Eight Out Of Ten Cats Prefer…

Another glamour pussy from Flint. 

Image: Buick via CNBC

Feeding time, Tiddles! The latest in a long line of Buick concepts was recently released from its cage, demanding our attention. But before we don overt costumes and gyrate to Mr. Lloyd Webber’s stage show rhythms, some background to the Flint plan. 

While stateside Buicks have been utility based now for some time, their Chinese equivalents offer a selection of body styles. Once motor journalists got wind that GM had trademarked the Electra name and began applying it to concepts out East, assumptions were made that a new saloon was imminent. The best laid plans of mice and…

Like most manufacturers, by 2030, Buick’s entire range will be electrified and named Electra followed by an alphanumeric. But no saloons are planned – all will be utilities of differing sizes. Which begs the question. Why reveal a rather stunning coupé with a heritage (saloon) name to a wholly SUV market?

The Buick Wildcat EV Concept (notice, no Electra) is a pure design exercise allowing the teams to signpost the brand’s future styling direction. Sharon Gaucci, Buick-GMC design executive observed that the Wildcat represents “a tremendous opportunity for a new design language, an aesthetic for what a Buick will feel like.” Splendid.

One thing the Wildcat cannot do is pounce, as no battery pack was designed in. Management confirmed that the first Electra EV SUV will be revealed sometime in 2024, going on sale the following year. That car will be based on the Cadillac Lyriq EV but certain styling aspects may well be seen earlier in more traditionally fuelled vehicles in the near future.

Image: Buick via CNBC

The attribute apparently causing the most fuss is the prominent grille. “The grille may evolve or go altogether”, Therese Pinazzo, the Wildcat’s interior and exterior designer observed; a matter also elevating the tri-shield, which becomes the car’s new nose. Illuminated in this instance, although doubtful on production models, the three shields have also had a makeover.

Pointless in this instance, but for design purposes, the long hood may be retained, “depending on the vehicle”, according to Pinazza. Is not a vehicle with a long bonnet worthy of a coupé or saloon derivative? In another case of somewhat mixed messaging, Pinazza also declares: “Elegant and simple, the soft body sides are more timeless. We’re not trying to be trendy.” Trendy remains a large part of the industry’s core. Many a svelte bolide has been revealed with great fanfare only to disappear without trace once that particular trend loses face. 

But let us not get bogged down in the machinations of corporate rhetoric. Instead, allow your senses to open. Drink champagne if it helps. Be indulged by those focussed minds and exceptional materials. 

Image: Buick via CNBC

Let’s head inside with a nod to, of all cars, the Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser whose roof panels also hinged upwards. Cats are fond of pawing at butterflies but their gaze, like ours may be distracted by the white seats. Not looking out of place in a spaceship, they appear supremely comfortable and ergonomic with chrome inserts and contrasting orange seat belts. The head restraints are an angular delight. The equally fine rear seats in this strictly 2+2 affair probably only supported the derrière’s of the design team.

The white upholstery continues on to the door arm rests, transmission tunnel, dashboard and flat bottomed steering wheel. One hopes the chrome edging can be heated[1], no-one wants cold paws. Difficult to see on screen but the carpeted areas are coated in what Buick describe as Legato Green. In musical terms, this denotes a smooth, flowing cadence with no break between notes – job done, shame it looks black here.

Image: Buick via CNBC

It’s said that cats have distinct senses. Buick have tapped into this ethos with a dashboard that could itself be described as feline. Allow me to explain. Biometrics that could segue into an above average hospital ward monitor not only your vital signs but your feelings, moods even. Should stress be detected (when driving?) soothing aromatherapy can be diffused into the cabin along with a massaging seat. Buick have yet to confirm whether a purring sound emanates from those speakers.

The dash is pretty much one legato screen and could make production although sharing bigger sister’s Escalade version would be more realistic. The winglet screens which act as side view mirrors could be mistaken for mice ears – over here, Tiddles!

Design teams must possess cat-like characteristics. Local moggies like nothing better than depositing themselves on an internal sunlight windowsill, observing the day (or sleeping). Buick’s human design teams were allotted pictures of the previous Wildcat concepts starting with the original from 1953 but also including the ‘85. One hopes they were fed and watered regularly. GM’s Heritage Centre even loaned out a ‘54 Wildcat. A fortnight of osmosis saw a clay model of the new concept develop.

Image: Buick via CNBC

Enough wallowing indoors – to the cat’s new pyjamas, the exterior. Light playing on the sides really does soften the skin, lending a transience to the metalwork. Your author could not find any dimensions but the Wildcat appears long, defined by a steeply raked rear along with generous overhangs both front and rear. Staying side-on, the eighteen spoked, aero industry inspired wheels are shod in auto concept’s beloved 22” rubber. Fill those arches.

The rear is defined by the almost buttress-like triple ribbed lights which then sweep horizontally, rather like cats eyes – a more detailed inspection revealing beauty. The glazing allows for a small bodywork ridge, replete with three more shields atop the area we’ll call a bumper covering. Curvaceous over many axes and angles, doubtlessly thoroughly aerodynamic and whilst no means a fat bottom, one can offer no better or more flattering resolution. We’ll have to learn to live with this dander.

