Is The New [Old Folks’] Buick LaCrosse Being Built In China?

Yesterday I wrote a post about the introduction by GM of a new Buick Regal GS, that seemed odd to me, since it had a 4 banger with a 6 speed manual tranny. [yesterday’s post here] This one comment drew my attention when I read it this morning:

Who cares what kind of badge it has? The problem is, I think they’re making them in China, which is a nice kick to the groin of American workers, and will prevent me from ever owning one.

Buick LaCrosses are in fact being built in China, sort of. It seems that the main body is made in the U.S. and shipped to a GM partner, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. Group. The interior is different inside and reflects the taste of the younger Chinese buyer. At FastCompany it states this:

Joe Qiu doesn’t own a car. He doesn’t even have a driver’s license. His favorite vehicle, actually, is a go-kart with a top speed of 75 miles per hour.

At 31, Qiu still lives with his parents. But he spends much of his time drinking in the vibes at the expensive high-end clubs, over-the-top shopping malls, and elegant, luxurious hotels where Shanghai’s burgeoning middle class gathers.

Qiu is, in fact, a car designer. He works for the largest automaker in the world, General Motors, at its outpost in Shanghai’s Pudong suburb. Two years ago, he was part of a team that radically overhauled the Buick LaCrosse for the Chinese market. The original LaCrosse had a soft, rounded exterior and a plain-vanilla interior, meant to appeal to the brand’s aging U.S. consumers. But Qiu and his boss James Shyr, an intense, fast-talking Chinese-American who learned his trade at Nissan and Toyota, knew Chinese consumers would sneer at such frumpy wheels. “Our buyers are 36 and 37, half the age of buyers in the U.S. and much more discerning,” Shyr says.

I loved this statement because it is exactly what I said yesterday. Buick is an old folks’ car:

The original LaCrosse had a soft, rounded exterior and a plain-vanilla interior, meant to appeal to the brand’s aging U.S. consumers.

There is also this:

The redesign was pitch perfect, so well targeted that the Chinese LaCrosse is on track to sell nearly 110,000 units in its second year in production. (In the United States, the LaCrosse isn’t expected to approach the 100,000-unit mark, ever.) Now, with that success still fresh, Qiu and the China design team face a critical test. They will design the next Buick LaCrosse, due out at the end of the decade, for the entire world.

It’s a mind-bending phenomenon. After an intense internal competition that pitted Shyr and his team against their U.S. counterparts, they will have complete authority over the interior design–driven by Qiu’s insights. The exterior is being handled in the United States, but with a great deal of input from China. And China will control much of the overall logistics.

There’s a carload of irony here. It used to be that GM would send American versions of cars around the globe–sometimes even selling left-hand drive cars in right-hand countries like Japan. What worked in America, it thought, would work globally. Now the automaker, with 50% of its sales coming from outside the United States and the Chinese market growing fastest of all, is betting that a Chinese sensibility will best inform a car for Americans, and everyone else.

Chinese Buick with added ‘bling’.

So it seems that GM may be having more success selling its cars in China than it has here in the U.S. I personally see nothing wrong with this idea as long as GM makes money. But there are some questions that will need to be answered in the future. How long will GM be able to build cars here in the U.S., before China puts a stop to it? What I mean is, how long will it be before China will want the U.S. cars built entirely in China?

Isn’t this what the U.S. has demanded of the Japanese and South Korean car companies: Build the cars here in the U.S. or we will restrict our imports of your cars? My understanding is that this was another of the U.S. car companies’ cries to Congress of why they couldn’t compete. The foreign car companies were building cars cheaper because they paid their employees less.

We later learned that the U.S. car companies were mismanaging the company, that the UAW received very lucrative contracts, and the house of cards fell on us U.S. taxpayers to fix.

Comments welcome.


A Buick Regal GS, Turbo 4 Banger, 6 Speed Manual – GM Still Doesn’t Get It

The Buick division of GM is planning on unveiling a new version of their Regal model GS. The new model will come with a turbocharged 4 banger with a 6 speed manual tranny.  The new ride is said to put out 255 HP with some 295 lb-ft of torque. I must admit that the specifications are impressive. Here is what the new Buick may look like:

There’s no automatic in this five-passenger sedan; a six-speed manual transmission routes power to four wheels via an adaptive all-wheel drive system with an electronic limited-slip rear differential. The Regal GS Concept incorporates four-wheel independent suspension with a so-called HiPerStrut system at the front wheels, in order to reduce torque steer and maintain negative camber during cornering. Buick claims the system improves grip and cornering abilities, while heightening steering precision and feedback. The Regal GS Concept is also blessed with 14 inch, four-piston cross-drilled Brembos and high-performance pads. And as one might imagine, the GS sits lower than stock and wears two extra front air intakes as well as forged aluminum 20 inch wheels.

