Reuters have reported that in future most Buicks sold in the US may be imported.
Buick sell nearly a million cars a year in China but only about 230,000 vehicles in the US. The basis of Buick’s credibility in China is that the car represents upper-middle class quality and American values. In the US, Buick appeals or has appealed for similar reasons. Sources close to GM are quoted as saying that in future only the LaCrosse replacement and the Enclave SUV will
continue to be made in the US. The Cascada is made in Germany and the Encore comes from Korea (though may shift to China). Further muddying the water is that the main saloons in Buick’s bear a heavy resemblance to the Opels on which they are based. By and large the Buick range is a set of revised imports or designs related to non-Buick models whereas a decade ago, the Buick range was wholly American in style and content.
I would argue that Buick is in danger of risking first the American market. Customers for their cars tend to be brand loyalists for whom American-ness matters a great deal and who are quite likely to resent GM’s decision to shift production oversees in the light of the investment made during the crisis years to save the company. The labour unions are also going to be displeased for similar reasons.
As important as the American market is, the Chinese market is even more important. And this market depends on Buick’s all-American character. A large part of this depends on customers believing the cars they buy are related to the ones that are made in the US. For some years this will claim can carry some weight for Chinese customers. GM is gambling that with such a large customer base buying the cars for reasons unrelated to evocations of Park Avenues, Electras and Centuries, it won’t really matter if the cars are made in China, or for that matter, anywhere else.
It is a big gamble. The first loss will be Buick’s American customers which is unfortunate given the dramatic improvement in the cars they make in recent years.
I have shown a 1997 Buick Park Avenue above to illustrate this article rather than something newer. These are the kinds of cars Buick loyalists yearn for but which failed to be competitive in the US market place. It is unfortunate that for Buick to survive it is selling cars now that are very unBuick.
The situation is redolent of Lancia’s decline into being a purveyor of warmed-over Fiats; it must be noted that Lancia’s last vehicle, the Ypsilon is unique to Lancia and as recently as 2001 they had their own platform for the Thesis and that the 2008 Delta did not resemble any other Fiat product in the way the Buick Regal is a modified Opel Insignia and the Verano is a warmed-over Astra (albeit a very good warming over of a very good car).
In a perfect world, GM would be using stem-architecture to derive Opels for Europe and Buicks for the rest of the world and investing in at least one US-sourced, unique-bodied car to put a convincing gloss on Buick’s American credentials.