Buick leaves its legacy of large sedans behind

on Jul24

The 2018 LaCrosse will be the last holdout.

Big, plush sedans used to be synonymous with Buick. The 1975 Electra, most egregiously, was more than 19 feet long.

Today, Buick’s best-selling nameplate is the Encore, a nimble subcompact crossover that’s much more land dinghy than yacht. By the end of this year, the brand will have just one traditional sedan left in its U.S. lineup, a remarkable transformation that shows how far large cars have tumbled toward irrelevancy.

More than three-quarters of Buick’s U.S. sales now come from the Encore and two larger crossovers, one of which is imported from China. The Regal sedan is being replaced this fall by a five-door hatchback and a sporty wagon.

The LaCrosse, now in its third generation, is the only remaining option for Buick buyers who want four doors and an actual trunk. Yet dealers sell fewer than one LaCrosse for every three Encores.

There’s nothing still around like the Grand Nationals and Roadmasters that used to fill the lots of longtime dealers such as Bennett’s Buick-Chevrolet in Wayland, N.Y.

“Those days are gone,” said Jim Bennett, whose grandfather started the dealership, south of Rochester, in 1922. “It has brought in a new generation. You get people who say, ‘I can’t believe I’m buying a Buick.’ And quality has been excellent.”

The changes have helped Buick double its global sales volume since 2010. Most of its growth has been in China, but U.S. sales also have risen significantly since the brand narrowly avoided the chopping block during General Motors’ 2009 bankruptcy.

The success Buick has managed with its crossovers paved the way for the change in direction with the Regal.

Reuss: “Have to get noticed”

“There’s no denying car sales have slowed, and trucks, crossovers and SUVs are holding sway in the market today,” Mark Reuss, GM’s product development chief, said when revealing the Regal Sportback and TourX in April. “You have to get noticed. And to get noticed you have to stand out. That’s where Buick’s desire to be different stands out.”

Of course, Buick’s move away from its legacy has meant pushing aside some longtime customers, one of the pitfalls that comes with any radical change.

“You get people that still want a 2003 Buick Park Avenue or a Buick LeSabre,” Bennett said. “Some customers feel like they’ve gotten left at the curb, so to speak.”

But Buick might not still be around to sell anything to those customers had it not adapted. And many of the brand’s loyalists have embraced the new Buick, which has made the departure from its stodgy past a central theme of its marketing for more than three years.

Bennett said his father, who turned 88 last week, bought an Encore for himself and loves driving it every day.

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