Image: Buick via CNBC

Finally removing the rose spectacles, we are left with a vehicle openly flaunting, wantonly capricious and undeniably more interesting than anything that will be manufactured from its basis. Buick could easily make this with only a handful of real world modifications. Sadly for this concept, as with many deriving from Michigan, more likely it will be left to go astray. You’ll find me putting up some homemade signs on lamp posts.

[1] Is it my eyes or does the new tri-shield emblem on the wheel resemble a triple five, à la British American Tobacco?

 

Data Sources: Caranddriver.com, Motortrend.com

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

17 thoughts on “Eight Out Of Ten Cats Prefer…”

  1. Thanks for that. I ought to be paying more attention to Buick as I once owned a Century and devoted 6 months of my life to designing a Riviera for my design MA, way back in the 5th century. The grille is indeed a problem, being merely another in a generation of busy grilles dating a decade back. It´s a cleaner version yet only a modest incremental improvement. Others are doing better front end graphics and doing so via simplicity.

    The bodyside draws from Mazda´s recent work. Why is Mazda getting so little attention? The interior evokes 1965, especially with the white/dark rich colourway. The seats are good and like all concept seats will never see the light of day. When Lancia stopped working on seats in the 1980s the car seat more or less froze into the familiar car seat designs we hate today: hard, grey and car-seatibly interchangeable. Maybe Citroen did some modestly playful seats on the C-Cactus.

  2. Buick has two design hooks: tri-shields and waterfall grilles. Given the difficulty so many manufacturers (BMW, Lexus, etc.) are having establishing a distinctive and non-repellent face, how did the designers of this rather fetching beast manage to only bat .500?

    1. They made me think of a widened C30. They definitely say Volvo rather then Buick.

  3. Were I to feel inclined to add another thought, I´d say the way they handled the visor of the windshield and side glass is not that attractive. It is an obvious solution to impose a downward slant on the upper boundary of the glass but it then makes the car lean back from just above the header rail. How many alternatives to this did they consider?

  4. Good morning Andrew. I find it hard to work up much enthusiasm for this concept as the market for coupés from mainstream automakers is all but dead. I don’t find the grille that bad. It’s the gargoyles at either end that ruin it and it could be rather nice without them.

    1. Re Gargoyles at either end – great description, Daniel! It makes me wonder how far this mania for angular non-functional overdecoration is going to go? It’s akin to the very worst of late-Victorian architecture. The design would look much nicer with smooth, aero-friendly contours at the corners. We need a return to clean simplicity of design before they break out in pediments and pseudo-Corinthian columns!

  5. Hello Andrew,
    Like some of the other DTW commentators this concept doesn’t do much for me as it offers nothing new and could do with some less contrived ornamentation shapes to boot. Also, without the Buick badge- would anyone immediately say: “Oh yes, that is typically Buick”?
    By the way, here is what the similar roof/door opening treatment of the 1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser looks like:

    1. There is a piece on the XM Turnpike Cruiser in the pending tray…

    2. Bring it on 🙂 I have been to many American shows, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Turnpike Cruiser, the production version of the XM Turnpike Cruiser. It’s not a car I’m attracted to, but it is somehow on my list of cars I want to see. They made just over 23,000 of the things, I’m sure there a few left.

  6. Ah yessss, the XM Turnpike Cruiser. I’ve followed the car’s restorer and the actual car since he took on that serious challenge, as all the previous owners, including Ford Motor Company, just let it sit and rot. As a young petrol-head I remember seeing the XM at the Auto Show, and kept thinking Mercury stole much from the previous year’s Packard Predictor show car. Of course today I know cars like the XM and Predictor take years to create, and as both were hand crafted by Italian coachbuilders, who knows if they looked over each other’s shoulders during final designs.

    Now back to the Buick. I find it interesting that the car is equipped with not just the left & right exterior rear-view mirrors, but matching views from left & right ‘winglet screens’. Just 2 more items to distract the driver when making important, often split-second, decisions. But wait, under closer inspection, those exterior mirrors are too thin to give a decent view of road traffic to the rear. So I assume those stalks may house tiny cameras at the tip, producing what is viewed in the winglet screens, along with the turn signal indicators. I suspect that in use, I would find the stalks a distraction.

    I find it interesting that the only location for the “B U I C K” lettering is exactly where I would look to learn who made the vehicle — NOT!

    As for the unusual front grill treatment, If one examines the 3 original Buick Wildcat show cars of the 1950s, they all featured a nice clean center grill, with the outer sections quite busy in design. So in this situation I think the latest Wildcat is attempting to continue the same overall impression. For me, when I look at the front end of this car, I immediately think Lexus, not Buick.

