SAN DIEGO, CA – Buick Marketing Manager Roger McCormack says dealers have delivered more than 70 units of the new-for-’11 Regal sports sedan since sales began some two weeks ago, and he expects inventories to begin swelling by the end of June.

He also says the aging Buick Lucerne large car likely will become a victim of the brand’s otherwise rapidly expanding product portfolio.

“Lucerne is still part of our portfolio; it definitely fills a need right now,” McCormack tells Ward’s during a media preview here for the new Regal. “We still have traditional Buick buyers, where the Lucerne is a great vehicle for them – big, quiet and comfortable.”

But at the same time, Buick as a brand wants to become more youthful, and the boat-like Lucerne does not fit that profile.

“We have the LaCrosse and Lucerne both competing in the large-car segment,” he adds. “Do you need two cars in the same segment? We’re going to expand our portfolio, and in the long-term it is not going to include two cars in (that) segment.”

The Lucerne bowed in 2006 and sold strongly, accounting for 96,515 deliveries and commanding 12.2% of its segment. But sales slid to 31,292 in 2009, for a 9.6% segment share, and are down 23.9% to 7,765 so far this year, for a 6.3% share.

In contrast, sales of the redesigned-for-’10 LaCrosse have continued to gain momentum since the car’s launch in third-quarter 2009. Through April this year, deliveries have surged 214.3% over the model’s predecessor to 19,581 units.

Buick expects the LaCrosse to notch a record month in May, with more than 5,500 unit sales.

General Motors Co. builds the Lucerne outside of Detroit at its Hamtramck, MI, assembly plant, alongside the Cadillac DTS, which is expected to transition from a shared H-platform to a stretched version of Cadillac’s Sigma architecture.

McCormack says Regal inventories should reach between 4,000 and 5,000 units by the end of June. Buick presently has 600 units on the ground in the U.S. but some 2,050 dealers to feed.

The cars are arriving in batches of 500 to 1,000, depending upon the vessel, to Newark, NJ; Brunswick, GA; and Port of Hueneme, CA.

GM decided to initially build the Opel Insignia-based Regal in Russelsheim, Germany, before starting production next year in Oshawa, ON, Canada. The move allows the auto maker to launch the car quickly, given the Regal’s future was on-again, off-again as GM went through bankruptcy last year.

The first batches from Germany will be restricted to models with GM’s 182-hp 2.4L 4-cyl. engine with gasoline direct-injection, a 2010 Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner in the Chevy Equinox cross/utility vehicle.

Shipments of models with a more spirited 220-hp 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. GDI motor are expected to arrive in the third quarter. Both engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, although the turbo gets a 6-speed manual in the fourth quarter.

McCormack expects the naturally aspirated engine to command 60% of Regal sales.

The Regal GS, which Buick revealed at the Detroit auto show earlier this year with a 2.0L, 225-hp turbo engine making a whopping 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque, arrives next year.

The Regal marks an important addition to Buick’s portfolio. The LaCrosse, Lucerne and Enclave large CUV cover just 11% of the market for Buick, Ward’s data shows, but the Regal will push the brand to a 40% footprint.

The addition of a small CUV and compact car in the coming years will give Buick more than 50% coverage.

The Regal also provides the brand its first legitimate shot at building a “Buick garage,” McCormack says.

“An owner could have an Enclave as the vehicle he uses for the family and a Regal for commuting to work or taking his wife to dinner,” McCormack offers.

In a promising sign for the Regal, the first unit sold earlier this month was snapped up by a 44-year-old male manufacturing executive in suburban Chicago who also shopped a Toyota Camry and Audi A4 – exactly the customer Buick seeks for the car.

Even better, sources tell Ward’s the buyer paid $1,500 over sticker to get his hands on the Regal.

jamend@wardsauto.com