Folks, Buick is your grandfather’s car. It always has been and always will be a car for old folks. How many people will buy a sedan with a six speed manual tranny for what I am sure will be a car selling for $30k or more?

GM is a lost puppy dog and needs to get back on track with a new mission statement and a new game plan. Bringing back these old ideas from the ’80s is not going to make the American public flock to their nearest GM dealership.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.


Is A Buick SUV Crossover Hybrid Plug In On The Way?

GM may be in the process of gearing up for production of a Buick SUV crossover that will be a hybrid. The new vehicle is said to have either a 4 or 6 cylinder engine with an electric motor powered by a lithium battery pack, similar to the GM Volt.

Over at GM Volt they describe the new Buick as being:

Today GM has confirmed this and released a teaser image of the upcoming vehicle.

“Buick has always been at the forefront of new technology, so it is only fitting that the brand should debut our new plug-in hybrid technology in a beautiful new crossover,” said GM vice chairman Tom Stephens. “This will firmly put Buick, and GM, front and center in the advanced technology game.”

The plug-in hybrid version will follow in 2011 and is expected to be the first commercially available plug-in hybrid SUV produced by a major automaker.

The hybrid will have an 8 kwh lithium-ion battery pack, using the same lithium manganese spinel cells as the Volt, supplied by LG Chem, who will be building a lithium-ion battery factory in Michigan set to open in 2012.

“LG Chem – the supplier of our battery cells for the Volt – has also been selected to supply the lithium-ion cells for the new Buick plug-in hybrid, and its Troy, Mich.-based subsidiary Compact Power will supply the pack,” said Stephens.

The plugin hybrid can operate on either gas, electricity or both depending on the driving conditions. It differs from the Volt in that the gas engine can be in operation at any time, not just after 40 miles. Using this technology the vehicle is expected to achieve at least double the efficiency of a gas version of that car. This could amount to more than 70 MPG.

The engine for the plug hybrid will be a 3.6L V-6 flex-fuel, and the car will also contain two powerful electric motors and sophisticated electronic controls.

Here is a sneak peak:

It should interesting to see if Buick and GM can pull this off. It will also be interesting to see how much these electric hybrids will cost us.

Comments welcome.


GM Told The ‘Volt’ [Electric Vehicle] Will Be Fine After Bankruptucy

GM has been under siege by governmental regulator, hoping to avoid bankruptcy. But it appears that the UAW and shareholders were not receptive to further negotiations that would hit them wallets. With this development it now appears that GM will be filing for bankruptcy protection on or about June 1, 2009. But GM is still working on their new Volt [electric vehicle], and it appears this baby will still be developed.

In addition to the Chevy line of electric cars, Cadillac and Buick may also be offering their own Volt variant. The hope is that GM will be able to bring to market this electric hybrid by the end of 2010. The new car will get 40 miles of travel per electric charge. The charging system uses standard house current and also has a gasoline engine to supplement the power plant. 

Over at CBS News they did an article on their perceptions of the new Volt after they were allowed to test drive a prototype. The article states that:

“This is a livable vehicle,” said Tony Posawatz, a vehicle line director with GM. “It’s not a golf cart or whatever. This is something that people could buy in quantity … particularly if we can get the cost down.” 

Perhaps way down – because the sticker price will be about $40,000 – for what GM calls a spunky car that can go from zero to 60 in less than nine seconds. 

The Volt is due in dealer showrooms by the end of next year, which is itself a show of optimism about GM’s future. But there’s a problem: sales of existing hybrids have been plummeting for months because the price of gasoline has dropped. If that consumer attitude holds, it could mean that GM will be bringing out the right car at the wrong time. 

If the price tag actually is at $40,00 when the Volt is released, I hope the sales people at your local Chevy dealership will like driving these around their parking lot. At $40k there will be few takers. At a time when GM has a reputation for building cars that overall suffer from a lack of quality compared to their Japanese counterparts, and when GM just announced a massive 1.5 million vehicle recall because of engine fires, it would still appear that GM doesn’t get it. 

CBS News source.

GM Volt source.