Advice for Buick
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Buick has suffered from an image problem as of late. The recent image of Buick has been that it's an "old people's" brand. That image is entirely accurate. The average age of Buick's "customer base" (according to USA TOday) is 63. Other estimates have the number between 60 and 68, depending on the source.
Some of this has to do with Buick's cars, which are large, comfortable and easy to drive, three things that I would think appeal to many in the late stages of life. However, it's a cold, harsh fact that old drivers eventually die.
The accepted wisdom of the auto industry is that automakers need to build loyalty to a brand with young drivers. Toyota is trying this approach most aggresively with their Scion brand, with marketing that can only be intended to scare away anyone over 30. The idea is that they get a Scion when they're young, and move up to a Camry or Sienna when they have a family and right on into a Lexus when they reach the income level that will let them afford one.
Buick has some of this working in its favor already, by being a part of the General Motors empire. Young Chevrolet and Pontiac owners may end up at the Buick dealership as they get older and want a more comfortable, more luxurious car. However, it would certainly help their image if they had their own cars that appealed to young drivers.
Part of the problem also lies in Buick's golf sponsor image. Despite any hype from any pro golf league, golf is not an exciting sport. Not to say it isn't a great sport, and one that certainly rates higher in popularity than hockey, one of my favorite sports. But exciting it is not, and it doesn't add to the appeal of Buick among most younger drivers.
Buick has, in recent memory, always been about comfort. They don't do high-performance sports cars, they don't do trucks, they don't make compact cars, and they don't do high-end luxury.
They could, however, use some fresh vehicles. Yes, the Lacrossse and Lucerne are good steps. However, they are sedans. Buick can get into some niches and make some new vehicles without sacrificing their current vehicle image.
Low production doesn't work in the modern automotive market unless the manufacturer intends on selling the vehicle for a very high price. Many newer low-production cars share some technology with higher production cars, such as the Cadillac XLR's borrowing structure from the Chevrolet Corvette.
Remember the old Reattas? The early 90's front-drive roadsters are quickly becoming a modern classic. Remember the old Reattas? The early 90's front-drive roadsters are quickly becoming a modern classic. Now General Motors has a roadster platform in use as the Pontiac Solstice that would be perfect for bringing back the Reatta with minimal cost while spreading out the cost of the platform on which the Solstice is based. Some new body panels, wrap-around tail lights, tan leather interior and you have the modern Reatta.
Also, Buick could use a convertible. The Pontiac G6 and Buick Lacrosse share a platform, and the G6 is going to be produced in convertible form, so it would only be logical to offer a Lacrosse convertible.
Despite the Lucerne filling the role of large sedan for Buick it should be possible and not prohibitively expensive to make a large coupe in the style of the Riviera. It could be based on the Lucerne's platform, which in CXS version has the Northstar V8. A different car on the same platform in the same division has precedent for General Motors, as seen in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Impala.
Buick's image as of late has been one of retirees going to bingo night in their big American sedans. Buick has tried ot change this image by sponsoring a young athlete, Tiger Woods. But Tiger Woods plays golf, not the most exciting of activities. Buick is in need of a change, and I think the time is right for them to get back into NASCAR.
Back in the 1980's, the Buick Regal was highly competitive in the NASCAR Winston Cup. The Buicks were powered by Chevrolet engines, thus reducing the cost of development. NASCAR's Nextel Cup teams now use specialized racing chassis with some standardized body components. The only difference between a Ford and a Chevrolet in modern NASCAR competition are the drivetrain and some sheet metal. If Buick could use the Chevrolet drivetrain, they could make a new Lacrosse stock car with almost no difficulty.
However, the major difficulty is finding teams to switch and money to advertise their new NASCAR vehicle. With Chevrolet's marketing power and money, Buick likely can't draw Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing or Dale Earnhardt, Inc. out of their Monte Carlos and into the Buick. Also, teams that run in the Craftsman Truck Series might want to stick with Chevrolet because of the continuity across the series, as Buick does not build a truck that they could convert to truck series use.
Some Chevrolet team owners might be willing to make the easy switch, such as:
Small-time owners of Fords and Dodges might be willing to switch with some financial incentives, such as:
There are also any number of smaller Busch Series teams that may feel overlooked by Chevrolet and might be willing to switch to an attentive Buick, such as FitzBradshaw and Michael Waltrip Racing.
Another major appeal for team owners contemplating a switch is the publicity a team would receive for being one of a few Buick teams. When Pontiac raced in the Winston Cup, Pontiac commercials featured drivers like Ricky Craven and Johnny Benson. When their teams had to switch to Monte Carlos, Chevrolet went right on advertising with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon. A team like Haas or Morgan-McClure doesn't stand a chance at being featured in a Chevrolet commercial, but if Hendrick Motorsports, RCR, Joe Gibbs Racing and DEI stay in Monte Carlos, just about anybody could find themselves Buick's poster boy.
©2005 Bill Crittenden
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