Considering how careful I was on remotely covering the North American International Auto Show, there was something I probably forgot to mention…
The Buick Avenir concept.
Let me make this clear. I did not forget about the Avenir. It is a lovely looking concept that evokes a specific path for the brand. It won is share of "best of" awards from the show, as well as the praise of the media in attendance at COBO Center.
The issue is the idea of a concept. It has been said before on here how I tend to not go bonkers over them, even if they are close to production. You can show me a look, but when it comes to production, there might be some loss in translation in the design. Some aspects of the design might be too costly to produce on the assembly line. The technology might not be available for the first pre-production units when they are looked at by the media.
Most of all, that tinge of disappointment when the final product arrives. It is frustrating to the consumer when the promise of a work of automotive art gets so watered down
A few concepts did translate well into production. The impression I got from reading all of the media reports from Detroit was a collective hope that the Avenir would transition into production with only a few minor tweaks.
My take on the Avenir is simple: It elevates Buick design to a new level, while evoking classic elements that define the brand's past with its future.
So, what will the Avenir become? To explore this, I put on my Speculator's cap and come up with what is known and what it could be.
First off, the big rumor is that it previews General Motors' Omega rear-drive platform. This is a new full-sized architecture that promises to be light in weight, thanks to the use of aluminum and magnesium. It will be a rear-drive structure with allowance for an all-wheel drive system. The main engine will be the 3.6liter High Feature V6 seen on many GM vehicles. There is talk of a V8 to go along with the High Feature V6. No word on specifics regarding this V8. We might have to wait until April when the 2016 Cadillac CT6 debuts.
In addition, there may be a third engine available for this platform – the twin-turbocharged version of the V6 seen on the current Cadillac CTS and XTS Vsport along with the 2016 ATS-V. At 410-plus horsepower, it would be a given that the twin-turbo V6 would be the one to drive sales for Omega platform models – regardless of brand and region.
The first car to get this structure is the Cadillac CT6, due to be unveiled at the New York Auto Show in April. Though the Omega platform is seen as exclusive to Cadillac, one would probably guess that it might spawn other large sedans for the North American and Chinese markets.
Considering the Chinese market by itself, it would make sense to have a Buick version of the Omega platform. While the Cadillac CT6 should take care of high end segment, the Buick would attract a "near-luxury" customer in part due to its high brand recognition in the Chinese market.
Another consideration is the lack of a true flagship for Buick. The LaCrosse went through a refresh for 2014 and may be due for replacement in 2-3 years. One could see that the Omega platform would fit in the succession plan. Though, one would wonder if Buick still needs a full-sized sedan on a front-drive platform to be sold along with a rear-drive flagship sedan, especially if there could be a similarity in size and – potentially – price points.
Where the Avenir comes into play is its design cues. Tweaking the waterfall grille and adding a horizontal line into the mix shakes up the brand's signature. The return of the colored version of the tri-shield emblem would be a smart idea, since it is what the Chinese use for their brand logo. This aligns with the theme of bridging the past with the future. The shape reminds us of sport-luxury rather than "upright" or "stodgy." Buick already offers models that have broken apart from previous offerings. They are forward looking and distinctive – in particular, the Regal, LaCrosse and Encore.
Considering the CT6 for a moment, one would not see the V8 offered in the Buick – or, at least the one that would be the "volume" seller of the Omega platform. Twin-turbo and naturally-aspirated V6s would find their way in the Buick as a natural progression from the LaCrosse's slot in the lineup.
To stretch this concept further, the discussion of a performance-oriented Buick rumored to be built off the same platform have been rumored to already took place. Granted, the Avenir's shape might not work to attract a performance Buick, but a modified version of the same shape – with some tweaks to blend a bit of heritage along with its basic design – might be needed. If you are to name a future Buick "Grand National," "GNX" or "T-Type," one would add more muscular elements to the basic shape in order to attract consumers to such a model.
For a performance version of the Buick, you need to make the twin-turbo V6 standard and add the V8 to the mix. This would give a choice of the kind of power delivery to both historic and new consumers alike. Attention must be paid to driving dynamics by employing current suspension technologies seen on GM's performance products, or to create a next generation version of these elements. Perhaps this would encourage Buick to explore a mid-luxury performance machine that stands out in a crowd between the Cadillac CTS-V, Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro. However, such a ride/handling package needs to meet or exceed benchmarks for large performance sedans in order to give the Buick a stronger chance against its potential competitors. It could possibly manifest towards dropping the supercharged 6.2liter V8 seen on the 2016 CTS-V and the Corvette ZO6 to accomplish this.
What needs to attract potential customers is a proper mix of technology and luxury that advances the Buick brand further in its markets. On the technology side, this could mean further integration of OnStar elements, including the 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, onto the Intelilink infotainment interface. It would also mean more gesture and touch interaction with switches and operations. A next generation instrumentation screen with full customization and a more logical steering wheel control set would be needed to exceed standards in its class.
Buick already has some tasteful interiors. Perhaps an expanded palette of colors and upholstery options would help create that stir Buick needs to attract new customers. What about Alcantara and/or suede? You could reserve that for the performance version of the Omega platform. For the luxury version, something has to pop – to delight and surprise a new generation of luxury large sedan buyers not ready for a Cadillac or a Mercedes-Benz. Being different is what Buick is doing to turn around its fortunes in North America, while establishing strong brand leadership in China. The new large sedan's interior should reflect this kind of thinking.
If the concept holds up in production, one could see the Avenir as a strong player in premium markets. The only car that would be in true competition with it would be the Hyundai Genesis sedan. This does not exclude others in its class or price range, though most potential competitors would be priced well above the Avenir. One could clearly see cross-shopping with the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, though one would hope there would be some advantages in the Buick. The consequence of this would be internal competition – namely, the Cadillac CTS. To stretch it further, the Cadillac CT6 and XTS would be included in this scenario. The key for the Buick's success is to do some heavy distinguishing between any related model, even if it is not on the same platform. Again, the determining factor would be its price point. The Buick must be priced where its customers can buy one to avoid any internal cross-shopping.
The ultimate question to consider is should GM build this luxury Buick. For the sake of the brand and its markets – including China – it would be a wise thing to do so. Not just to build the luxury version, but building the performance version to add more choices for the enthusiast.
This concept has already captured the hearts of those who have seen it. It creates an opportunity to further the progression of Buick for all stakeholders and its markets. The result would be advantageous for GM not to pass on. Think about this: the Avenir could solidify Buick's want towards attracting the younger customer base it needs to keep to relevant in North America.