Buick Makeover Said to Include Sporty Coupe and Chinese SUV

  • Models said to be revealed Sunday before Detroit auto show
  • GM's near-luxury brand starting to win some younger buyers

General Motors Co. will make its latest play to bring Buick back in the U.S. when the brand shows off a sporty coupe concept and a Chinese-built sport utility vehicle this weekend in advance of the Detroit auto show, said a person familiar with the plan.

Buick will show the two cars at a party Sunday night before the media days of the Detroit auto show. One is a sporty coupe about the size of the Chevrolet Camaro sports car, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the model is a secret. The other is the Buick Envision, a mid-sized crossover sport utility that has been a hit in China and will go on sale in the U.S. this year.

A General Motors Co. Buick Avista concept vehicle.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Both cars are part of an ongoing play to make Buick cool in the U.S. and to ditch its image for making sedans for retirees. And believe it or not, the century-old brand is showing that it can get some younger buyers.

“They’re doing all the right things,” said Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights for TrueCar Inc., an automotive-pricing website. “Their newer models are focused on younger buyers and they are getting younger people into the brand.”

Buick’s average buyer is now 59 years old, said a company spokeswoman. The average Buick buyer was in the mid-60s a decade ago before new models like the Encore subcompact SUV and Verano compact car started bringing in younger shoppers. For comparison, Toyota’s luxury Lexus brand has an average buyer age of 57, said a Toyota spokeswoman.

The concept car -- which may or may not go into production, according to the person -- is small and sporty and could give its buyers a fun option. The Envision has been hot in China, where Buick sold almost 150,000 of them.

Broader Reach

“We are beginning to show what Buick is,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president of Buick/GMC during an interview in December. “My goal has been to broaden the reach of Buick.”

This year, Buick will also sell a new LaCrosse sedan, which takes some styling cues from the Avenir, which was chosen as the best concept car at last year’s Detroit show by a panel of automotive designers. Buick also will add a convertible called the Cascada.

As GM keeps rolling out new models for Buick, Aldred is sticking with the brand’s “That’s a Buick?” ad campaign. The ads make a self-deprecating case that its newer cars are too cool for its geriatric reputation.

In one ad, two young women are waiting outside a night club. They see a hip guy climb out of an Encore and one asks, with some surprise, “Is that a Buick?”

“Their marketing was a gamble because they called themselves out as an older brand,” Lyman said. “It has been a better approach because it shows they don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Price Premium

Buick is getting different buyers, said Lyman. It isn’t seen as luxury but it is viewed as one of the nicest mainstream car brands. Its models sell for 14 percent more than the average mainstream new car, Lyman said. Among non-luxury brands, only Mini and Subaru command a better premium, he said.

While Buick has seedlings of progress in the U.S., sales still fell 2.6 percent in 2015, the best-ever year for auto sales. One reason is that the brand had just two SUVs to offer in a market where passenger cars are getting less love. At 3.08 million cars and trucks, Detroit-based GM remained No. 1 in sales in its home country. The 5 percent increase was powered by an 11 percent gain by GMC, the light-truck brand typically sold in with Buick, and a 13 percent jump by Chevy’s Silverado pickup.

If a U.S. turnaround takes time, Buick can rely on China, it’s biggest market. While Buick sold 223,000 cars in the U.S. last year, it sold almost a million in China for a global record of more than 1.2 million. Aldred said last month that he thinks Buick could set another record this year.

“We think 2016 will be another watershed year for the brand with the global launch of the new 2017 LaCrosse, the North American launch of the Envision, the U.S. launch of the Cascada, and the Chinese launch of a new Verano hatchback,” he said in a statement in December.

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