Too Much Of A Good Thing Might Be Too Much
By: Alex Villani
Outside of our imaginary cubicles here at GMI, we all talk to each other about various news, upcoming test cars, events, and we share any news we hear through our various sources. It was maybe a few months ago that our fearless leader and I were having a conversation about some news he had heard. Apparently there was talk of Buick wanting, and possibly getting, an Alpha-based halo car to continue it's product renaissance. Whoa, can that be right? A normal enthusiast would be jumping for joy! Yes, more light-weight, rear-drive sportiness from GM! A dream come true, right?
I rolled my eyes, let out a giant sigh, and said to myself, what the *expletive* are they thinking? Sure, it sounds great that Buick is getting their hands on one of GM's greatest platforms they have built in a very long time, but what exactly does it all mean? What is the point of having such a car for Buick? How will it fit in with the rest of the line up? How will this work with Opel, and lastly, how will this car fit in between Camaro and Cadillac?
When looking into how exactly this car would fit into Buick's line up, you have to look at what is working for them and what is not. Buick's line up consists of a three very nice looking, brownish sedans and crossovers that all ride very well, have very good interiors, and offer tons of luxury for a relative bargain. Sandwiched between the hot-selling Verano and flagship Lacrosse is the Regal sports sedan, the Buick that "zigs" if you will. The Regal drives remarkably different than the other two sedans, thanks to it's Euro upbringing as the Opel Insignia, clearly separating itself from everything Buick has ever made. Pushing the envelope further, Buick has brought out two turbo versions, with the top of the range GS model pushing 270 horsepower and nearly 300 pounds feet of torque, making it one of the most powerful Buicks to hit the showrooms since a certain dark and sinister G-body left us some 25 years ago.
All that performance and excitement has done very little for the Regal's sales numbers as they have taken quite the tumble over the last year or so. How could this be? Doesn't performance sell cars? Well, apparently not in the case for the Regal and that is really unfortunate because the car is a total blast to drive, at least the turbo versions. Now you could claim that the onset of higher pricing due to a shuffling of the powertrain deck, plus the addition of the Verano has eaten into Regal's sales, but if that's the case, would not Buick be smarter to make cars more like Verano? And it's not like Lacrosse sales have dipped all that much since it had it's own reshuffling, painting the picture that someone who is shopping Buick value luxury, refinement, and quality over performance and Brembo brakes.
Let us not forget that Buick has this unspoken alliance with GM's European brand Opel, and anything that is built for Buick should also be set to go on sale for Opel, and vice versa. How does this rear-drive sedan work for Opel? I'm sure the Germans would love to have access to the Alpha platform and build their own world-class sports sedan to replace the aging Epsilon-based Insignia. Question here is where do you build it? Is Opel going to be happy with an American-made sports sedan wearing their historic logo? Will German customers? We know that Alpha will be built in America as well as China, but opening another plant on another continent could hurt profitability because lets face it, such a car would be very low volume. And because it is so very low volume, it could never be a true replacement for the Insignia line, but mearly something different Opel can offer it's European customers. Sharing that space could also mean stealing sales, and stealing sales means stealing precious marketing dollars away from the more important Insignia. And that is not the only place where it could get crowded.
Like I mentioned above, this rear-drive Buick would be taking away precious resources from cars that have been used to more exclusive attention, namely Camaro and Cadillac. Having a Buick variant could strip away attention and add in additional cost to the whole system so that the Buick does not step on either of their toes. That means all new chassis bushings, all new steering tuning, all new spring rates and dampeners, different sized sway bars and the like. Lots of expensive testing, money that could go to help improve either Camaro or the Cadillac line up.
Let's say that all this does not cost all that much and that the tuning will be spot, landing between the two brands, then what? You drop back a little bit to the old ways of "badge engineering" by having several versions of the same car. What makes this rear-drive Buick different than a Camaro or an ATS? How many people are clamoring for a rear-drive performance sedan and coupe from Buick that they cannot get at Chevrolet or Cadillac? Sure, there is always price, but do you think that the price for Buick's variant to be substantially lower than Cadillac?
It has bad idea written all over it. The enthusiast inside everyone would love this as images of Grand Nationals and 455 powered Skylarks dance through their minds. The truth is that they need a solid line up of truly great luxury cars before they need a rear-drive performance sedan. If Buick were to move forward and take a piece of the rear-drive pie, I hope it is for a halo car that offers something truly for the brand and the market, namely a convertible. It is the only variant that makes sense to me while not diluting the brand, hurting the other brands, and taking advantage of the parts bin stuff as to keep costs down. So here is to the hope that Buick's adventure back into rear-drive is well thought out, and not done to just capitalize on the fame to just say that they have one too.