Buick, the 114-year-old Detroit brand trying to shed its blue-haired image, will take a significant step toward joining the ranks of global luxury automakers when it unveils its long-awaited upscale line at the New York Auto Show.
Avenir, a new high-end sub-brand, will have larger wheels, premium finishes and a more dramatic grille. The launch is vital for Buick, now an underdog facing a unique challenge: How does a heritage brand that needs to replace its older, traditional customer base begin to appeal to younger buyers?
On April 11, Buick will show the first vehicle in its lineup to get the Avenir badge: the three-row Enclave large SUV. It will also debut a redesigned version of its Regal mid-size sedan a week earlier in Detroit. Both will be on sale by the end of the year.
With Avenir, which will be applied to other Buick nameplates, General Motors' mid-market brand is taking a step forward in its strategy to carve an image as a modern luxury carmaker. The new, bolder trim will be priced to compete with Mercedes-Benz and BMW and is intended to help Buick move into a niche of “approachable luxury” that undercuts rivals on price but still offers amenities such as massaging front seats and quiet cabin technology, a suite of engineering tweaks it calls QuietTuning.
Buick has invested heavily in revitalizing its lineup in recent years, launching seven new or redesigned vehicles in the U.S. between this year and last year. In addition to the Enclave and Regal, upgrades include the all-new Cascada convertible and mid-size Envision SUV, as well as the redesigned LaCrosse large sedan and Encore compact crossover. The brand plans to launch a dozen more cars and SUVs worldwide by 2020, including an extended-range plug-in hybrid for China – Buick’s largest market – called the Velite 5.
The turnaround has shown early signs of success. Last year, Buick outpaced the overall new vehicle market in the U.S. The Detroit brand’s sales rose 2.9% to 229,631 units on the strength of its three SUVs – the Enclave, Encore, and Envision. The 11.7% lift in sales of its sport utility vehicle offerings offset a 9.2% decline in Buick car sales. Buick is discontinuing its smallest car, the Verano, this year to focus on building its SUV portfolio.
The Avenir concept was first displayed at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. Buick’s new direction picked up momentum the following year with the unveiling of its Avista coupe concept. The sleeper hit of last year’s Detroit show, the flashy 2+2 was later named the 2016 Concept Car of the Year and the Most Significant Concept Vehicle of the Year at the Concours d’Elegance of America’s 2016 North American Concept Vehicle Awards.
There was a mindset that Buick was an old person’s car, and it’s completely different now,” said General Motors Global Technology Planning Manager Coco Miske. Miske spoke this week at the Dent The Future conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, which Buick has sponsored for the last three years as part of its strategy to align with younger customers from the west coast markets where it wants to grow. So far, Buick has sold “a handful of vehicles” through the conference.