The 104-year-old brand, which last year sold about 570,000 vehicles, this week rolled out a new premium sub-brand resurrecting a Buick name from the '50s: Super.
Steve Shannon, Buick's general manager, spoke about the new sub-brand this week at New York's Cipriani's. There, beneath the Gothic, vaulted ceilings of the former Bowery Savings Bank, Buick showed off new Super versions of its LaCrosse and Lucerne sedans and an old icon: the 1940 Buick "woodie" Estate Wagon owned by Bette Davis and now part of the collection of Italian jeweler Nicola Bulgari.
In some ways, Davis' classic Buick is emblematic of where Shannon said Buick is meant to reside -- alongside dealer mates GMC and Pontiac as well as in the GM lineup. "Buick is about safety, a higher level of luxury, the quality advantage, superior customer service," he said.
He said even though the face of Buick these days is Tiger Woods, a 30-something golf legend, the sweet spot is boomers, consumers in their 50s and 60s who are more affluent and think of performance more broadly than under-the-hood muscle and rear-wheel drive. "These are consumers who often pay with cash, who are more interested in a vehicles tuned for a quiet, comfortable ride ... we call them 'grownups'," he said.
As for the Super premium brand, the enhancements are in big 18-inch wheels, larger brakes, more power, firmer chassis, interior appointments, and a more sophisticated palette of point choices. Shannon said Super is not meant to be Buick's version V-Series, Cadillac's performance sub-brand. Caddy's "V" was developed to counter European muscle sub-brands like Mercedes AMG and BMW M-Series.
Toyota's Lexus is following suit this year with souped-up versions of its Lexus cars to wear the "F" nameplate.
Cadillac has also used V-Series in ads to create a kind of performance "halo" over the entire Cadillac brand. Shannon said marketing messages about Super will be integrated with campaigns for the 2008 LaCrosse, available late summer, and Lucerne, on sale late spring. "We will tie them together," he said, adding that golfer Woods would be central to the campaigns.
Buick is also rolling out its second crossover, the Enclave, which goes into production this spring as an early 2008 model, on sale this summer. Shannon said the company will lure a younger buyer to the brand. While the median age of Buick sedan buyers has been in the 60s, the Rendezvous, Buick's first, short-lived crossover nameplate that ceased production late last year, brought in a buyer some 10 to 15 year younger. Shannon expects that will be the case with Enclave as well.
GM's new distribution -- or channel -- strategy puts GMC, Pontiac and Buick together in dealerships. GMC, however, will also sell a crossover based on the same production template as Enclave. Shannon said he doesn't see a problem with GM selling GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave side-by-side in dealerships.
"GMC has so many years of truck heritage, and the Acadia is really more SUV-like. It is at a lower price point, as well, and will probably get a younger buyer, more families," he said. The Acadia starts at around $30,000 and ranges all the way to over $44,000. The Enclave starts at around $32,000.