2007 Buick Riviera Concept

April 19, 2007

One of the most celebrated names in the history of General Motors’ Buick brand is back – at least in concept form.

Company officials aren’t ready to say whether a production version of the prototypeRiviera is coming, but they acknowledge that some of the key design elements of the show car debuting Friday, at the Shanghai Motor Show, will directly reappear in upcoming Buick products. 

“We have a pretty big shoe to fill,” said James Shyr, design director at PATAC – the Shanghai-based design and engineering center that played a lead role in the development of the new Riviera concept – referring to the high-styled coupe, which was sold, in various interpretations, from 1963 to 1999. “The name is legendary. It’s an iconic vehicle.” 

Past versions of the Riviera, such as the boattail model, marketed in the early 1970s, were considered among the most striking and influential products of their era. The new Riviera concept lifts a variety of classic cues, including the traditional Buick portholes, on the front fenders. But the “Shell Blue,” two-door prototype is anything but retro.   

Overhead, two large glass roof panels provide a visual link to the outside world. Two oversized gullwing doors, measuring 77 inches at their widest, provide easy access for both front and rear seat. Instead of the clamshell-style headlights introduced in the mid-1960s, the high-tech headlamps of the new show car appear to float above a modern interpretation of Buick’s classic waterfall grille.   

Lighting is, in fact, something that the PATAC design team focused a lot of attention on. A thin accent light flows down the center of the hood, drawing a viewers eyes to the backlit Buick “tri-shield” emblem mounted in the center of the grille. A similar badge is mounted in back. Open the gullwing doors and puddle lights illuminate the ground, spelling out the word, “Buick.”

Inside, controllable lighting would allow a driver to accentuate a variety of different moods.  The cabin has a flow-through feel to it, starting with the softly curved instrument panel that links to the twin rear seats by a metal-accented center console that runs the length of the interior. Buick engineered in an array of high-tech system, including an unusual gear shifter “for the 21st century,” suggested Shyr, which operates something like a computer mouse.

The gauge cluster is likely to trigger a sense of déjà vu among long-time Riviera fans, but its three-dimensional form is clearly modern. A large LCD screen crowns the central console, with its touchpad controls. 

The body is also high-tech, made out of carbon fiber which not only lightens the gull wing doors – making them easier to operate – but which PATAC technicians claim was easier to form the Riviera concept’s mix of flowing and sharp-edged shapes. The compact mirrors, meanwhile, were influenced by Formula One race cars.   

Though Shyr noted that the Riviera concept is a “runner,” the automaker declined to discuss the powertrain used in the prototype; nor would they discuss what they might have in mind for a production vehicle.

Sitting on 21-inch wheels and tires, with a 112.9-inch wheelbase and measuring 185.4 inches overall, the Riviera concept would likely translate into something in the mid-size range, and almost certainly have a rear-wheel-drive powertrain configuration.  That’s a direction in which GM has been returning lately, reflecting trends in luxury market, where Buicks past competed.   

In describing the new show car, Shyr noted “We have put some Chinese cues into it,” though he also insisted the car “is not East. It is not West. It’s Buick.” But increasingly, Buick very well is becoming Chinese. Last year, for the first time, the brand sold more cars in the fast-emerging Asian market than it did in the States, and that trend is only likely to continue without a sudden change in fortune. In fact, many analysts have been pressing GM to simplify its brand structure by eliminating Buick from the U.S. lineup, something CEO Rick Wagoner and product chief Bob Lutz have refused to do. 

But as GM shifts to a more global product development system, it is letting its various, regional design and engineering centers focus on what they do best, and for PATAC, that means Buick, the number one brand in China. The Shanghai operation played a “significant” role in the development of the reborn Park Avenue, which is just going on sale across the Asian nation, said PATAC president Raymond Bierzynski, and it will likely expand its role, he suggested, on other, upcoming Buick products. 

There are no plans to put the Riviera concept into production – at least for now – emphasized Shyr. But he quickly added that “Some design elements will find their way into (future) products.”

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