  7. I can’t see much that says Buick here.
    To me ‘typical Buick’ would be the forties-early fifties cars with the waterfall grilles, sweepspears and ‘portholes’. Here the Mazda-like side contours have an angular hint of the sweepspear, I’ll give them that. But that grille just says nothing. And the Buick badge above the windscreen – just no. Trying too hard, guys.
    But actually I think Buicks looked best when they weren’t consciously trying to reprise their past. Sometimes there is a fine line between homage and horreur.

  8. All these jarring curves and angles form a nice counterpoint to a just released concept car from another manufacturer. Released at the latest CES, (Consumer Electronics Show – because that’s all cars are now, right?), by of all people BMW. Who finally seem to have been listening to criticism about the baroqueness of their current styling tropes.

    Or perhaps they’ve hired back some of those competent talented designers from Hyundai/Kia?

    Either way, I think it’s stunning in it’s simplicity, resolution, and success in historical lineage without being passe’dly retro. (Apart from the name- we can’t expect too much, can we?)

    The BMW i Vision Dee.

    Dee is an acronym that stands for Digital Emotional Experience, the software that defines the ‘entire user interface’. The company describes it as an intelligent piece of tech with “almost human capabilities.” The biggest highlight is what BMW calls the Mixed Reality Slider, a head-up display that projects onto the entire front windscreen. A version of this feature will, according to BMW, become available on Neue Klasse cars from 2025, in two year’s time.

    The wide kidney grille has headlights built-in, along with the ability to produce different ‘facial expressions’. The body is covered in a new version of BMW’s E-ink technology, updated to display up to 32 different colors.

    If you are going to refer back to the past, you could do a lot worse, (and BMW has done, eg Z3) than refer to the E36. A masterpiece supervised by Claus Luthe over Pinky Lai and Boyke Boyer, the E36 is the perfect car to reprise.

    https://hips.hearstapps.com/hmg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/images/p90491072-highres-1672930349.jpg?crop=0.886xw:0.333xh;0.0595xw,0.342xh&resize=980:*

  9. This car has been playing with my mind all day yesterday. I still don’t know what to make of it. It has some obvious flaws. Personally I find the wheels horrific, but these could be swapped with relative ease. There are some other issues, like the too busy styling at the front corners and all the rest things already mentioned here. With a little rework it could be a genuinely nice car I reckon. But even that wouldn’t really make it a Buick, unless there is a niche somewhere between a Reatta and Riviera.

  10. Thank you Andrew for writing about this car, which I find is a lovely mashup of borrowed cues that manages to synthesize a contemporary extrapolation of the essence of Buick while finally putting past to the retro late 1940s throwback style that has haunted and hurt the brand in terms of an aging and shrinking demographic.

    I know that we expect bold originality from GM, and here they have instead expounded on the art of the remix. But despite our inevitable predilection for noticing design cues we’ve already seen elsewhere, the synthesis works for me (and before I forget, please add the scythe shaped headlamps dutifully copied from one or another McLaren to the sources list).

    The kind of remixing/mashup method of creation we see here is not at all a foreign concept in American design. To trace the boattails, sweepspears, and ventiports to their sources is to find that if they haven’t been blatantly lifted from 1930s French coach-builders, that they are hardly even automotive. What has been original about Buick is the recipe, not the ingredients, so this car doesn’t offend me for having borrowed so much from other brands. Still its approach to achieving Buick-ness (which IMO it has done) was for me an unexpected, but still pleasant surprise. I suspect that time will soften this criticism, as with all cars that are characteristic of their own eras.

    Finally, an actual* Buick that doesn’t look hopelessly backwards†. I was tiring of the endless nostalgia for seventy-five year old tropes, so I am personally thrilled to say goodbye (again) to the toothy vertical grille throwback motif which Buick had already discarded in 1958 just before Harley Earl retired, also the ventiports. But it’s still a Buick, so in addition to the implied sweepspear others also noticed, I appreciate the fresh interpretation of a boat tail.

    Overall I find the result here is very American, and plenty Buick (many Buicks from the 1960s through the 1980s had horizontal grille slats). Cheers to Michael Simcoe for seeming to have moved past the retro flavored Avenir, the last Buick concept he oversaw (under Ed Welburn), which to me seemed tired looking, languid, and fusty. For me that one hasn’t aged well. Perhaps the recent Wildcat concept’s fresher attitude will be enjoyed more later on for what it presents, rather than what it has borrowed.

    The classic Wildcat denomination fits this car as the stance does evoke a feline poised to spring forward, however the car strikes me more in terms of size and spirit as a descendent of this Skylark than of the full-sized 1963-1970 production Wildcats:

    Too bad nothing like this recent Wildcat concept will be seen driving on the street. But if the public really insists on boring CUVs becauseingress-egress is a genuine issue for them, then they can now dream instead of a slinky feline with spine and neck-friendly roof hatches. And I can enjoy this singular fantasy that the forward looking Buick brand I grew up with actually lives on.

    * Not an Opel, for example.

    † Well, there was the somewhat recent Avista, a better looking more mature Camaro dressed in a business suit, which of course Chevrolet would never tolerate. Arguably, this Wildcat is more of a Buick, although one must always wonder (as one should), about the alternate universe’s 2023 Pontiacs.

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