LOUISVILLE, KY – Buick executives see the Verano compact sedan slipping smoothly into its role as the upscale brand’s entry-level offering, even if that comes at the expense of recent Regal sales.

“Verano has slotted nicely into our portfolio to acquire entry-customers to Buick,” says Tony DiSalle, vice president-Buick and GMC marketing.

“We no longer have to pull Regal down. There is a natural consequence of volume,” he tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of a media preview here for the ’13 Verano Turbo and redesigned-for-’13 Enclave large cross/utility vehicle.

Imported from Germany initially, Regal sales picked up steam after production shifted to General Motors’ Oshawa, ON, Canada, assembly plant. In April 2011, it posted the best result of its 30 months on the U.S. market with 4,525 deliveries, according to WardsAuto data.

But since the launch of the Verano late last year as a ’12 model, Regal deliveries have tapered off to as few as 1,784 units in July and totaled 20,523 so far this year. Through September, the Verano has accounted for 29,146.

“This is by plan,” DiSalle says, noting GM sold a high percentage of Regals with the base 2.4L 4-cyl. engine until the Verano launched. “We now have Verano to claim that space, and we’re allowing Regal to play the role it was designed to play in our portfolio.

“Regal is the athlete of the family, and it can now be purely the athlete of the family.”

Earlier this year, GM eliminated the base 2.4L 4-cyl. engine from the Regal lineup and replaced it with a mild-hybrid version called eAssist with a sticker of $30,000. According to WardsAuto data, the original base powerplant comprised 73.2% of all Regal engine installations midway through the ’12 model year.

The lineup also includes a 2.0L turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cyl. engine making 220 hp in the $31,500 Regal Turbo and a range-topping 270 hp in the $35,000 Regal GS, a 2012 Wards 10 Best Engines winner.

The changes have the 5-passenger sedan on track to sell about 30,000 units this year after delivering more than 40,000 in 2011.

DiSalle says those volumes work perfectly fine. “That’s what the car was designed to do at that price point, with Verano below it and LaCrosse above it,” he says.

National advertising for the Regal GS goes far beyond its sales volumes, too, because the car is meant to change perceptions about the Buick brand, which for many years was considered the choice of the senior set.

“It stops people in their tracks,” DiSalle says of the Regal GS.

GM data shows the strategy is working, as Buick now wins over more new owners than any GM brand and the age of its average buyer is falling. Brand sales are on track for its best performance in six years and the increase comes at a time when its portfolio has fewer vehicles.

Buyers also are choosing the brand for the right reasons, DiSalle notes, with design and comfort ranking as their top purchase decisions. Just a few years ago, owners cited price as their top reason for buying a Buick.

“The brand is back in a big way,” he says.

The $30,000 Verano Turbo, featuring a 250-hp version of the Regal’s 2.0L 4-cyl. engine and the choice of either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, joins the Buick stable in coming weeks. It targets the import-leaning first-time buyers and newly minted empty nesters the $22,500 base model grabs.

“Regal is all about performance,” Disalle says. “Verano is about unexpected luxury in a car this size, and now unexpected performance” with the turbocharged model.

Buick sales through September are down 2% to 137,262 units from 140,092 in like-2011, WardsAuto data shows, but the brand quit selling the Lucerne large sedan late last year. The car was popular among rental companies and propped up sales results.

DiSalle also says the redesign to the ’13 Enclave large cross/utility vehicle goes far enough to keep it atop its segment.

The CUV, which seats seven or eight passengers, launched in 2007 as an ’08 model. By industry standards, the Enclave and its Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia platform mates would seem due for a complete redesign, but GM chose to go with more of a midcycle enhancement.

“We’ve given it significant revisions to keep it fresh,” DiSalle says. “In the customer’s eyes, this is a new Enclave.”

The updated exterior designed includes a new front fascia with light-emitting-diode daytime running lamps and a new headlamp design with LED accent lighting. The hood and grille also are new, the refreshed rear fascia receives integrated exhaust outlets and a newly developed LED taillamp technology creates a warmer glow at night.

The CUV’s 19- and 20-in. wheels also get a fresh look.

Inside, the Enclave receives ice-blue LED ambient lighting for the first time, a redesigned center stack and a new interior color called Cocoa and specifically developed for the CUV. The emphasis remains on rich, warm colors and materials soft to the touch.

The ’12 Enclave hardly could be called stale, either, DiSalle says, evidenced by a record 57,783 sales in 2011.

“We know the formula in this space and what works,” he says. “People buy it for exactly what we designed into it – exterior styling, ride comfort and quality perception.”

DiSalle says the brand also has benefited recently from a renewed push into the leasing market, rising to 36% of sales from 15% prior to launching its national program in March. The 24-month Experience Buick lease includes free maintenance and complimentary subscriptions to OnStar and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.

“It’s calling people who may not know about Buick into the showrooms to see the product, the new facilities and the customer experience,” Disalle says.

jamend@wardsauto.com