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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Big Buick in Little China

My father takes a long time to buy a new car.  I mean a loooong time.  He'll think he likes a car and will sit there debating on whether he likes the car enough to buy it.  Sometimes, before he gets a chance to buy it, the next generation is already getting a refresh.  Then, of course, he doesn't like the restyle.  Since he didn't buy the car that he liked when it was still likable, he doesn't buy the car and we're left as we are today with my dad hunting for a new car... still.

With this preface in mind, I took over the task of finding a car for my father.  Here's him in a nutshell:
  • almost 60
  • drove Mercurys for the past 40 years
  • owns a single cd that he listens to around Christmas
  • usually listens to news radio
  • wants a soft, comforting ride
  • car needs to get from a to b safely, reliably, and inexpensively
Hmmm... what company embodies the perfect car for the mobile geriatric?  BUICK!

Why a Buick?  I'll tell ya why.  Prior to Mercury being put out of its misery in 2010, the average age of its buyers was somewhere in the range of 63 years old.  In that same year, the average age of Buick buyers dropped from 64 to 61.  Remember this was still before the Regal GS came to market.  Additionally, Buick's entry level car, the Verano, was a finalist in Motortrend's Car of the Year judging.  Not too shabby for a company that caters to senior citizens.

Aside from the target demographics, Buicks, on paper, aren't that bad.  The Regal GS is somewhat sporty and doesn't offend with its styling.  The same can be said for the Verano.  The luxury would appear to be a lot better than a Chevy while not quite living up to Cadillac standards.  Pricing for any car in the line-up is quite modest for some luxury.  Herein lies the problem with Buick.

Buick is in auto manufacturer purgatory.  It has become a car company without a purpose.  The plebeian Chevy Impala is the most expensive sedan in the Chevrolet line-up at about $26,000.  For just ten thousand dollars more, a Cadillac CTS beckons.  Yes, the chasm between the blue collar special and the standard of the world is just $10,000.  Meanwhile, the difference in base price for the entire Buick sedan catalog is just $7,375 and starts with the Verano at $22,585.  This overlap will get hazier in the near future with Cadillac's ATS slotting in under the CTS.

Looking at the competition, there is no competition for Buick because these is no way to classify the company.  No other company has a pre-luxury brand to slot in between the main revenue stream and the luxury portfolio.  Ford saw the writing on the wall and liquidated its badge engineered bodge jobs.  With only Ford and Lincoln in the mix, there is a better ability to focus on bringing exciting products to market that aren't just differentiated by corporate rhinoplasty.  The success of that has been seen with Ford and its catalog but the jury is still out on whether Lincoln will share the fruits of Ford's labor.

So why is Buick still around?  Buick is hugely popular in Asia, especially China.  From an economic standpoint, it would make sense to just sell rebadged Chevys and Holdens over there as Buicks, save a few bucks by not bothering to sell any here, call it a day, and count your stacks of Yuan.  Well, it's not that simple.  Buicks to the Chinese represent something completely different than what they are here.  In America, Buicks are average cars that cost average prices for average luxury sold to senior citizens.  To the upwardly mobile, young, Chinese family, a Buick is the embodiment of the American dream.  It's a big, bold, luxurious statement to the neighbors that they've arrived.  Without the image of Buick in America, there is no Buick in China to strive for.

Although Buick is doing well in China and selling over 300,000 cars annually, I can't, with a clear conscience, recommend that my father buy one.  It would just be wrong to see my dad driving a car from a company that's dead in the water in its own backyard.  I really should get him out of that Mercury.


  1. Maybe Buick has learned its lesson and is now starting to rise again not only as a seniors' car, but as a car for all generations. Your father would likely ask you to buy on for him. =)

  2. To really gain a foothold with younger generations, Buick needs to blow people away with a whole new design language like Cadillac did. The name would resonate with the older generation while cutting edge style would work with the younger generation. The new crossover that was just teased doesn't seem promising for this.