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2011 Buick Regal sports sedan targets younger buyers


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2011 Buick Regal sports sedan targets younger buyers

By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

SAN DIEGO — From a few car-lengths back, you think you're sneaking up on the latest European or Asian luxury sedan.

Up close, though, the name on the trunk lid is as familiar as bell-bottom pants: Buick Regal.

Though it's not the hippest name in the automotive universe, General Motors hopes the new Regal will be viewed as an athletic, upscale sports sedan and will appeal to Gen X buyers.

It's a critical new vehicle as GM seeks to expand the Buick brand, post-bankruptcy and post-Tiger Woods. At present, Buick sells vehicles that cover about 14% of the overall automotive market. With Regal, that figure doubles.

But the upscale midsize sedan segment in which it must compete is crowded. The 2011 Regal is a handsome, competent car with restrained styling. No fancy techno-gizmos. Just a good, solid car, which GM hopes will appeal to the basic value sense of upper-middle-class buyers.

In the past few years, GM was known for SUVs, pickups and larger vehicles, not sport sedans. Regal, following the Chevrolet Malibu before it, is meant to signal that GM is serious about making midsize cars.

"Our challenge will be in getting out word about what this new Regal is all about," said Buick marketing executive Roger McCormack during a press preview of the Regal in San Diego. "We can define Regal on its own terms."

In this case, those terms are distinctly international. Regal was designed in Germany by GM's Opel unit (it is based on the Opel Insignia) and initially will be built there, too. The Insignia was originally to come to the U.S. as the next Saturn Aura before the Saturn brand was deep-sixed in GM's restructuring.

Adding to its international credentials, more than 100,000 Regals have sold in China, where Buick is a strong brand, says GM midsize car chief engineer Jim Federico. Even better for GM, the average age of buyers there has been 32, far younger than current U.S. Buick buyers.

The goal in this country is to attract buyers in their 30s and 40s, he says, and he doesn't think the decades-old Regal name, last seen in U.S. Buick showrooms six years ago, will hold them back. It still had among the highest recognition of any name tested, he says.

The marketing will emphasize the value buyers get for their money.

Regal is being sold in its CXL midlevel trim line initially, which includes 18-inch wheels, heated leather seats, XM radio and OnStar communications, among other features. It's priced at $26,995. Its 182-horsepower, four-cylinder GM Ecotec engine is rated at 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

Coming this summer: a peppier turbocharged version that boasts 220 hp and lets suspension firmness be set for sport, touring or normal driving. It's priced at $29,495.

Both versions handled beautifully in hard, tight corners on a winding road, but the turbo definitely improved the car's passing ability.

GM also confirmed that a GS performance version of the car is coming.

Analysts give Regal a fair chance of success, noting it builds on the brand's improved credibility from its plush Enclave crossover and new LaCrosse sedan. Buyer habits have changed, they add.

"The market is shifting from folks saying, 'I would never consider that brand,' to 'If the car is good, I don't care what brand it is,' " said James Bell, market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

From China, "We know younger buyers can enjoy what Buick has to offer," says Alexander Edwards, president of consultants Strategic Vision. "Right now the market is open to everyone, including Buick Regal."



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