2012 Buick: Is GM Building an American Lexus?

August 11, 2009

If you're reading this article in 2012, congratulations. Thanks to the miracle of Google search, Web longevity and ultra-fast fiber-optics, you already know if the renaissance that started in the summer of 2009 at Buick was successful.

From our perspective, here in the dark ages of 2009, Buick has a long way to go. Along with the rest of GM and the auto industry in general, the brand is hoping for a miracle in sales, and not just a ground-rule double like the current sales spurt coming from the Feds' cash-for-clunkers program.

Recovery starts with admitting what you've done wrong. And today, Buick general manager Susan Docherty pointed out what GM and Buick had done wrong in the past--mostly, trying to feed too many brands with too few products.

At a special event in Detroit, Docherty took TheCarConnection off the digital record for a backgrounder on the Buick lineup we'll see in place in 2012--and shone a little sunlight on the brand's intentions, now that's it's part of the "core four" nameplates making the migration into the New GM.

Docherty points to the latest new Buicks for clues to the future. For 2010, the oldest GM brand already has a taste of what's to come, in the 2010 Buick LaCrosse. Built alongside the Chevrolet Malibu in Fairfax, Kan., the LaCrosse has been called an "American Lexus" by the Los Angeles Times. High Gear Media's own Nelson Ireson reports "fans of Lexus, Acura and Infiniti...will find themselves envious of the solid construction, (mostly) whisper-quiet ride and superior switchgear found in the LaCrosse."

It's a good start to a renaissance, along with the 2008 Buick Enclave seven-passenger crossover. It's far from "mission accomplished," though--the mission being beating Lexus in quality, a mission assigned by GM's Bob Lutz when he joined the automaker early in the decade. GM's rollercoaster ride since then has delayed new vehicles and canceled others, leaving Buick with just three cars for this model year--LaCrosse, Enclave and Lucerne.

What's missing? More core products, more small vehicles and hybrids. Over the next 24 months, Buick will add two new sedans and two new crossovers to beef up its showrooms, and each will be smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles than Buick buyers may be used to seeing behind the triple-shield badge.

When you venture into a Buick showroom in 2012, Docherty says, here's the lineup you'll see:

Buick LaCrosse: The brand-new LaCrosse is positioned as the mainstream large sedan, the Buick Lucerne aside. With a choice of four- and six-cylinder engines and a suave new shape, the LaCrosse goes on sale shortly.

Buick Enclave: By 2012 the seven-passenger Enclave will be the oldest vehicle in the Buick lineup. A mid-cycle refresh could appear in the next 24 months, though no major changes have been confirmed.

Mid-size sedan: The Opel Insignia had been planned as a new addition to the Saturn lineup; with Saturn out of the GM picture, the new four-door is being adapted by Buick. The side strakes in the doors are unmistakable Insignia cues, but Buick details like the waterfall grille have been added. Designers are on the fence about putting portholes on the fenders or the hood. It's a little more anodyne than, say, the Chrysler 300--and it's specifically targeting a Lexus shopper as a result.

Compact sedan: The Buick version of the compact 2011 Chevrolet Cruze turns out very well. With a deep waterfall grille, portholes on the hood (not the side of the fenders, really, but the top), a roofline kink that BMW owners might mistake for their own, and a very smoothly integrated shape, the compact sedan's biggest challenge will be telling it apart from the mid-size car.

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