GRAND BLANC, MI – Buick and Pontiac, two waywardCorp. brands that have lost some of their identity in recent years, are looking to the past to reinvigorate their shared futures, managers of both divisions tell Ward’s.
Buick expects the ’06 Lucerne sedan and the ’08 Enclave cross/utility vehicle to reclaim its once-proud heritage as an upscale, elegant brand. Pontiac, meanwhile, is focused on sporty models such as the Solstice roadster and G6 to rebuild its sales.
Together, Buick and Pontiac have launched eight new vehicles since the ’05 model year and have plans for four more during ’07.
Buick officials used a preview of the Buick Open golf tournament here as a backdrop to unveil the LaCrosse Super, a V-8 version of the midsize, 6-cyl. sedan that will hit the market in ’08. The new LaCrosse Super will include redesigned front and rear fascias, as well as other premium interior upgrades, Buick executives say.
Priced above the $27,990 LaCrosse CSX, the LaCrosse Super will be assembled at the Oshawa, Ont., Canada, No.2 plant. Buick isn’t releasing pictures of the car yet.
The new V-8 will join the Lucerne, which replaced the LeSabre and Park Avenue, and upcoming Enclave CUV in Buick’s push to re-brand itself as a pillar of automotive sophistication.
Buick has weathered the criticism in recent years that its vehicles lack distinction and are limited in appeal to older buyers.
“Clearly, we need to bring new people to the brand,” Buick General Manager Steve Shannon says. “(The Enclave) is the best embodiment of where we want to take Buick.”
Insiders say another key to a turnaround is the planned elimination of product overlap at Pontiac, Buick and GMC as part of the consolidation of those brands and their dealers.
“We don’t have to have overlapping products anymore,” Shannon says.
About 1,500 Buick and Pontiac dealerships have been aligned with the truck-focused GMC, the auto maker says. About 100 independently operating Buick dealers remain in the U.S., but the division is looking at ways to bring those dealers into the tri-brand fold.
Asked about the two brands following GM’s shareholders meeting June 6, Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner says the auto maker is moving “very aggressively” toward a unified distribution channel, with fewer models under each brand.
That action will make dealerships more profitable, “but it also enables us to focus on those brands and their products,” Wagner says.
Wagoner tells shareholders there are no plans to eliminate any of GM's brands.
Buick saw May sales fall 25.2% from year-ago levels, a result GM blames on lack of customer incentives. Lucerne deliveries grew modestly to 7,311, an improvement of 313 units from April.
Pontiac noted a 10.1% light-vehicle sales decline in May compared with last year.
Related document: Ward's U.S. Light Vehicle Sales by Brand and Group
The G6 is the bright spot at Pontiac, with May sales up 22.1% on year-ago. And executives say they’re confident the convertible hardtop model will provide a lift to summer G6 sales.
Pontiac also will release a GXP version of the ’07 Solstice, expected to make showrooms in the fall. The GXP is powered by an Ecotec 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl., the first gasoline direct-injected engine to be offered by GM in North America. The DI technology helps the Ecotec engine produce more power and better fuel economy, the auto maker says.
The Solstice overall has about 6,000 customers on waiting lists, Pontiac says.
“We are committed to making sure we never build too many G6s or solstices,” Larson says.
Pontiac also is readying the entry-level G5. Sharing the same Delta architecture as the Chevrolet Cobalt, the 2-door G5 will be built on the same line at GM’s Lordstown, OH, assembly plant.
Currently called the Pursuit in Canada, the vehicle will be badged the G5 throughout North America going forward, a spokesman says. It will base below $15,000 and be offered in a GT version, as well. Pontiac anticipates annual sales of 25,000 to 30,000 units.
A spokesman downplays a recent media report suggesting Pontiac is mulling a plan to sell rear-wheel-drive vehicles exclusively. While Pontiac will look to add some RWD vehicles to help bolster its lineup, the division has no plans to abandon front-wheel drive, he says.