• Baby Buick?

Baby Buick?
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Buick may introduce a small car to the United States market in the Corolla size class, an extension of the the Buick Excelle marketed in China (pictured here). That, at least, is the report at AutoWeek.

Though small in size, the vehicle would be upmarket in price, employing rear wheel drive and the Alpha platform currently being designed in Germany. It would, however, be produced in North America.

The move is said to be a response to the corporate average fuel economy standards adopted this past year by Congress.

Whether this move is wise is debatable, and probably is being debated as this is written within General Motors. Buick sales have dropped dramatically as the line-up lost lower-priced cars, such as the Skylark. However, the traditional attributes of the Buick brand, a certain middle-class luxury, have not been successfully transplanted in the past to smaller Buicks. On the other hand, the loss of lower priced models has savaged Buick sales. But, selling a lower priced Buick risks not only diminishing the stature of the brand, but competing with Chevrolet’s offerings.

(more after the jump)

It has become clear in the last several months that GM has been unable, as an institution, from cloning its successful models into multiple brand lines. Perhaps the most obvious example of late is the Chevrolet Traverse introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in March and due in dealer showrooms shortly. The Traverse is a Chevy version of the highly successful Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. While the addition of the model to the Chevrolet line will undoubtedly add volume to Chevy showrooms, it also serves to make both the Enclave and Acadia less unique and less significant vehicles. Only at Cadillac has GM succeeded in producing a product line-up with a clear market identity and brand image.

Buick dealers, as has been observed on this blog previously, are starving. As a national proposition, the average number of sales per Buick dealer per month now totals three. Yes, three. Much hangs on the LaCrosse replacement due in showrooms in the fall. But, even a moderately successful LaCrosse will only help the brand tread water for a few more years, at the most. A replacement for the Lucerne that actually fills the spot left by the late Park Avenue/Electra lines would also help, but will have to be a spectacularly designed and engineered vehicle to actually rebuild the market niche that Buick lost when it abandoned that market. Moreover, Cadillac’s move down market with the CTS and the rumored model priced below the CTS leave no real room for Buick to field a distinctive model in that price range.

In the end, GM may have to revise the essence of the Buick brand, and a luxurious small car may be the way to do it. But, the competition in that segment of the market is fierce, and only in China does Buick carry an image that give it a presence in that market segment.

That General Motors appears still to be vacillating over plans for Buick’s future in the United States is not a good sign. It suggests that GM still hasn’t figured out what it wants Buick to be. Cadillac was easy: it’s the prestige brand, no quarter given.

But, there may no longer really be room in the line-up for “the doctor’s car.”

Even for a little doctor’s car.

Ralph Kalal
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