It’s only with a good bit of hindsight can you see what has really happened.
When I started writing about Opel and Buick my view of the relationship rested on the idea that if Opel could provide some useful platforms to Buick then that would be a good thing. I recently noted that not only are Buicks not wholly designed in America but in future may not be made there.
Two things have prompted this article. The first stems from some research I did into the 50 Best Cars Ever. That was a bit of a prolonged joke but yielded some surprising nuggets and it reminded me that random research can be very fruitful. I noticed when writing about the Saturn that the 1999 L-series was a rather botched modification of the Opel Vectra. It’s not a car I have thought much about as I don’t live in the US. The other prompt is the ongoing discussion of Buick and Opel, specifically the launch of the Avista concept car.
My ruminations on Opel have been confined to those Opels that turned up as Buicks. However, there are quite a few other Opels that have had American identities. The Kadett became a 1988 Pontiac LeMans via Daewoo. The 1997-2001 Cadillac Catera was a rebadged Opel Omega (95,000 sold!).
GM’s use of Opel donor cars intensified in the 00s as they ended what little autonomy Saturn had. The L-series of 1999 can be seen as the end of Saturn’s brief independent life. For this car, Saturn took an Opel Vectra as its base. The next Saturn, the Vue was a
rebadged Isuzu. Others were shared with Chevrolet and GMC. Their final cars were mostly Opels reworked to little or some extent: the Astra and the Aura which were an Opel Astra and a Vectra “C”. So, that’s the end of Saturn.
Now that Saturn were not there to beg for Opel cast-offs it became possible for GM to send these in the direction of Buick. As of today, five of Buick’s seven cars are redesigned Opels: the Verano, Cascada, the Regal, Lacrosse and Encore. The Lucerne of 2006-2011 appears to be the last Buick of the old –school. So in hindsight we can mark 2011 as the end of old Buick and its rebirth as a purveyor of upscale rebadged GM donor bodies.
These days the Lacrosse is the closest heir to the Lucerne. The difference is that the Lucerne was paired with the Cadillac DTS and the Lucerne is from a class down (it has Opel Insignia in there somewhere).
All this then makes sense of a detail you can see at Wikipedia. On the Saturn page. If you look to see which company succeeded Saturn the answer should be none. They closed it down. Someone has decided that Buick succeeded Saturn. Isn’t that satire or is it a fact?
Of course it’s not a disaster that GM makes use of some of Opel’s very good platforms. What is problematic is that in the saloon class, Opel’s lack of a US-scaled big vehicle means there is nothing Ruesselsheim can send to Detroit. I was hoping the traffic would reverse in the case of the Avenir concept which points in the direction of a possible nice, new, large Buick and Opel. And the Avista is not impossible to imagine as a new Monza. What is dispiriting is the lack of effort to make real Buicks of the cars Opel provides. I like the Verano but it’s not especially Buick and the Encore, Envision and Enclave are just brougham trim variants of rather uninteresting parts-bin cars if you look at them uncharitably.
Some of this will be obvious if you live in the US. For me, the story is an object lesson in perspective and framing. If you look at Opel/Buick you get a different view than if you look at Opel and all of GM USA’s relations to it. The fate of Saturn changes the way one looks at how Buick is developing now. I did hope that there would be synergies between GM Europe and Buick but it seems really it’s just GM trying to do something, anything to use Opel’s engineering and to keep the semblance of a US presence for Buick in the US, if only and probably only because it matters to sales in China.