What about Buick now?
When we discuss Buick, we often think of how successful it has become in China, while it inches its way back to the North American consciousness. We are seeing a return to design, performance and interest to the Tri-Shield – and that's a good thing!
This is where it gets interesting. Because of its growth in China, we North American Buick customers will probably be subject to product plans reserved for its largest growing market. We already heard that we will get the first Chinese-built Buick in showrooms within 12 months. The Verano sedan was a product of Chinese and American designers, yet it found favor over on the other side of the Pacific than over here.
The Chinese love their Regals. The Victory & Reseda 2011 Vehicle of The Year has been languishing stateside, even after switching production from Russelsheim, Germany to Oshawa, Ontario for the 2012 model year run. This after my arguing about how great the Regal GS is as a performance sedan that is competitive to the Europeans and Asians in this segment.
There have been many loose ends regarding the future of Buick on both sides of the ocean. It all ties into Opel and Vauxhall – General Motors' European arm. Vehicles, such as the Cascada convertible, have Opel/Vauxhall roots that fit well in Buick's NAFTA/China strategy. The next Regal is tied to the next generation of the midsized Insignia sedan. The upcoming Chinese-built Envision is also tied in to a global crossover platform that could be sold as an Opel, Vauxhall…maybe becoming the next Chevrolet Equinox.
I am bringing Buick up (again) is because of what transpired at the Guangzhou Auto Show in November. On the heels of the Los Angeles Auto Show debut of the 2017 LaCrosse. Buick's Chinese executives trotted out two new Veranos. One is really a facelift of the current sedan. The other had Buick's waterfall grille, but it was attached to one of GM's hottest new products worldwide – the Opel/Vauxhall Astra.
The Verano GT looked pretty damn good with its Opel body and Buick nose. I would say it looked equally fantastic even in its European guise (which will be unchanged when it comes to Australia as a Holden in a year's time). In fact, the Astra is being used to introduce OnStar to Europe – which, in my humble opinion, is about damn time!
In bringing up this debut from China, I need to ask GM point blank when in the hell are you offering this car in the NAFTA zone?!?
The rumor mill and the talk outside of RenCenter pointed to the teasing of the availability of the Opel Astra OPC/Vauxhall VXR version of the three-door hatch. Some even pointed out to the more milder version with the Regal's 2.0 liter Ecotec turbocharged engine. Obviously, those did not happen. In fact, the last Astra that appeared in the States wore the ringed planet badge. Its fate was in the hands of bankruptcy court, filed under "Old GM."
The new Astra offers a lot of promise. From its "floating roof" design to its integration of global technology seen on the European models, the reviews have been positive about GM's latest mid-level compact hatchback. It offers a counterpoint to Chevrolet's sharp looking Cruze, also being touted for global markets. The Opel/Vauxhall/Buick is a bit more upright, which may mean better cabin utilization and an upmarket look and feel to nip at the heels of the likes of the Infiniti Q30/QX30, Mercedes-Benz CLA/GLA, Lexus CT 200h, MINI Cooper and Audi A3. Just like the smaller crossover/SUV segments, there is a talk of growth in the sub-BMW 3-Series premium car marketplace.
Engine-wise, there are plenty to choose from. To truly compete in North America, both the 1.5 liter and 2.0 liter turbocharged Ecotec engines would be suitable. Both engines are on current NAFTA market models and are also considered engines powering other products globally. Transmission choices would also be easy – a choice between a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. This time, the Buick should offer a manual for this model, if they want to keep the enthusiast audience they lost with the deletion of the manual Regal GS.
Perhaps the big decision is to where production for this model should occur. The choice is actually simple: China or Lake Orion, Michigan. Since the Envision crossover will become the second vehicle sold in the USA built in China (behind the Volvo S60 Inscription), the thought would be to make these Verano GTs/Astras there for importation. In the meantime, the current NAFTA market Verano sedan is made at Lake Orion. Regardless of the UAW agreement's language regarding production, Lake Orion will need capacity. The Verano GT/Astra fits on this line.
Although, has anyone wondered whether the Lordstown, Ohio plant that builds the Cruze has enough capacity to add the Verano GT/Astra on it. They are essentially on the same platform, right?
The overall point is simple: Buick needs the Verano GT/Astra/whatever-you-want-to-call-it-here in this lineup. Yes, crossovers are n ow driving sales, but it truly makes sense that such a vehicle would fit perfectly in a segment that could grow in the next few years. It also puts Buick in the game for enthusiasts looking for something premium in a hatchback with the potential of performance and fun-to-drive factors.
I would love to see this happen once and for all…