For the third consecutive year, Buick sales have set a record. China is the marque’s strongest market, but the brand remains important to GM in North America.
Buick, the brand almost forgotten by American consumers and nearly canceled as part of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring, has once again set an all-time sales record.
GM’s premium mainstream marque surpassed last year’s record pace in mid-December and is expected to top 1.2 million global units sold by year’s end. This is the third consecutive year of record sales for a brand that counts on China to supply most of its growth.
China to the Rescue
Indeed, China is the market that saved Buick. In 2009, when GM was weighing its brand options, Buick was vulnerable. Falling US sales, the oldest customer demographic of any brand, and a poor product mix signaled that something had to be done. China’s market saved the day and the brand, enabling GM to cancel or sell Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, and Saab instead.
With a new lease on life, GM began to remake Buick with Chinese and American consumers in mind. China, however, has driven the brand and accounts for more than 80 percent of its sales. The effort has worked as the Buick Excelle GT, launched early in 2015, is the country’s best-selling model.
Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global Buick noted, “We think 2016 will be another watershed year for the brand with the global launch of the new 2017 LaCrosse, the North American launch of the Envision, the U.S. launch of the Cascada, and the Chinese launch of a new Verano hatchback. Our products and our customer service have never been better.”
Strong Crossover Sales
Buick customers are embracing the line’s crossover products in both markets. In the US, crossovers now account for 40 percent of all new vehicle sales, but represent 60 percent of Buick’s sales stateside.
Just two products — the diminutive Encore and the three-seat midsize Enclave are accounting for crossover sales. With the arrival of the compact Envision SUV next spring, Buick’s hold on the segment should grow only stronger. In China, GM estimates that it will have sold 130,000 Envisions for the year.
Also helping Buick’s cause is the brand’s success in major consumer surveys, including the J.D. Power U.S. Customer Service Index. For the past two years, Buick has garnered the top spot amongst the mass market brands. It is also the only domestic brand ranked in the Top 10 of the 2015 Consumer Reports Reliability in the US.
Waiting in the Wings: Buick Avenir
One model not mentioned in Buick’s product mix is the Avenir, a full-size high-end sedan. Presented in concept form at major auto shows early in 2015, the big Buick would slot above the LaCrosse if GM decided to build it.
China is the logical destination for this sedan, but the US market could see the Avenir too. US sales numbers would likely prove modest, but as a halo product it might raise the visibility of the brand.
Before a possible Avenir arrival, Buick will receive the Chinese-built Envision, the German-built Cascada 2+2 convertible, and a refreshed LaCrosse. The LaCrosse redesign incorporates Avenir styling cues, pointing to a new styling direction for Buick regardless of Avenir placement or not.
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