It’s hard to overstate the importance of Buick’s new Encore compact crossover-utility vehicle.
Buick, which many didn’t expect to survive parent General Motors’ 2009 bankruptcy, has been struggling to redefine itself in a market where it had, for the past several decades, become increasingly irrelevant. But there have been signs of revival and along with several other recent additions to the line-up, the maker will use the new Buick Encore to target young buyers who until now might not have even considered the brand.
“We’re going to see new folks…coming into the showroom,” promises Encore marketing manager Lloyd Biermann, adding that, “They’re going to be younger, as well.”
Or so the maker hopes — and counts on — as it struggles to keep pace with the rest of the rebounding U.S. auto industry.
Buick kicked off its comeback, a few years back, with the well-received Enclave, but while that full-size sport-utility vehicle has also been updated, the Encore is potentially more promising, some industry experts suggest. The compact crossover market has grown by about 200% over the past five years, according to industry data, and the pace increased last year, especially in the near-luxury niche that the Buick Encore is targeting.
Going up against competitors ranging from the Mini Countryman to the BMW X1, the 2013 Buick Encore recently began rolling off a GM assembly line in South Korea and is just now starting to roll into American showrooms.
The basic styling will be familiar to Buick fans, starting with the brand’s time-tested waterfall grille. The new crossover is more up-market than similar size offerings in other divisions, reflecting Buick’s position in the four-brand GM North American hierarchy, just below Cadillac. But at a starting price of $24,950 – plus destination fees – it is still within reach of the upwardly mobile young buyers Buick is setting out to attract.
Meanwhile, the official 25 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway rating should play well in a market that is increasingly focused on fuel efficiency. The 2013 Buick Encore will come standard with a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline four. On the safety front, it offers a standard mix of features such as electronic stability control, 10 airbags and a rearview backup camera.
With a fully-loaded price of $28,240, Buick expects to continue driving down the average age of its overall buyer – which has fallen from 64 to 57 over the past five years. It also anticipates women will make up about 60% of Encore buyers.
GM officials acknowledge that the brand might have been abandoned – along with Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer – after it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in mid-2009. But the maker was concerned that abandoning Buick at home would tarnish the brand’s image in China, where it is now one of the market’s biggest marques. (Dealers there ordered 6,000 of the Chinese Encore version during just its first month on sale last autumn.)
Buick has regained some ground since the GM bailout but stuttered a bit last year. Sales were up just 1.6% over 2011, well behind the overall U.S. auto industry’s roughly 15% gain. But company officials note they scaled back on fleet markets, so on the more profitable retail side, demand surged 6%, to the highest total in six years.
Buick hopes that with a refreshed Enclave, a new Encore – and with updates of the midsize LaCrosse and compact Regal scheduled for later this year – it can now pick up more traction.
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