Buick: Giving the Brand Meaning
Will Buick survive GM’s financial woes or find itself in the heap of automotive history along with Packard, Oldsmobile, DeSoto, Plymouth, Nash, Hudson, AMC, Studebaker, Checker, and countless other makes?
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During the 1980s, Buick was a brand that successfully straddled the fine line between luxury and performance. This GM division sold big, fluffy Park Avenues and LeSabres, while also selling the luxury/sport Riviera and the Regal. It was this last model, the Regal, which stunned the automotive world by winning Grand National awards during the early 1980s. Today, all four models have been terminated in favor of newer names including the Lucerne, LaCrosse, Terrazza, Rainier, and Rendezvous, models that didn’t even exist five years ago. Where is Buick headed? Will GM’s troubles finally kill off the brand? Will the Buick name ever regain meaning? A lot is riding on these questions; the answers may not be as simple to utter or imagine.
GM’s woes could spell Buick’s demise. At least that is the thought with some “experts” who believe that at least two brands need to be pruned from the GM line up to save the automaker. General Motors, for their part, has said that they will stick with all of their brands; instead, the company is using this crucial time to put into place a long and painful process to remake its entire image. With plant closings, layoffs, and big losses racking up, the world’s #1 automaker cannot afford a misstep, so whatever plans the automaker has for the company must be executed flawlessly, otherwise further trouble will ensue.
Buick and Pontiac have often been cited as the two divisions being the most at risk. Neither division has a clear identity with every model built by the brands similar to models built by other GM makes. This hasn’t escaped the notice of critics who have called on GM to begin dissolving the two divisions immediately.
If GM’s words hold true, then Buick will stay around. In what particular form is the question, but the “general” has been giving us some hints in the form of the present model line up as well as at least one future model planned.
Currently, the Lucerne is being heavily marketed as it takes over the flagship role from the Park Avenue a model along with the LeSabre the Lucerne has replaced. Based on the Cadillac DTS, the car combines luxury with value to offer motorists a taste of Cadillac lavishness at a discount. Therein is the rub: is Buick underselling Cadillac or is the Lucerne simply perceived as being all that different from its up market sibling? That is hard to determine. Regardless, the Lucerne is bit more refined and less dowdy than the models it replaces. It isn’t likely to captivate young folks, but probably will be more than able to keep current owners satisfied.
The LaCrosse has been well received and it, too, has replaced two Buick models when it was rolled last year: the Century and the Regal. Still, the car is based on older GM technology and competes only marginally with new models from Lexus and Toyota. Fresh styling has helped and will keep Buick faithful happy at least for the time being, but the LaCrosse hasn’t won over many competitors either.
Buick’s three remaining models are all variations on current GM SUV and minivan themes. There is nothing original about these models other than the Buick badge and a higher level of standard equipment than let’s say, the Pontiac Aztek. Oh, yeah, the Rendezvous’ twin, the Aztek, was axed by GM…too ugly!
So, there you have it: five models pared down from almost ten that were offered just a few years ago. None are completely new and none have a distinctly Buick touch to them, making Buick look as if it will, indeed, get whacked.
But that isn’t what GM is saying.
Instead, we know that GM is already planning one new Buick model which, again, may replace two current models [does anyone see a theme here?] The model being planned is an all new crossover vehicle tentatively called the Enclave an AWD crossover vehicle capable of carrying six passengers over its three rows. Yes, the vehicle sounds strangely similar to the Chrysler Pacifica and it appears that the Pacifica is in Buick’s crosshairs with this proposed model. Little is known about the Enclave other than that it will likely be powered by GM’s new 3.6L V6, an engine lauded by car critics.
Beyond the Enclave, Buick will have to bring out newer models to replace the Lucerne and LaCrosse soon after the Enclave’s anticipated 2009 model year release. Buick’s chief competitors are regularly updating their platforms and an aged Lucerne or LaCrosse can only exacerbate the division’s problems. None of this will occur without significant investment by GM and a cash strapped company cannot afford to build new models.