCrosse Avenir that costs nine thousand dollars more than a Lexus ES despite possessing a nearly identical silhouette to the ex-rental Impala that your local CarMax is selling for $17,995, but this is probably an outstanding opportunity for me to honor Mr. Farago’s historical 800-word limitation. Buick should be shuttered here in the United States. The resources should be devoted to Chevrolet and GMC. It’s time to cut down the last stand of that old dead wood. Pick up the axe and start swinging.

[Image: General Motors]

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2 of 238 comments
  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Mar 23, 2018

    Do you guys make things up as you go along. The base price of a V6 Lexus ES is $39945 for 2018. The 300H is base priced at 42815. The 2018 Lacrosse starts at 30490 for the eAssist version and ends at 45795 for the FWD Avenir or 47995 with AWD that Lexus doesn't even offer on the glorified Camry chassis. None of these figures add up to the Buick costing 9K more than the Lexus and your comparing a base trim car with no options to a top spec Buick is just ludicrous.

  • NoID NoID on Mar 26, 2018

    On a side note, in 5-10 years when we're discussing the failure of Alfa in the US, I look forward to the next Deathwatch chapter: (Alfa) Romeo Must Die. Not that I relish the thought of Alfa dying here...I just don't anticipate the brand receiving nearly as much traction as it needs in order to survive here, barring platform sharing and/or a heavy emphasis on utility vehicles.

  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.