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Chinese buyers give Buick a second wind

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Chinese buyers give Buick a second wind

Last year, brand sold more there than in U.S.

May 8, 2007



This is a photo. I do not know how to make it show up here.

Buick may be shrinking in the United States, but it's thriving in China.

By most accounts, the future of the Buick brand in China is bright and likely to become brighter.

Buick is aiming its marketing and lineup not just at the current upper middle class, which research journal the McKinsey Quarterly estimates at about 10% -- or 130 million -- of China's 1.3 billion people, but to the 520 million up-and-comers that McKinsey expects to comprise the upper middle class by 2025.

Buick's China lineup includes hatchback, sedan and wagon versions of the Excelle; the Regal and LaCrosse midsize sedans; two minivans, and the new $65,000 Park Avenue sedan, launched earlier this year, which it defines as mid-luxury.

"The Park Avenue interior is really incredible," said IRN Inc. auto analyst Erich Merkle. "And the GL8 minivan over there is a status symbol in the business community."

Many businesspeople in China use minivans or roomy sedans for escorting business associates and clients during the week and then use them to drive family members on the weekend, Merkle said.

Buicks in China range from as much as $65,000 for a Park Avenue to $13,900 for an Excelle.

Chinese Buick customers see themselves as hip, successful and increasing in power and accomplishment, Liu said.

So Buick is focused on service and offers a program called Buick Care that invites owners to join a club that gives them access to cultural events and invitations to movie premieres and provides 24-hour towing service; appointments for vehicle service; service hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days a year, and four annual free inspections.

The new luxurious and futuristic Buick Riviera Coupe concept shown at the Shanghai auto show last month embodies what the modern Chinese Buick customer is looking for, GM China designer James Shyr said: luxury and elegance.

GM China also is working on a hybrid Buick sedan for the China market.

And though GM has no current plans to expand its Buick line in the United States, the efforts spent appealing to the Chinese middle class with fine interiors and appealing designs, like those of the new Riviera and Park Avenue, could make their way into U.S. Buicks, Wagoner said.

"Because we're developing and growing in China, we need a broader product portfolio to support it," Wagoner said last month in Shanghai. "Some of those products can be used in the U.S. I don't necessarily mean imported, but once they're designed and developed, if all you have to do is tool it up to build it in the U.S. or Canada, that's a much lower cost proposition.

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