The mistake General Motors Corp. made with its Oldsmobile division won't be repeated with Buick, a company executive says.

“Olds' problem was no clarity of what it was or where it was going,” says C.J. Fraleigh, who took over as general manager-Buick and Pontiac-GMC divisions after three years leading GM's corporate advertising efforts.

“Buick has a long history and clear, defined plans for the future,” he adds. “GM is investing in new product to make that happen. GM will deliver on that promise just like it did with Cadillac. Cadillac's job isn't done. But now it has vehicles you can look at and say, ‘Wow, progress is being made.’ That's what we're going to do with Buick.”

GM overhauled Cadillac's lineup by adding the CTS sedan, the line of Escalade fullsize SUVs and the SRX cross/utility vehicle. The replacement for the Seville sedan will debut at the New York auto show in April.

Beginning this fall, Buick will offer the LaCrosse, LeSabre and Park Avenue front-wheel-drive cars, Rendezvous CUV, Rainier SUV and Terraza minivan.

“I won't go into details, but we've hinted at a convertible, a new flagship sedan and are talking about other vehicles and rear-wheel drive,” Fraleigh says during an interview.

“Management has made it clear we aren't going to shut down another division. It's devoted a lot of time and money to Buick, a $3 billion investment over the next five years. You don't invest that kind of money just to stay around, but because you plan to grow.”

Some of that money was spent developing the ‘05 LaCrosse sedan, unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show in February. The LaCrosse replaces the Regal and Century this fall.

LaCrosse is aimed at the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima, as well as the luxury Lexus ES 330, which Fraleigh says was the benchmark when developing the LaCrosse. Buick is focusing on winning back consumers who fled to Japanese sedans, he adds.

“When they leave for one (purchase) cycle, you can win them back,” Fraleigh says. “When they're gone for more than one cycle, they're hard to get back. We have the names of those who left for one cycle and will mail information on LaCrosse to each of them.

“We don't have to deliver enormous (sales) numbers. If we only get 1% back from Camry and Accord (800,000 combined sales in ‘03), that would be 8,000 cars and a 10% gain for us. We'll win people back, not because it's an American car, but because it's a quality car.”

Buick's U.S. Sales and Light Vehicle Market Share
Year Unit Sales Market Share
1994 546,836 3.6
1995 471,819 3.2
1996 427,350 2.8
1997 438,064 2.9
1998 398,156 2.6
1999 445,611 2.6
2000 404,612 2.3
2001 405,678 2.4
2002 432,017 2.6
2003 336,788 2.0
2004 48,522 2.0
2004 is Jan-Feb. combined. Source: WardsAuto.com