With the resurgence of Cadillac of late, and the entire revolution that seems to be going on at GM, there is much talk that GM’s Pontiac and Buick brands will start taking on the premiere marks, BMW and Lexus.
Sorry, but I don’t see this happening. I don’t think this in the immediate future, nor do I think of it happening in the long term.
BMW in the USA has traditionally been a high-end brand. Lexus was invented by Toyota to distance itself from the regular Toyotas in order to be a high-end brand. Both companies came to market as high-end. They didn’t have to fight their way to get on top.
For Buick and Pontiac to be considered premium brands, would require much more than just some new expensive models. The American public would need to be reprogrammed. I don’t see that happening.
Buick and Pontiac are not considered high-end. That’s the job of the Cadillac division of General Motors. Buick and Pontiac are considered less common than Chevrolet cars, but they are still not really a rank above. As long as there is overlap among the brands (similar prices, similar platforms, similar body styles), these cars will never be a cut above. To fight perception to be a high-end brand is harder than becoming a high-end brand itself. You can make a well-made car with all the right goodies and gadgets, and you can charge a high price for it but that doesn’t mean the luxury community will accept it.
Take for example, the Bonneville GXP and the Cadillac DTS. The GXP is $32,272. The DTS is $46,162. Both vehicles have the same engine (slightly detuned in the Bonneville) and mechanicals. They share the same body configuration (4 door, 5 passenger sedan). They share similar dimensions (Height and width are virtually the same, DTS is less than 5 inches longer). They share all the same luxury amenities: Leather, Traction control, airbags, sunroof option, ABS, CD Stereo, Stability Control, A/C, and electric everything. For all intensive purposes, aside from the styling, the cars are the same. (Only an extra year of warranty is the only obvious difference). Yet a $14,000 difference separates the 2 cars. Does this mean that the Bonneville is too cheap? Or is the DTS too expensive? Regardless of either, it clearly shows that the buying public is willing to pay a $14000 premium for what is known as a prestige or high-end brand.
The fact that people are willing to pay a premium, means that if Buick or Pontiac want to take on BMW and Lexus, they have to offer the same package in a price that’s $10,000 to $15,000 less. People won’t buy a Buick Velite at $62,000 (pricing hasn’t been announced yet), when they can get a Lexus SC430 at that price. It will be even difficult for the Velite to compete at $40,000 with cars like the BMW 330Ci Convertible at that price.
Buick has to take on Toyota and Chrysler. Buick isn’t GM’s bread and butter. (That’s Chevrolet’s job). Buick needs to pick certain cars on the market, and do what it can to steal their thunder. Buick needs an Avalon fighter, not a Lexus ES330 fighter. The Velite (if built) should be priced to compete against the Sebring and Solara, not the SC430. Buick should fight the Chrysler 300C and the Ford Five Hundred. Let Chevy go against the “popular” cars (Camry, Accord). Let Buick go after the non-mainstream non-luxury brand high-end cars. (Hyundai XG350, Mazda Millenia, Mitsubishi Diamante, Nissan Maxima, etc…) Let Pontiac go after the non-premium (but not mainstream) sporty cars (Nissan 350z and Maxima, Dodge Magnum, Neon SRT, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Ford Mustang, etc…).
This means that Buick and Pontiac would both have to restructure their model lineups. Lacrosse, LeSabre, Park Avenue is a lot of overlap if you ask me. Throw the Grand Prix and Bonneville into that mix, and you are flooding the market with cars that aren’t making the buyers come running. Pontiac needs more coupes, less sedans, more manual transmissions. Buick needs more variety, not just 4 door sedans (I’m purposely ignoring the SUVs for the moment.).
I think that if GM wants to compete with the premium brands, they have to expand the Cadillac lineup. Cadillac is known as American luxury. Buick is not. Pontiac is not. If that means throwing a coupe or two into the mix as well as another convertible (4 passenger) and maybe even a smaller sedan, than so be it.
I would rather see Pontiac or Buick disappear altogether and Cadillac take a bigger market share than see all 3 brands lose out to the competitors. But I think that is each brand focuses on their direct competition, they will get stronger. If they focus on brands that aren’t their competition, they will get beaten. Lexus and BMW are not direct competition for Buick and Pontiac. I don’t believe that any Lexus or BMW shopper cross-shops with Buick or Pontiac.
As evidenced by the popularity and reception of the CTS and XLR (and even the SRX), people are willing to give Cadillac a second chance. But as I said, Cadillac is a proven Luxury brand. Buick and Pontiac are not.
GM is making much better products than they were even a couple years ago. The difference is night and day. But GM (and GM fans) can’t get ahead of themselves. You have to build up consumer confidence before you can take on the premium brands. This won’t happen any time soon (unfortunately for GM).