Can the LaCrosse bring sexy back to Buick?

Design thinking helped to shape Buick’s 2010 LaCrosse, it seems.

Seung-il (Sean) Lo, lead designer at GM’s Global Brand Strategy Studio in Warren, Mich. says the idea was to make the brand relevant to American consumers again-especially to young drivers. Buick’s prestige has gradually faded as other autos claimed greater market share. (In the first half of 2009, the top five best selling cars were: the Ford F-series, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Silverado, Honda Accord, and Toyota Corolla.)

Lo, who has worked at GM for nine years, graduated from Korea’s Hongik University in 1995 and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. in 1999, both highly regarded design schools. He fell in love with sketching cars as a kid, but says (in the tone of a design thinker) that his role at GM now has more to do with strategy than aesthetics.

Today, most of Buick’s consumers are over 40 years old, but Lo, 39, wants to attract young professionals. The new LaCrosse was designed by teams not only in the U.S. but also China, now Buick’s biggest market, by far. In the first ten months of 2009, Buick sales in China jumped by 52% to 352,950 units. Sales in North America are only one-third this volume.

The design teams' user-centered approach, involving focus groups in both countries, resulted in a $27,000 luxury sedan that doesn’t look much like a conventional Buick at all. They preserved some of Buick's signature elements such as the waterfall grille and portholes, but reviewers flatteringly compare it to a Lexus. It has ice blue ambient lighting—inspired by jade—and is equipped with satellite radio, OnStar emergency and security service and other eye-catching technology. The six cylinder vehicle gets about 27 miles per gallon on the highway and 18 mpg in the city.

Lo says the company faces an uphill battle, but he is committed to understanding consumers' needs to rejuvenate the brand. “Americans like a comeback story,” he says.

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