Buick Small Car: Tread Carefully, GM
Buick has a big chance for success with its new small car - if done right
April 27, 2010
By: Tony Pimpo
If you haven't noticed, a lot of the commentaries at GMInsideNews lately have been primarily about Buick. It has been successful so far in implementing its renaissance plan and the buzz on GMI about the brand is proof of that. Sales are up, transaction prices are up and the average buyer age is down.
This has all been accomplished with only three models - with only two of them being credible entries, the LaCrosse and Enclave. Both are selling well, and attracting younger conquest buyers. However, Buick clearly needs more models to continue on with its renaissance - and it is getting them in the form of the Regal and an upcoming small car.
With the new small car, Buick in North America and China will be a step further towards getting their product lines completely aligned. The LaCrosse, Enclave and upcoming Regal are common to both markets. If there is a weak link in the current Buick China lineup, it would have to be the Excelle. That is about to change soon when the new model comes. The great thing is that we're getting it, and at exactly the same time too. So for once, key products will be the same. The differences now will have to do with approach. Buick China has the right philosophy about its vehicles from top to bottom, and that makes all of the difference.
The introduction of a small car comes at a perfect time, as other luxury brands are moving down-market. Audi is introducing A1 (which may come to the United States), Lexus the CT 200h, and there are others that are planning on entering the segment as well. However, those brands have the advantage of a long-standing premium reputation that Buick doesn't have. Buick is on the ascent, but its recovery is still fragile and needs to be carefully managed. With that in mind, the best course of action would be to wait until later on to introduce the new small car. However, waiting is not a luxury GM can afford. Buick needs sales volume, and the timing in terms of marketplace introductions couldn't be much better - for once, GM will not be far behind the competition.
If the new small car is going to succeed (and that doesn't mean just selling well, it means not damaging the Buick brand), it needs to be done right, and here's how that can be accomplished:
1. Clear differentiation - In pricing and features, there needs to be a clear separation between the Chevrolet Cruze and Buick small car. That means no stripped Buick models - the quickest way to tear down Buick's newly improved reputation is to have rental-grade compacts running around with black trim and cloth seats.
As such, the price needs to start high enough to be taken seriously as a luxury compact - not close enough to be cross-shopped with the Cruze and competitors like the Civic. As part of that more premium positioning, it needs to be a cut above with standard features that set it apart in the marketplace. Things like projector or high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, LED taillights, chrome wheels, leather seats, a driver information display and a push-button starter.
There is other small things that make a difference as well - like chrome along the window greenhouse. Luxury is in the details and every iteration of the Buick small car must offer a premium experience. The way the car can be sold is through packages (which are supposed to be coming to Buick in 2012, and I applaud them for that) that primarily have to do with more powerful engines, a navigation system and added technologies like radar-cruise control. Make no doubt about it, the small Buick should be able to be optioned simarily to the LaCrosse. This is luxury, just smaller.
2. What's in a name? Everything. You'll notice I've been referring to the new Buick small car as just that - the new Buick small car. The rumored name for the new compact has been pegged as Verano. It doesn't exactly ooze premium to my ears. In fact, it makes me think of the Suzuki Verona, a Daewoo vehicle that resulted from the former General Motors-Suzuki partnership.
That isn't the best thing to come to mind for a vehicle with premium aspirations. There are many other choices - a new name or old one like Invicta. The Invicta name is premium, and it fits well with the rest of the lineup. There were rumors about the new LaCrosse wearing the name given that GM has kept the trademark alive. With the Regal name being brought back, it certainly is within the realm of possibility.
3. Proper Marketing - General Motors has been upping its advertising spending, working to get into the minds of consumers again with comparison advertisements that show its new products in a favorable light. For the new Buick small car, I think the best course of action is to stay away from that entirely. Let the public decide which vehicles it really competes against - simply project a premium image through advertising that drives the point in.
More than any other Buicks in recent history, the Regal and small Buick will be aimed toward young demographics. The small Buick, if done right, has the potential to greatly increase Buick's sales figures and profit margins, as well as attracting a new kind of buyer that could potentially move up to a larger vehicle in the future.
The thing is, not only can this be done, it is being done - and right now. It just so happens to be happening thousands of miles from our shores, in China. There, Buicks are bought for being stylish and fashionable, and they are sold in modern dealers. Perhaps, Buick North America will begin to not only emulate Buick China's product, but also its success.
Photos from: http://www.autohome.com.cn/