Buick: Resurgent Division or Boat-Anchor Brand?

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Buick: Resurgent Division or Boat-Anchor Brand?
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Buick is one of GM’s four remaining brands in North America. Following the company’s bankruptcy filing in the middle of 2009 divisions including Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn and Saab were jettisoned like Thanksgiving leftovers at Easter time. Ostensibly this cull allowed the firm to concentrate on its best brands, but why did Buick make the cut and has it been pulling its own weight?

BANKRUPTCY CONTROVERSY

When GM filed Chapter 11 enthusiasts across the internet and around the world were immediately inflamed about the loss of Pontiac. The youthful, performance-oriented brand was pushed aside to make room for the moribund Buick division, a marque that seemingly has more in common with Geritol than Generation X. Even automotive maestro Bob Lutz mourned the loss of the company’s chieftain; Pontiac joined extinct GM brands like Oakland and Geo in 2010, a year or so after bankruptcy was declared.

The first Buick to reach 100 mph was the appropriately named CenArguably the major reason why car fanatics were so up in arms about this decision had to do with sales. Throughout the 2000s Poncho dealers delivered considerably more vehicles per year in the U.S. than their Buick counterparts. And besides a Grand Prix GTP was a heck of a lot more exciting than its W-Body stable mate, the blandmobile Century, a product that appealed to customers of the same age.

Graphically representing sales figures from the last 10 years it’s easy to see that Pontiac was considerably more popular than the Tri-Shield brand in America. Strangely, sales for both divisions seemed to track one another; as the economy started to waver in the middle years of the decade both brands declined at a similar rate.

Buick-Sales-Pontiac-Sales

Pontiac may have led Buick in the U.S. but it was a completely different story on the global stage. The Chieftain trailed the Tri-Shield by a considerable margin, though they both declined as the recession hit in 2008. Of course it was lights out for Pontiac in 2010.

Buick-Global-Sales-PontiacBuick-Sales

Total Buick sales in the U.S. last year were up almost 14 percent compared to 2012. Deliveries clocked in at nearly 206,000 units, its fourth-consecutive year of sales gains and its best showroom performance in seven years.

The three-row Encalve crossover was the brand’s most popular model with more than 54,000 delivered. Dealers pushed out more than 42,000 Verano compact sedans in 2013. Despite these successes the U.S. market is but a sliver of the global Buick pie.

MIDDLE KINGDOM, MONSTER SALES

This of course indicates one thing: the Tri-Shield is massively bolstered by overseas deliveries. Surprisingly the singular engine propelling this brand’s impressive global sales and the reason it survived bankruptcy at all is China. Buyers in the massive Asian market are very fond of this premium GM division; in fact the country accounts for the vast majority of Buicks sold; about eight of every 10 delivered last year were sold in the People’s Republic.

Buick-Sales-China-Global

And the white-hot Chinese market is responsible for making 2013 Buick’s best year on record. All told the brand shipped 1,032,056 vehicles in China, the U.S., Canada and Mexico last year. This performance topped its previous record (1,003,345), which was set back in 1984 when Ronald Reagan lived in the White House and “When Doves Cry” by Prince was the top song (clearly the ‘80s were not known for their tastefulness in music or politics).

Buick-ChinaPart of the Tri-Shield’s success in China has to do with the great diversity of products it offers. New-car shoppers in the United States have relatively few vehicles to choose from. Buick offers three sedans, the compact Verano, midsize Regal and large LaCrosse. Additionally there are two crossovers on the menu, the itsy-bitsy Encore and the big-honkin’ Enclave. Three plus two makes five.

However, it’s a different story in the People’s Republic. Customers in China have at least eight models to choose from including several unique nameplates like the GL8 MPV and Excelle XT hatchback.

CONTINUING SUCCESS

In the U.S. Buick’s products are, for the most part, strong. The LaCrosse sedan is an appealing car as is the performance-oriented Regal GS. Certainly a greater variety of vehicles would help the company increase its sales on this side of the Pacific. To be certain a reborn Riviera convertible would be an intriguing offering.

Quality is another one of the brand’s strong suits. In the latest J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study Buick came in fifth place overall, beating prestigious companies like Honda, Toyota and BMW. The 2014 installment of this closely-watched report measures vehicles in their third year of ownership.

In the U.S. last year Buick delivered early 206,000 vehicles, that means the brand outsold a number of important rivals including Acura, Audi and Lincoln. It even outpaced several mass-market automakers like Scion and Mitsubishi by a wide margin.

Thanks to its success abroad Buick is most likely a big asset to GM rather than a hindrance. Enthusiasts may not be in love with the brand but it still performs pretty well in its home market.

Discuss this story on our GM forum

  • LVBear

    I have had two Buicks over the past ten years and have been extremely pleased with both. My next car is likely to be another Buick.

  • Dave Foley

    I. Want. A. Park. Avenue.

    The Lacrosse is a fine enough ‘car’ I suppose, but if I have more than 2 people to haul, it’s a bit of a problem. Why should the sad sack, that didn’t yell “Shotgun!” soon enough be subjected to that low rear seat roofline, just to get into a back seat that frankly isn’t all that roomy.

    I don’t care if it steps on the toes of the Cadillac XTS, I want to see a Buick that lives up to the original role of a Buick. That of being nearly as luxurious and comfortably sized as a Cadillac, but not priced as a Cadillac. Overlap is not a bad thing.

    Some people are Cadillac people. Some people are not.

  • Russell S

    Too much duplication with General Motors product line. It should be Chevrolet (car division), GMC (truck division), and Caddy (luxury)

  • Mike R

    At least the 80’s had better tastes in music and politics than Buicks, Today we have some nice Buicks, but we have to deal with Barack Obama and Miley Cyrus.