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Buick, Big in China, Seeks to Recapture U.S. Glory

Buick wants to double its U.S. sales, starting this spring with an all-new Buick Regal. Even if it succeeds, though, the brand will continue to be a bit player in its home market.

Buick is a big success in China, which is the key reason the Buick brand survived bankruptcy restructuring for parent General Motors. GM dumped Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn, but kept Buick, Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac.

In a recent press get-together Craig Bierly, Buick U.S. product marketing director, wouldn't state a specific volume goal or timing, but he said the brand's goal is to increase U.S. sales at least "100 percent."

Buick has to start somewhere. In terms of percentage increase, it's off to a good start this year. In the first two months of 2010, Buick's U.S. sales were up 45.7 percent, to 19,182, according to AutoData Corp. In 2009, U.S. sales for Buick were only 102,306, down 25.4 percent from 2008.

The U.S. franchise now relies just about exclusively on the redesigned Buick LaCrosse sedan and the Buick Enclave crossover, both of which are selling well.

Familiar names like the Buick Park Avenue, the Buick Regal and the Buick LeSabre are out of production. An all-new Buick Regal arrives this spring, but it's built in Germany and based on the Opel Insignia model. U.S. production of the new Buick Regal won't start for another year.

It's a far cry from Buick's glory days; in 1984, U.S. sales were a record 942,000, according to Automotive News. Buick regularly topped 500,000 U.S. sales through the early 1990s, but cars that looked too much like other GM cars; the switch to SUVs, from the mid-1990s through 2005; and then the latest change in taste away from full-size cars all left Buick with an aging and shrinking fan base. Even having Tiger Woods (pre-scandal) as its pitchman did not enable it to shake that image.

The brand's task in the United States is to become relevant again.

In contrast, Buick sales were up 60 percent in China in 2009, at 447,000. In effect, China is Buick's home market now.

Photo: GM

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