© General Motors
The heyday of Buick on American roads is long gone, but the brand is far from dead. In fact, business is booming — just not in the U.S.
The brand is hugely popular in China — the world's largest auto market — where having a large, foreign car is a status symbol.
Sales numbers support those claims. The Buick Excelle was the number one passenger car in China in 2011, when 254,000 units rolled out of dealerships. The next year, Buick's sales in the country jumped 8%.
J.D. Power & Associates predicts total Buick sales in China could hit 1 million by 2016, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Why the love for a car that, in its homeland, is viewed as a relic of the past?
The common view of Buicks in China is different from that in the U.S. The cars are the choice of business people and government officials. Chinese executives are partial to minivans, which don't come with the kid-hauling image they have here.
General Motors, which owns the brand, has capitalized on that popularity.
When it saw Chinese executives were partial to minivans, it designed the GL8 Luxury MPV just for the market, making it especially spacious and comfortable.
By adapting to offer what Chinese buyers wanted, GM got its reward: It delivered nearly 67,000 GL8 Luxury MPVs in 2011. Sales rose 28% over 2010, to double the rate of the previous model.
Buick sales in the U.S. are trending up and nearing pre-2008 levels, but China is now the focus for the brand.
At the New York Auto Show, Buick rolled out three nice, somewhat boring new sedans. It saved the fireworks for the Shanghai Auto Show, where it showed off the dramatically redesigned Riviera, a super sleek, plug-in hybrid revival of an old model that was discontinued in 1999.
The concept car is supposedly inspired by a Chinese saying ("The greatest good is like water"), and it was partly designed by the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC), GM's joint venture with China's SAIC Motor.
Buicks are huge in China because GM was smart enough to recognize buyers were fans of the brand, and then made cars they would like even more.
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