There are plenty of once-powerful nameplates in the automotive junkyard though, occasionally, a suitable opportunity comes up for one to reemerge, and perhaps no old badge would seem more appropriate for a phoenix-like comeback these days than the Buick Electra.
With the “premium” General Motors brand looking to add an assortment of new battery-cars to its line-up in the next few years, many of them aimed at what has become the world’s largest EV market, it was certainly fitting for Buick to roll out the Electra Concept at Auto China 2020 this week.
This is clearly not the Buick Electra that was a mainstay of the marque’s line-up from 1959 to 1990, the original, finned sedan the Buick alternative to the famously finned ’59 Cadillac Eldorado. It’s intended to provide a glimpse of what Buick just might have in store for its part in GM’s aggressive EV rollout program that will see “20 or more” all-electric models come to market by 2023.
Like the original Electra, the Beijing Motor Show concept is a visual standout, especially when its four “butterfly” doors are opened wide. Officially, GM is calling it a sedan but, with its tall, blunt nose, 23-inch wheels and substantial height, it could readily be placed in the crossover category.
It adopts the sort of signature design cues that one expects today from a battery-electric vehicle, starting with the grille-less front end, slit-like headlamps, lighted rear badge and numerous, wind-cheating design details. The overall look is influenced by a “space capsule,” according to the automaker, the new design language meant to suggest “potential energy.”
“Building on Buick’s proven leadership in electrification, the Electra represents the brand’s ambition to bring together beautiful styling and intelligent connectivity in the new era of zero emissions,” Molly Peck, executive director of Buick for the Shanghai-based SAIC-GM joint venture, said in a statement.
Inside, the show car features a floating instrument panel that is retractable, indicating GM wants to play it up as a potentially driverless vehicles capable of Level 4, even Level 5 autonomy.
The Electra concept is based on the various elements of GM’s new Ultium technology, including both the new BEV3 platform and the latest generation of lithium-ion batteries. Here, the twin-motor, all-wheel-drive package is said to produce a combined 583 horsepower and launch the BEV from 0-100 kmh, or 62 mph, in just 4.3 seconds.
And while Buick didn’t detail the size of the battery pack, it said the Electra would be able to deliver 412 miles per charge – which would suggest something north of 100 kilowatt-hours.
The Ultium package does more than just provide propulsion. The skateboard-style platform, with batteries and motors located below the load floor, frees up space for passengers and cargo.
“The advanced Ultium battery unlocks the exciting new possibilities for what future EVs will look like. The Electra fully leverages state-of-the-art technology to set a new standard for future EV design and personal mobility,” Peck added.
Is there a future for the Buick Electra concept? Few would likely bet on seeing a production model using those butterfly doors, but other aspects of the design – and, perhaps, the reborn name – would fit right in.
During a media backgrounder in Detroit last March, GM showed off some very preliminary design concepts for Buick, noting both would be ready for sale in China, today the brand’s biggest market.
At the time, it said there would be a fairly conventional crossover coming, along with another model featuring what it now describes as “more expressive proportions.” That would well apply to Electra.
What’s clear is that GM needs to up its electric game in China where government guidelines have spurred a substantial surge in EV demand – and, in the process, given domestic startup brands like BYD and Great Wall the chance to take on the foreign marques that have long dominated the Chinese market.
GM has been fighting to gain an upper hand and, notably, has scored a big hit with the Wuling Mini, an electric microcar that can be had, in base form, for less than $5,000. It was the number one seller in the Chinese EV market in recent months.