With U.S. auto sales all but certain to end the year with an all-time record, and global auto sales running at an equally torrid pace, more than a few individual brands are set to celebrate a solid year. A number of marques, including Subaru, Audi and Porsche, already set all-time U.S. or global sales records by the end of November.
And quite a few others are expected to put 2015 into the record books when the year’s numbers are tallied in less than two weeks. That includes Buick. Yes, Buick, a brand General Motors came close to abandoning when it emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009.
“Buick’s momentum is undeniable as new customers worldwide discover Buick’s lineup of beautiful, approachable premium vehicles,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global Buick.
By mid-December, the GM brand reports, it already beat last year’s record sales of 1,170,115 million vehicles worldwide. Buick expects to end the year at 1.2 million.
This will mark the third consecutive record in a row for a brand that many expected GM would kill off, along with Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer, when it emerged from Chapter 11. Buick was given a last-minute reprieve and for one reason. “China,” said Ed Welburn, GM’s global design chief.
While the brand had been on a long, downward spiral in the U.S., it was actually gaining momentum in China, now the world’s largest automotive market. Buick expects to sell more than 1 million vehicles there this year, and its new Excelle GT is the country’s best-selling model.
“There probably wouldn’t be a Buick brand today if it weren’t for the Chinese market,” echoed Dave Sullivan, senior analyst with AutoPacific, Inc.
That’s actually good news for American drivers, he added. To meet the expectations of picky Chinese buyers, Buick has had to up its game, “pushing Buick to a level that we’re not used to,” suggested Sullivan
That means not just more product, but better product, with improved design, more features – and improved quality. Buick was the top-ranked mainstream brand in the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, and it bested a number of leading luxury brands, including both Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
(Buick named one of top brands for auto reliability by Consumer Reports. Click Here for more.)
The Buick line-up has grown substantially in recent years. Leading into and out of parent GM’s bankruptcy, the brand offered just three largely forgettable products in the U.S., but American buyers have seen a rapid built-up of the Buick portfolio. Among the newest models, the maker will soon introduce the Cascada, a small convertible.
It also is getting ready to launch an American version of the Envision, a compact crossover that has been one of the big hits of the Chinese market this last year.
“You wouldn’t know there’s any slowdown in the Chinese market if you look at Envision sales,” said analyst Sullivan, adding that, “I would expect a similar story next year as Envision becomes available in more markets, including the United States.”
(For more on plans to bring the Buick Envision to the U.S., Click Here.)
The marque’s two current utility vehicle models, the Encore and Enclave, currently account for 60% of Buick’s U.S. sales. But Envision could generate a bit of controversy when it rolls into American showrooms, though, as one of the first automobiles imported from China.
The Buick line-up could grow even bigger if Mark Reuss has his way. The head of global product development for GM, he’s pushing hard to win approval for a production version of the wildly popular Buick Avenir concept vehicle unveiled at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. Key to making a business case will be potential demand for the big sedan in China, Reuss told TheDetroitBureau.com earlier this month.
While Avenir likely wouldn’t generate huge sales in the American market, Buick officials see it as a much-needed halo product that would underscore the brand’s current marketing campaign – essentially a modern take on one used for another, now abandoned GM brand, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”
In this case, the pitch seems to be working. Buick has been regaining traction in the U.S., though it has a long way to go before it reaches previous peaks in the home market. For now, it must still depend heavily on the Chinese market to justify its existence.
(Redesigned Buick LaCrosse takes design cues from Avenir Concept. Click Here to check it out.)