Buick embraces utility, electrification, opulence

Hans Greimel

Automotive News | 2019-4-16

SHANGHAI -- Buick unwrapped the next-generation Encore subcompact crossover and a derivative model dubbed Encore GX for China, as well as the brand's first electric offering, the Velite 6 MAV.

MAV stands for multiactivity vehicle and is Buick's effort to carve out a new segment.

The Velite 6 isn't quite a hatchback or a crossover or a wagon. It's a blend of something in between. Buick is delivering 5,000 of the EVs this month to Chinese car-sharing operator EV Card.

Buick also showed an ultraplush luxury concept of its workhorse GL8 people mover. It is called the GL8 Avenir in a nod to Buick's premium subbrand and has palatial, thronelike rear seats.

The vehicles, unveiled here Monday on the eve of the first Shanghai auto show press day, underscore General Motors' efforts to find traction in China's flagging market.

So-called new-energy vehicles, which include EVs and plug-in hybrids, are defying the downward demand trend. Sales more than doubled to 227,000 here in the first quarter.

Crossovers and SUVs, by contrast, were once red-hot. But volume in that segment slumped 14 percent through March, in an overall China market down 14 percent. But the sheer size of the segment at 10 million last year is prodding all automakers to keep adding new models.

Encore for the Encore
The Encore, Buick's first crossover built in China, went on sale in the domestic market in October 2012. The Encore GX is a long-wheelbase version and new to the Encore series in China.

Both will feature a new nine-speed Hydra-Matic transmission and new continuously variable transmission and receive updated styling and enhanced connectivity. The entries will complement the Envision and Enclave on sale in China and help Buick cover four segments.

Buick said last year it would add a full-electric Velite 6 in China to meet demand for new-energy vehicles. The vehicles are based on the Velite Concept shown in November 2016.

The Velite 6 has an in-city electric driving range of 301 km (187 miles), Buick said.

GM said the Velite 6 MAV features a new platform designed with GM's Chinese joint-venture partner, SAIC Corp. It is separate from the next-gen EV platform GM showed in 2017.

The Velite 6 MAV also uses a "new-generation pure electric drive system."

Avenir concept
The Buick GL8 Avenir concept MPV spares no expense on detail with fine-woven cashmere carpet and Chinese lacquer trim to the chilled champagne glass dispenser.

The upmarket van envisions what might be on tap as a next-generation chauffeured limousine in a country that prizes such rides. Buick calls the concept "the closest to mass production."

China sales at GM and its joint ventures slumped to 813,973 vehicles during the first three months, from 986,052 a year earlier. Sales at Buick, GM's biggest brand in China, also declined in the first quarter, to 225,313 from 271,521 the year before.

GM says it plans to introduce a record of more than 20 new and refreshed models in China this year to shore up volume in the world's biggest auto market. About half of those introductions will be new nameplates for the company's Chin portfolio.

China has been GM's largest retail sales market since 2012.

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