Sunday, April 21, 2024
NewsBuick Vehicle Design Is Getting Noticed

Buick Vehicle Design Is Getting Noticed

After General Motors filed for a government-backed Chapter 11 reorganization in 2009, the financially struggling automaker had to downsize and streamline its business. It subsequently terminated the Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer brands while offloading Saab. Among the brands that stayed alive, Buick was one of them.

Preserving Buick has been the subject of many discussions since then. Pontiac was the Excitement Division, yet was largely reduced to selling mundane commuter cars and crossovers. Saturn was created two decades earlier as an import-brand fighter, but never really took off into orbit. Ditching the Hummer brand was the right thing to do as it was seen as an environmentally unfriendly marque. However, what would Buick do for the “new” GM?

Buick stand at the 2024 Montreal Auto Show
Buick stand at the 2024 Montreal Auto Show

At the time of GM’s meltdown, the Tri-Shield brand’s portfolio consisted of the Buick LaCrosse/Allure midsize sedan, the Buick Lucerne full-size sedan and the Buick Enclave midsize three-row crossover. Not exactly an all-star lineup. Arguably, the main reason why Buick was spared was its popularity in the Chinese market—a big market for GM.

The following decade saw models come and go, but especially the discontinuation of passenger cars in Buick’s lineup. The Buick Verano, Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal and Buick Cascada all ended production in North America, leaving the domestic market with a small selection of utility vehicles.

2024 Buick Encore GX Avenir

Of course, Buick vehicle design allowed for some distinction among other similar models produced by GM. Buick stands as a premium brand, posher than Chevrolet, but not as luxurious as Cadillac. It’s a space shared with very few competitive brands, in which we could include Chrysler, MINI and, more than ever, Mazda.

After years of modest sales, things are finally picking up at Buick. In 2023, sales increased by 61.4% in the United States, by 42.2% in Canada and by 18.5% in Mexico. The brand outsold Lincoln, Acura, Genesis, Jaguar Land Rover, Infiniti, Chrysler and Volvo in both Canada and the U.S. The Buick Encore GX is currently the most popular model, followed by the Buick Envision, the Buick Enclave and the all-new Buick Envista.

2024 Buick Encore GX Avenir

According to a recent analysis by S&P Global Mobility, Buick leads all car brands in the U.S. in female buyer representation at 55%, ahead of Mitsubishi (51.4%), MINI (51.1%), Lexus (50.4%), Infiniti (49.6%), Mazda (49%) and Kia (49%). The industry average was calculated at 41.2%. In addition, studies show that women influence about 85% of all car purchase decisions, although we don’t really need a study to come to this conclusion, right?

Attracting a female audience is critical for any automaker, and Buick is succeeding, most likely because their products offer the right combination of performance, comfort and value, but also because of their exterior and interior design.

Buick Wildcat EV Concept

Meanwhile, thanks in part to its affordable price, but also its design, the new Envista subcompact crossover is bringing in conquest sales. According to GM data, 69% of Envista buyers are new to the Buick brand, and across all of the automaker’s nameplates including Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac, Envista owners present the highest ratio of people aged 18-35 at 26%.

What’s next for Buick in North America? EVs, obviously. The Buick Electra E5 is expected to arrive for the 2025 model year, and it’s already on sale in China alongside the smaller Buick Electra E4, which won’t be offered outside of the Asian country. The Electra E5 is about the same size as the Chevrolet Equinox EV and shares its Ultium electric vehicle architecture, while its exterior design is inspired by the Buick Wildcat Concept coupe revealed in June 2022. The show car serves as the template for all Buick vehicles going forward, whether they’re powered by gasoline engines or electric motors.

2024 Buick Envision Avenir

So why showcase a car concept when the brand’s lineup consists only of utility vehicles in North America? According to Kevin Nougarede, design manager for Buick, concept cars are purely emotional. “For us to express the evolution of the design of Buick, the new face of Buick, the new design language being more pure, there was nothing better than [the Wildcat]. It was the best canvas for us. To use a car that’s lower to the ground, we can express more sculptures.” He added that “on a lower profile and on a coupe profile, for us, it was easier to express the sculptural beauty that we want to express. An SUV doesn’t necessarily define the pinnacle of beauty. Usually, it’s a coupe in everyone’s mind.”

However, is it just as easy to create an SUV or a car with the same design philosophy? “It’s not complicated to create,” said Nougarede. “That’s why the Wildcat was so important for us, because when we set up such a strong, clear vision of what we want the design for us to be, it was not very difficult to apply it to our SUVs.”

Buick Electra E5 (Chinese model)

As for attracting younger buyers to the brand through design, Kevin Nougarede said that it’s very emotional. “In design, sometimes it’s hard to explain. Attracting younger buyers is one thing, but I think younger buyers are associated with just the age, while it’s also just a mindset. We talk a lot about having a younger mindset, and more an optimistic mindset in Buick, and that’s what the communication was around Wildcat.” He also added that “I think being a little bit more confident, a little bit more sculptural, and a little bit more optimism into the profile and the car, getting a little bit more emotional with the design, I think that’s what probably makes a younger buyer react positively to the car.”

2024 Buick Envista Avenir

As Buick electric vehicles are introduced in the market—the brand announced in 2022 that it plans to go all-electric by 2030 in North America—will we see a design distinction between ICE and EV models in its lineup? That seems unlikely, at least for now. “Because we’re looking for consistency with Buick, a lot of elements will be very similar, because there are fundamentals for us, like the new face announced with the Wildcat. The new Tri-Shield [logo], the shark nose, the sculptural beauty, as we like to call it, this is going to be standard for Buick,” said Nougarede. “What changed with EVs? EVs sometimes offer better proportions, because the battery gives us more wheelbase. It gives a little bit more stance to the car, because we can push the wheels out. So it gives us the possibility to have more surface to extend the flare and give the wheel more stance,” he added.

“On the fascia, I think people have this idea that because they’re EVs, they don’t need cooling, so the face can be closed. But there are motors in those cars, so we need airflow. And sometimes for aero as well, we need airflow. We don’t want to drastically change the fundamentals of what we set up, with the look and feel of what Buick wants to be in design. We want those cars to still be part of the same family. Some brands like to differentiate drastically. We don’t want to differentiate,” Nougarede said.

2025 Buick Enclave design sketch

In addition to the new Envista, the refreshed Envision and Encore GX and the upcoming Electra E5, an all-new generation of the Buick Enclave large three-row crossover will soon debut, ready for the 2025 model year. We can expect a fresh exterior design based on the Wildcat Concept as well as a reworked and more sophisticated cabin with a wide dashboard panel integrating the digital driver instrument cluster and centre infotainment touchscreen. Under the hood, a new turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder engine will replace the aging 3.6L V6, which GM estimates to produce 328 horsepower and 326 pound-feet of torque. It will be managed by an eight-speed automatic transmission, feeding power to the front wheels or all four wheels in the U.S. market, while AWD should once again be standard in Canada.

Buick finally seems to have found its niche in the market, enjoying a rejuvenated brand image and a growing customer base. It took a while to figure out, but keeping Buick alive instead of Pontiac and Saturn may very well have been a good decision by GM after all.

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