General Motors’ Buick brand is gaining traction with American buyers. Bolstered by a much-improved lineup of sleek-looking models, Buick is enjoying increased new-vehicle sales and more street cred.
It hasn’t been a cake walk for the 108-year-old brand, which has struggled mightily for decades with a stodgy, senior-citizen image. But the proof is in the numbers.
For the past 17 months, Buick has posted consecutive positive sales growth. That performance has driven Buick to fourth place in the US among luxury brands. In February, Buick sales tallied 15,807 units, a 73% jump from the same month a year ago and outselling Lexus by nearly 2,000 units. Last year, Buick was the fastest-growing auto brand in the country, seeing its new-vehicle sales jump by 52%, the biggest percentage of any brand year-over-year, to 155,389 units. Buick sold more new vehicles in 2010 than Cadillac, Acura, Infiniti, Audi, Lincoln and Volvo.
“Buick is on fire,” Chris Perry, VP of US marketing for all of GM, said earlier this month at an event in Detroit. “There’s no problem a car company has that won’t be solved with great products and we have that.”
The new products, including the German-assembled, Opel-based Regal, have been getting rave reviews, from auto enthusiast titles to the mainstream press. John and Joan Q. Public are also putting their two cents in on Buick’s Moment of Truth web site for the car at momentoftruth.com. The bulk of the comments are positive and upbeat.
US News & World Report called Regal the “best upscale sedan for the money.” And Esquire magazine said the new Regal “does something few American cars have done: take down the competition while reinventing a brand.”
For the 2012 model year, the Regal adds eAssist mild-hybrid technology as an option, which Buick expects to boost fuel efficiency by 25% to 37 mpg highway and 26 city. The 2012 Regal should arrive in dealerships this fall. The current three-model lineup, which also includes the Enclave crossover and LaCrosse sports sedan, expands further in the fourth quarter with Buick’s first Verano compact luxury sedan.
The Regal is helping Buick attract a younger audience. Sixty percent of the buyers of the Regal Turbo, on sale since January, are 55 years old or younger, Craig Bierley, director of advertising and sales promotion for Buick, told AutoTrader. The average age of Buick buyers across the lineup is now in the low 60s, he said.
That’s an impressive drop from 2004, when consultancy AutoPacific reported Buick’s median age was 70, with 63% over the age of 65 and almost 55% retired. Then, Buick’s Rendezvous SUV, discontinued in 2007 to make way for the slicker Enclave, had the youngest buyers with a median age of 58.
Earlier this year on Buick’s Facebook page, more than 75% of the nearly 78,000 fans, or “likes,” were under 45.
But Bierley said Buick is mainly focused on winning over owners of non-GM vehicles, or conquests, and isn’t hung up on the age of buyers. “We focus all our marketing efforts on conquest,” he told AutoTrader.
Buick has been making decent progress in that arena. In the first two months of this year, 42% of Buick buyers were conquests, he said. Only a couple of years ago Buick’s conquest rate was just 25%, he added.
But Buick still isn’t out of the woods. Tony DiSalle, who moved to VP-marketing of Buick February 1 from product and marketing director of the Chevrolet Volt, told AutoTrader. the brand hasn’t been top-of-mind for many consumers. The up side of that scenario is that Buick, to some extent, is starting with a clean sheet of paper, he said.
“Buick has tremendous potential. We just need to communicate what the brand is.”
The brand is doing just that, starting to advertise its new “approachable, inclusive” luxury positioning in dedicated model television commercials over the past week during March Madness broadcasts. Americans will see Buick’s new “brand anthem” commercial during the Final Four broadcasts starting April 2.