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Buick shows star power in China


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Buick shows star power in China

Sought-after demographic drives sales

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

Beijing -- In China, Buick has a cachet that might surprise many Americans.

The brand struggles with image problems at home, but Buick has been crucial to General Motors Co.'s success in China.

In this market -- the world's largest -- Buick attracts the kind of young, wealthy customers that GM dreams of capturing in the United States.

"The average Buick customer is 28 years old, university educated, fast-tracked in his company, with a wife who has a career," said GM China President Kevin Wale.

Buick is one of GM China's strongest brands, with sales up 53 percent this year. The automaker is showcasing three Buick models at China's premier auto show here that feature some of the latest European and American technology: the Excelle XT hatchback, and new Regal and LaCrosse sedans.

Analysts credit Buick's huge success in China to GM's shrewd reading of the market. Buicks in China feature lots of new technology, dramatic styling and luxurious flourishes that appeal to Chinese buyers.

In 2009, Buick was the sixth most popular foreign car brand in China, where 445,289 Buick cars and crossovers were sold.

By contrast, GM sold 102,306 Buicks in the United States. And it sold them to a different group of customers. The U.S. buyer is 65 years old, on average, and that's down from 72 a few years ago.

While Buick's popularity in China doesn't influence the brand's image in the United States, Buick's booming sales in China help the business.

When the Obama administration task force questioned the need to keep Buick in the United States, GM executives explained that many of the costs were absorbed by its Chinese operations.

Development costs for Buicks sold in the United States are 30 percent to 40 percent lower than they would be without the business in China, said a retired GM executive who was involved in the talks with the task force.

The executive said the credit for fielding a strong Buick lineup in China should go to GM's Chinese venture partner, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

In 1995, during the initial talks to form the venture, Shanghai Automotive officials suggested that GM come into the market with the Buick brand, which was famous in China. Sun Yat-sen, the first president of the Republic of China, and Pu Yi, the last Chinese emperor, both owned Buicks.

GM is now drawing on the talents of engineers at GM's Adam Opel GmbH subsidiary in Rüsselsheim, Germany, to help Buick produce world-class sedans.

The Buick Regal midsize sedan that was launched in China last year and will come out in the United States this spring was developed by Opel, and it shares underpinnings with the award-winning Opel Insignia.

The Regal is a key model for GM in China, competing head-to-head against the popular Volkswagen Passat and Honda Accord.

And the Chinese market is huge: J.D. Power and Associates forecast Thursday that sales of Chinese passenger vehicles -- cars, SUVs and minivans -- would grow to 13.55 million passenger vehicles in 2015, an increase of more than 55 percent over 2009.

In meeting demands of the cutthroat Chinese market, Buick is becoming more competitive at home, GM officials say. American and Chinese consumers share many demands, compared with buyers in other regions, said Craig Bierley, director of advertising and sales promotion for GM's Buick and GMC brands.

"In both (markets), we want to push the brand so that the driver is more engaged in the driving experience," Bierley said in an interview in Beijing, which is hosting China's auto show this week. "Now the emphasis is on ride and handling. It was previously on the ride."

The lineups won't be identical. Some of the base, entry-level models will not be sold in the United States, although a variant of a four-door Excelle compact will roll into Buick's U.S. showrooms.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100423/AUTO01/4230335/1148/Buick-shows-star-power-in-China#ixzz0lvZE8FbG

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Keep in mind that GM did this with a W-Body Lacrosse and a U-Body Terazza that got one more MCE than we did along with a rebadged Suzuki/Daewoo.

Yeah but does anyone remember how good that W-body Lacrosse looked? The interior was absolutely amazing from what I can remember.

I seriously don't know why the W-body has such a bad stigma. This family has had a couple of W-body cars and they're the ones that hold up best with the least maintenance and they age relatively well compared to our other vehicles.

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