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What Will Buick's Future Look Like?

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Not so long ago, the future of the Buick brand was not seen in a particularly positive light by many observers. Buick may have been the very first brand that led to the founding of General Motors at the turn of the 20th century, but the feeling now was that younger consumers had lost interest in the company’s products, whose appeal was increasingly limited to an older demographic. And yet, not more than 10 or 15 years earlier, Buicks were winning NASCAR, road and drag races! It was an active and attractive brand!

Ironically, just as Buick was declining in popularity in North America, it was growing furiously in China, a country in the process of opening up to private enterprise. To the Chinese, the Buick brand had always and continued to enjoy an enviable reputation. Wealthier Chinese consumers, and those who held the best political or administrative posts, drove Buicks, and had been for decades. Even the last Chinese emperor, Pu-Yi, drove one. Buick produced cars and vans specifically for the Chinese market in the GM plants in Shanghai (today known as SAIC-GM).

In North America, Buick was losing ground with its cars developed from other products in the face of competitors already launching themselves into SUVs and CUVs. There had been the Rendezvous and the Rainier, of course, but they had made little impact. In May 2007, Buick launched its first SUV (or CUV as some saw it): the Enclave. This modern vehicle, equipped with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, could accommodate seven passengers, and led to the development of other GM versions including the Acadia (redesigned as a smaller package in 2017), the Saturn Outlook (which disappeared along with that brand when GM restructured) and the Chevrolet Traverse.

Success for the Enclave was immediate and the brand was revived as a result. And Buick still continued to produce cars, like the large LaCrosse (known for a time in Canada as the Allure), the mid-size Regal (based on a German Opel model) and, most recently, the Verano, a small sedan based on the Chevrolet Cruze. Though very popular in Canada, the Verano was not well-received in the U.S., and it will be discontinued in 2018. This is not the fate that awaits Buick’s Encore small SUV, which garnered strong sales right from its introduction in 2013, confounding many skeptical journalists who had predicted Americans would shun such a small vehicle. The Encore is based on the Opel Mokka, itself modeled on a small SUV built by GM’s Korean division, known to us as the Chevrolet Trax.

More recently, Buick has added to its lineup the Cascada convertible (also based on an Opel, and not sold in Canada), as well as unveiling at New York’s auto show a fully redesigned Regal range of cars, which includes a sedan with hatchback and a sport wagon called the TourX. It’s based on the Opel Insignia, and the wagon version is not being offered in Canada - surprising since wagons are much popular here than south of the border. At the launch event for the Encore, Mike Speranzini, brand director for GM Canada, explained the decision was a matter of choice, since growth potential in Canada lies more with SUVs. As for the Regal, it’s worth noting that its new hatchback-equipped incarnation will offer at least double the total cargo capacity than the current version. And in more-recent Buick news, we’re just learned that the Chinese market will soon be getting a sedan version of the Regal as well as the Velite 5, an electric Buick based on the Chevrolet Volt. 

Return of the Enclave
A few years back, Buick relaunched the original version of the Enclave with some minor retouches. But as it conserved the same body as before it looked a little time-worn; a refresh was definitely in order.  Buick used the occasion of the New York International Auto Show in spring of 2017 to unveil an all-new version of the Enclave.

Before lifting the veil on the new Enclave, Duncan Aldred, Vice President of Global Buick and GMC, took care to point out that Buick is the fourth-largest luxury brand for sales in the United States, ahead of the Audis, Infinitis, Lincolns and Acuras of the world. He added that global sales of the brand surpassed 1.4 million units in 2016, and that the company has launched seven new models in the past year. Aldred went to say that Buick has the “freshest” models in the industry, as the oldest models in the lineup have been in production for less than 21 months. He cited as well a Consumer Report ranking placing the brand among the top three manufacturers in North America for reliability, adding that J.D. Powers placed Buick number one for sales satisfaction in 2016.

Here then is the all-new, fully redesigned Enclave. The 2018 Enclave sits on a brand-new architecture (which it shares with the recently unveiled Chevrolet Traverse). It allows the vehicle to shed 400 lbs in weight while adding 10% more interior space, mostly to the benefit of third-row passengers of the 7-passenger vehicle who will enjoy the increased legroom. Contours and shape been significantly redrawn. The chassis is slightly lower to the ground but the vehicle is longer. According to the manufacturer, even though the wheelbase is longer, the turning radius of the vehicle is actually shorter than before.

The hood conceals GM’s latest-generation 3.6L V6, which has been lauded for its fuel economy and efficiency, delivers 302 hp in this model configuration and comes wedded to a new 9-speed automatic transmission. And while front-wheel drive is the standard offering, the options list includes an “intelligent” all-wheel drive system and even on-demand all-wheel drive, a first for the brand. Buick lists towing capacity at 5,000 lbs.

The redesign also touched on the interior, although always with Buick’s guiding principle of affordable luxury in mind. Buick now offers an air ionizer that helps keep the air in the cabin fresh and odor-free while obviating the need to replace filters. 

The Avenir trim!
The unveilings did not stop at the Enclave. Duncan Alfred took advantage of the launch event to announce Buick’s new Avenir trim, which the Enclave will be the first to get its version of (no information yet regarding other Buicks that will be included). Now, this is actually different from the Avenir concept that was unveiled two years ago; rather Avenir will, according to Aldred, be the highest expression of luxury within the Buick brand. Noting that 90% of Buick buyers choose one of the two highest available trims for the model they want, Aldred pointed out that the Avenir concept introduced in New York had a distinctive grille, six-spoke 20-inch wheels and high-level finishing. The idea for the company with the new trim level is to distinguish Avenir models from competing SUVs that are more ostentatious and focus more on their off-road capabilities. Buick’s target market is more inclined to want a refined vehicle made for everyday driving. 

Incidentally, the Avenir trim was “tested” in China, where an Avenir version of the GL8 van (a model exclusive to the Chinese market) has been available – and very successful, according to Buick - since last fall. By the way, more than one observer has pointed out that Duncan Aldred is also international VP of GMC, the other GM brand that has created a line of high-end trims of its models (the Denalis), and which quite likely served as inspiration for Buick’s Avenir initiative. 

The all-new Buick Enclave and its Avenir version will be available at dealerships starting in the fall. We’ll know more by then about the different available trims, and about which other models will carry the Avenir tag.     

*Note: Despite the sale of Opel, the German division of General Motors, to French automotive conglomerate PSA (Peugeot Citroën), Mark Reuss, president of General Motors in America, has stated that the transaction does not mean an end to collaboration between Buick and Opel. There will be other Opel-derived Buicks coming…