The Buick Enclave Concept (Photo courtesy of GM)
Just when you think General Motors can’t get any dumber, Buick General Manager Steve Shannon appears on “Autoline Detroit.” Let’s just say that if GM is hoping this guy will pull Buick out of its thirty year funk, they’re as misguided as Shannon.
As has become tradition, Shannon admitted that Buick has had some troubles recently, but that there was a clear vision, complete with strategy and tactics, to move the brand back to past glory.
And just like past guys with his office, he pointed to its products as the main source of salvation.Shannon started with lauding the Lucerne, a car widely hailed as the second-best Buick — behind Toyota’s Avalon. Marketing research points out that sixty percent of Lucerne buyers were returning Buick buyers, indicating high brand loyalty.
Here at Four Wheel Drift, we commend Buick for turning LeSabre owners in to Lucerne buyers, but question what will happen in fourteen years when the average Buick owner has exceeded the median American lifespan?Should we be signing the paperwork to reserve a burial plot next to Oldsmobile’s headstone… and across the walkway from the spaces Ford has reserved for Lincoln and Mercury?
So what of the other forty percent? Shannon refers to these Lucerne buyers as “new,” but we’d bet our hubcaps that the overwhelming majority of these buyers bought the new Buick to replace an Oldsmobile, Pontiac or Chevrolet. As far as GM profitability and stock prices are concerned, stealing a customer from another division doesn’t make them new.
But this was only Shannon’s warm-up at really impressing us. His claim that Buick would be shining again was based on that one product alone would really get consumers excited again about the brand. That product? The Enclave.
Excuse us? We thought you said Enclave? You did? Ahhh crap.
If Buick’s future relies on the Enclave, the brand is screwed worse than a parachuting troop of Chabads blown off-course into Jenin.
Now we’re not certain whether he’s trying to B.S. us, if he’s believing his own B.S., or he’s just too typically GM inbred to understand the absolute foolishness of the statement, but in any event, we’re calling Steve Shannon a moron with absolutely no regrets.
The Enclave will arrive in 2007 as a three-row SUV/Minivan type crossover ala the Chrysler Pacifica. Like everything GM does, the Enclave will have less expensive badge-engineered brothers: the Saturn Outlook and GMC Arcadia. Even though the Buick is the best looking, it is entering late into a competitive space already dominated at the higher end by Lexus (RX350) and Mercedes (ML Class,) and at the middle by Subaru (Forrester.) Shannon points out that its third row will get it the nod over the Lexus, and that its quiet interior will make it better than a Pacifica…or the Outlook/Arcadia, for that matter.
But here’s where we have trouble swallowing Shannon’s statement: Buick is on pace to sell just under 240,000 cars for 2006 – roughly a fifteen percent decline from the 2005. (This is still good enough to put it ahead of Saab, Hummer, Saturn, and Cadillac.)
Even if the Enclave stole ALL of the annual sales of the Lexus RX series, that would still only be 100,000 units. And let’s be real here, they have no shot in hell to sell 100,000 Enclaves, because even Lexus is seeing a two-percent decline in this segment due to the number of competitors.
Back in 1985 and 1986, Buick sold around 250,000 Century models annually. Twenty years later, neither the Lucerne is the best seller…and it won’t eclipse 100,000 deliveries. As for the great demand for Buick SUVs? Try 68,000 units total for three models combined! Mr. Shannon, please, we beg that you stop placing the hopes of your brand on a vehicle that likely will sell a maximum of 50,000 units in its first full year.
Buick’s fall from grace is quite simple – its slogan used to be: “When better cars are built, Buick will build them.” Better, quieter, more reliable, and more comfortable sedans are made by Toyota and Lexus. Now only the least savvy buyers (and fleets) continue to visit Buick dealers.
Being “as good” as Toyota and Lexus just isn’t good enough. Buick needs to get off their butts and build the best full-size and midsize sedans available south of BMWs. These cars should sit next to a mid-sized ute and minivan that are luxurious enough to be Mercedes, but sit at a sub-Caddy price point. While the platforms can be shared, the vehicles must all be unique as to not be confused with lesser models from other GM brands.
To top it all off, they need to be NUMERO UNO in quality for the first three years. At that point, Buick will be building the best cars at the best price. Once again, families appreciating quality, performance and comfort without the need for Caddy flash will start investing in Buicks again.
Of course, Shannon knows GM will never get its act together to give Buick the resources to do it, so he’ll have to continue going on talk shows and b.s.ing until the cows come home…with Toyotas.