(1) When I was a kid I thought Buicks were clunky.
(2) Until now, I have never once used the words “Da Bomb” in a sentence.
For some reason I most recall the ’58 Buick, a whale of a car festooned with chrome. It wasn’t as stylish as the ’58 Chevy (my two lively great aunts drove a sleek black Impala convertible that my brothers and I lusted after). One of our boring neighbors had a boring ’58 Buick. So clunky seems about right.
Fast forward “many” years, where I find a dark green 2000 Buick LeSabre parked in my garage. We inherited it from my father, who picked it out of a Florida car dealer’s reject row in 2005. It was a low mileage car with a few scratches and minor dents and a small handful of annoying maintenance issues the dealer didn’t want to address. That (and the price) suited Dad because he was tired of babying his near-mint, always garaged black ’78 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which had of late been demolished in an accident (not Dad’s fault). He drove the Buick for four years, adding dents and dings of his own as his eyesight deteriorated.
Dad was never much of a car guy, even though he worked in the business. He never bought a new car, preferring older models with plenty of life left in them on which somebody else had assumed much of the depreciation. Even so, he would have liked the looks of Buick’s new concept car, the Avenir, making rounds on the Internet this week.
It’s “Da bomb!” – a gorgeous, curvaceous sculpture in sheet metal if I’ve even seen one, with flowing lines reminiscent of luxury marques from the ‘30s. It caught my eye immediately. Even the performance-at-all-costs mavens at online auto site Jalopnik.com (a typical headline: “Watch This Screaming 911 Porsche Rally Car Demolish Mountain Roads”), acclaimed Avenir as “The Gorgeous RWD Buick We’ve Been Waiting For”.
“Buick, for once, has the hottest new car in Detroit,” headlined Yahoo Finance, despite the aggressive supercars, hefty pickups and extended range electric models that largely dominated publicity stemming from this year’s North American International Auto Show.
“After growing Buick sales 11% in the U.S. last year, GM is trying to capitalize on the brand’s momentum,” reported CNBC auto writer Phil LeBeau, even though “momentum” is not a word that would have been used to describe Buick sales until more recent years. The brand was all but written off by the time of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, and speculation was that it wouldn’t be long before Buick followed the fate of sister-brand Oldsmobile, discontinued in 2004.
If not for the Chinese, that may well have been the car’s fate.
“General Motors isn’t thinking of the U.S. with the Avenir,” said Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific, quoted in Rick Newman’s Yahoo article, “it’s thinking of the Chinese market.” And placing a halo over the Buick brand -- using marketing words like this:
“The Pinnacle of Buick Luxury, Design and Technology … a sophisticated and intuitive expression of the premium automotive experience,” a position now largely occupied by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Audi.
But Buick is already Da Bomb in China, where it’s enjoyed distribution for over 100 years. The brand is GM’s biggest seller there, accounting for around 14% of China’s new car sales. Sullivan reports sale of 3.5 million GM-partnered automobiles in China during 2014, “where people have been salivating for a car like this,” vs. only 2.9 million GM brand cars sold in the U.S. For this American automaker, the tail (growth of their brands in China) is wagging the dog with a proliferation of attractively styled new Buicks that appeal on both sides of the Pacific, of late even including an innovative -- and attractive -- new 2+2 convertible called the Cascada.
So what about me?
Well, I’m a lot like my Dad. I’d be more likely to wait on the Avenir until some 3-5 year old models become available. But then there’s that “LUXURY INTERIOR … REIMAGINED”, as Buick puts it. To my eye, the Avenir interior looks more like some stylist’s exercise in excess than a comfy place in which to enjoy and drive the vehicle -- just the opposite of the car’s conservatively classy exterior design.
But, as my mirror reminds me, I’m not thirty (or forty or fifty) anymore.
So give me the concept car exterior plus the simple, analog gauge-rich interior from my dad’s LeSabre and I’ll go for it -- Lord willing, maybe somewhere around 2020. Or, maybe I'd go for Buick's new Cascada convertible, a production model you're likely to see on the road sometime soon. I've always loved a drop-top, and on this new Buick (their first convertible in 25 years), you can raise the top at the first hint of rain and put it back down when the sun comes out -- while traveling up to 31 mph!
TakeAway: Your customers will tell you where your brand ultimately can go. Listen to what they have to say and build your future on that.
Content © by Brian E. Faulkner