DETROIT –enters another relatively vacant segment with the introduction of the Buick Encore small cross/utility vehicle at the North American International Auto Show this week, underscoring the auto maker’s new willingness to step into uncharted territory by leveraging its global resources.
“There is certainly an appetite to bring progressive entries to market and to be first,” Buick marketing chief Tony DiSalle tells WardsAuto after unveiling the CUV.
The GM Korea-sourced Encore follows in the footsteps of the U.S.-built Buick Verano, which launched last month into a compact-luxury segment with few competitors.
An upcoming diesel-engine option for the Chevrolet Cruze compact car comes to the U.S. from Europe in 2013 with few competitors, and later this year the Chevy Spark minicar, also from Korea, goes on sale in the U.S. and into a quiet segment.
GM historically has been slow to enter new segments, such as the SUV craze of the previous decade. When it did blaze new ground, it was with mixed results.
GM North America President Mark Reuss admits the Encore faces no easy task. “We’re going to have to prove this (product),” he says after the unveiling. “It’s going to be hard. We know that.”
The ’13 Encore launches U.S. sales early next year. The Audi Q3 will arrive from Europe a few months later and theX1 is widely expected to be here, as well.
Reuss expects consumers to gravitate to the Encore for its refinement. As it is a Buick, he predicts buyers will find the CUV the quietest of the brand’s entries.
The Encore will feature Buick’s “QuietTuning” engineering, where the vehicle is bathed in noise-damping materials such as extra-thick side glass and dense carpeting.
Encore also will mark Buick’s first use of GM’s active noise-cancellation technology, which emits sound waves through the audio system to counteract undesirable noises.
The Encore receives a 1.4L turbocharged 4-cyl. as the sole engine option. It is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Reuss says eAssist, the auto maker’s new stop/start technology, could easily be added as an option.
The CUV will come standard with front-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive will be available. GM has not released production estimates or pricing.
“It really fills out our portfolio nicely,” says DiSalle. “A lot like the Verano on the passenger-car side, this will draw a new buyer into the Buick portfolio.
“It is a beautiful, luxurious crossover, as evidenced by the exterior and interior design typical of Buick. A warm, welcoming, inviting interior and all the luxury amenities you’d expect from us.”
DiSalle predicts Encore customers will run the gamut, from young professionals to early empty nesters and singles. “The difference between Encore and Verano is these folks have a much more active lifestyle,” he says. “They will have the capability to carry things.”
With 48.4 cu.-ft. (1,372 L) of available cargo volume, the Encore hardly can be considered cavernous against the much larger CUVs and SUVs typical to the American market. But the front passenger seat, in addition to the rear seats, folds flat to open up carrying space.
DiSalle expects the segment will grow to 500,000 industry sales annually by 2015.
“We see a lot of growth there, and we think we’re positioned well to be first there.”