For decades, America's top automaker, and until last year, the world's, General Motors has prided itself in its extensive product portfolio. Home of iconic brands like Cadillac, Hummer, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Buick, GM catered to every segment of American society, and was quite successful at that. Until global recession hit.
Having lost the coveted top automaker spot to Toyota last year (See: Toyota overtakes GM's sales; emerges top auto seller in the world) and now reduced to surviving on government dole, the beleaguered company is looking at dropping a number of its models, such as Hummer, Saab and Saturn in favour of retaining its 106-year-old luxury brand, Buick. GMC and Pontiac may also go under the hammer (See: GM to shed brands to get bail-out funds).
The new plans include making a Buick version of Saturn's Vue sport-utility vehicle, sources said. A Buick Regal designed by GM's Opel unit in Europe and now set for China also might be offered in the US. Until deciding last year to abandon Saturn, GM had plans to develop more of the brand's models from Opel designs, as it did with Saturn's Astra and Vue. With Saturn's exit, more Opel engineering may be shared with Buick, which now has just three models in the US. (See: GM to phase out the Saturn by 2012)
Buick's US sales peaked in 1984 at 941,611, according to trade publication Automotive News. By 2008, that total had dwindled to 137,197 units, a 26 per cent drop from a year earlier. The brand had about eight models earlier this decade.
GM's brand shuffling, which envisions the survival of at least Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac, is part of talks with the Obama administration task force studying whether restructuring the largest US automaker is possible outside bankruptcy. Most recently, the government had rejected GM's requests for further aid and forced CEO Rick Wagoner to quit. (See: GM CEO steps down as Obama denies additional funds)
One of the main reasons GM has pushed to keep Buick is its popularity in China, sources said. Sales surged almost tenfold from 2000 through last year to 280,255. Buyers there coveted Buicks because they were the cars in which Communist Party leaders were chauffeured. Buick sells nine models in the world's most-populous country, where dealerships include private clubs and other customer perks associated with higher-end luxury brands in the US.
The first auto labeled as a Buick was built in 1900 by an engineer working for David Dunbar Buick, who formed the company bearing his name in 1903, according to a GM history. A year later, the initial 37 production models were built in Flint, Michigan, GM said. Buick was the cornerstone brand for GM when it started in 1908.
Its history includes nameplates such as Skylark and LeSabre and style-setting models such as the 1949 Riviera, which featured trademark ''VentiPorts'' on the front fenders directing air to the engine compartment.