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The Encore has led the shift to crossovers.
Buick's U.S. lineup may draw on China
Michael Wayland | 2019/2/19

A decade ago, during General Motors' bankruptcy, Buick's prominence in China helped save the brand from getting axed. Moving forward, Buick may need to lean more heavily on GM's China operations to help fill its U.S. lineup.

Buick has long depended on GM's international affiliates for product: The current lineup includes crossovers developed by GM's China and South Korea divisions, and car models from the Opel operation in Europe, which GM sold in 2017.

But as that lineup gets shuffled as part of Buick's shift to crossovers, GM's restructuring and a long-range shift to electric cars, GM China is poised to play a bigger role.

That doesn't necessarily mean importing additional vehicles from China as Buick does with the Envision compact crossover so much as combining resources and making vehicles for both markets, executives said.

"Buick is a big, big player in China. There's no doubt that's going to be true for a long time to come," said Phil Brook, vice president of Buick and GMC marketing, during an interview in Detroit last month. That gives it "opportunities to leverage some models" for both markets, he said.

Great options'
Among them could be all-electric vehicles, as GM gears up to meet stricter emissions standards in China. "It would be difficult to get a Buick electric vehicle program like that up and running just for the U.S. market as we sit here today," Brook said, "but certainly down the track we've got great options because of the need in China."

GM plans to launch at least 20 all-electric or fuel cell-powered vehicles globally by 2023. While Cadillac is expected to lead those plans, Buick will need to introduce new EVs in China to meet new regulations. China is Buick's and GM's biggest market.

Neither Brook nor Buick-GMC Vice President Duncan Aldred would comment about future products for the U.S., but during a make meeting last month at the NADA Show, dealers were told that a model would be added to the lineup this year. It's unclear if Aldred meant a new nameplate or possibly the addition of another upscale Avenir-trim model for an existing nameplate possibly the Encore, which was developed in South Korea and is expected to be redesigned this year.

Down to one
For now, Buick executives say they aren't concerned about the shrinking car lineup, which will lose the LaCrosse large sedan following the scheduled end of production for the domestic market next month, and the Opel-derived Cascada convertible that will end production this summer. That will leave Buick with just one car nameplate, the Opel-derived Regal, to go with the three crossovers: Enclave, Envision and Encore.

One Regal model, the TourX all-wheel-drive wagon, is marketed by Buick as having the capabilities of a crossover. It helped the Regal rack up a 22 percent gain in U.S. sales last year, despite little or no incentive support for leasing.

Buick's crossover volume has shifted from roughly a third of its U.S. sales volume in 2011 to 84 percent in 2018, the fourth consecutive year crossovers outsold cars for Buick. Helping to lead that shift was the Encore, imported from South Korea, which has roughly tripled in sales since arriving in 2013 to more than 93,000 units and represented 45 percent of the brand's sales last year.

The Encore's success is one reason Aldred decided to kill the compact Verano sedan for the U.S. market in 2016.

Even so, Buick executives say there's enough differentiation between Buick's crossover-dominated lineup and the GMC products sold in their combined dealerships. Buick and GMC, according to Aldred and Brook, have created separate identities: GMC as the more rugged and "crafted" one, while Buick is elegant and "obtainable, quiet luxury."

"The character is very well-defined," Aldred said last month referring to Buick. "We just have to keep playing that formula."

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