• Buick USA Needs Invicta – Now!

Buick USA Needs Invicta – Now!
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It’s a show car, previewed this week in China, another product of the same design studio collaboration, centered in China that stunned the world with the concept Buick Riviera and, thereby, put General Motors’ Chinese operations firmly in the automotive spotlight.

But, the time for Buick concepts has passed. Buick needs new products, now. If the next generation LaCrosse proves to be a duplicate in appearance of the Invicta, it may save Buick. If not, . . .

A recent Automotive News article painted a grim picture of Buick.

In March, Buick sales were off 24.1% from the year earlier levels, about 12,000 vehicles.

To put this in perspective, AN focused on the Chicago zone: Northeastern Illinois and Northwestern Indiana, with a population of more than 10 million, long one of the strongest Buick markets. Once, sales of 150 vehicles a month per dealer were typical.

In March, the almost sixty Buick dealers in that zone averaged sales of seven new cars per dealer.

How did things get that bad?

(more after the jump)

Automotive News lays the blame on GM management, which it describes as having “dithered” over replacing the Park Avenue and simply blown it on other decisions critical to the brand’s success.

The first mistake cited by AN is failing to replace the Park Avenue, the top of the Buick line.

That mistake Buick its best customers. Without a Park Avenue equivalent, they shopped elsewhere. These were not buyers interested a LeSabre. When the Park Avenue disappeared, they disappeared.

The Lucerne was not a Park Avenue equivalent. It was a LeSabre replacement, and a poor one, at that. Rather than feed the existing markets, GM tried to make one car that fit both. It ended up fitting neither. The car was priced above the LeSabre, below the Park Avenue, with neither the price advantage of the former nor the prestige of the later. Lucerne sales have not come close to LeSabre sales, never mind the lost Park Avenue sales.

Mistake two was eliminating the Riviera and eliminating the Skylark. The Riviera was the line’s style leader. The Skylark was its price-point vehicle.

Mistake three: killing the Regal and Century, the vehicles supplanted by the tepid current LaCrosse. Both were more distinctive than the LaCrosse, which can best be thought of as a Buick version of the last generation Taurus, but without the style of the Ford.

So, where’s that leave Buick?

Oldsmobile was euthanized by GM when it sold 289,172 a year. Buick sales in 2007 were 185,791. Knock of 25% and you’ve got about 140,000 this year. So, the whole Buick line sells about 4.5 times the sales of the Corvette.

Winning formula, isn’t it?

General Motors response, to date, has largely consisted of gradually consolidating Buick dealers with Pontiac and GMC dealers, a formula reminiscent of Packard’s merger with Studebaker. Pontiac, too, has been intentionally neglected by the corporation. GMC still searches for a reason to exist, being nothing but an upscale Chevy truck clone that can’t match the prestige of the Cadillac truck.

Unfortunately for Buick dealers, spy photos of what’s believed to be the 2009 LaCrosse do not show the same sleek lines as the Invicta. Unlike the CTS concept cars, which were almost identical in appearance to the ultimate production cars, spy photos of the new LaCrosse show a car with a higher, bulkier roofline and a lower, more conventional grill. Overall, the spy shots show a car less daring than the Invicta, less sculptured and with a boxier stance than the concept.

Buick does not need to introduce a new LaCrosse that’s a compromise. Buick dealers do not need, and cannot sell, an undistinguished car in that market segment. The current LaCrosse proved that.

Buick briefly ruffled the pond with the Enclave, a vehicle that got younger buyers who’d never before owned a Buick. But even the worst team occasionally wins a game.

The real question is whether General Motors is committed to rebuilding the Buick brand. The evidence suggests that it is not, at least not in the United States.

Only once in modern history has GM invested the will and capital to rebuild a brand: Cadillac. Buick, however, currently lacks the same corporate commitment that Cadillac enjoyed (and the corporation’s neglect of its core DeVille buyer suggests that not even Cadillac has that much commitment from top management). The impression is becoming indelible that the only reason GM is keeping Buick alive in the United States is because it doesn’t want to embarrass itself in China. It’s no accident that both the Riviera and Invicta were created by the Chinese studio, or that the most attractive new Buick models have been created for the Chinese market. It sells more there than here. But, that’s because it’s tried to sell cars there. About here, they haven’t cared.

The Invicta is probably Buick’s last chance in the United States. If they actually produced that car for the United States market, they would sell it and the brand might revive. If, however, the new LaCrosse is a watered down version, one “inspired” by the show car, not copying it line for line,

then it will be too late for Buick.

Buick is the brand on which the corporation that became General Motors was founded. It may end up being the brand on which General Motors foundered.

Ralph Kalal
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