It’s the biggest automotive brand in China. Here at home, it’s barely an asterisk on the sales charts. Do Chinese consumers know something that American auto buyers don’t?
Buick is betting they do, and hopes to increase awareness in the U.S., a critical step considering its one of only four surviving brands now that General Motors has emerged from bankruptcy.
There are a sizable number of American motorists “for whom Buick is not relevant,” concedes the brand’s general manager, Susan Docherty, during a conversation with TheDetroitBureau.com. The general perception, she admits, is that of a brand for old folks, not for the affluent, youthful and hip.
That’s a far cry from Buick’s early days, under the legendary GM Chairman Alfred P. Sloan, who positioned the brand as a mere step below Cadillac. Ironically, it still has much that reputation in China. In fact, Buick has sold more vehicles in the emerging Asian market than it has in the States for several years. That’s one reason why the brand was maintained, while others, including Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn, are either being dropped or sold off.
But there isn’t much left of Buick, which has seen domestic sales fall from more than half a million — 546,836, to be precise – as recently as 1994, to just 137,197 last year. For the first half of 2009, volume is down to 47,223, meaning full-year numbers could slip below the 100,000 mark, unless there’s a turnaround.