Well, it’s a done deal now. General Motors has offloaded Opel/Vauxhall to PSA Group. While the move make a lot of financial sense for GM, it has left one looming, unanswered question: what happens to Buick now?
In recent years GM has intertwined Buick and Opel’s product planning to create greater economic scale for both brands. The unofficial marriage of the two brands actually made a lot of sense. Opel needed scale to fill its underutilized production capacity and high R&D costs, while Buick needed unique premium products to sell in North America and China.
The marriage has spawned several products, with the first being the original Buick Regal, which is simply the Opel Insignia with Buick badging and packaging. Additionally, Buick has gained the Cascada convertible, Verano and Encore by way of Opel product development.
On the surface, it would appear that the Buick-Opel tie-up is fairly one-way with Buick being the main benefactor of product. While true, it’s also important to not overstate this relationship between buddying GM brands. For every Opel product resting on a Buick dealership lot, there’s also a unique Buick product. The Enclave, Envision and LaCrosse are all products that were developed solely for Buick.
In fact, the Envision is so unique it doesn’t even share its platform with other GM products. It’s a one-off that was developed primarily to satisfy the Chinese market, where Buick is GM’s number one brand in terms of sales volume.
So what happens next for Buick? There’s no question that Buick’s future product pipeline had some additional Opel products in it. Will those get replaced?
These questions are going to ultimately serve as a true test of GM’s product discipline. GM is at a fork in the road with Buick and the two paths are fairly obvious. Buick will either be degenerated to selling fancy Chevrolet products (again) or GM will use Buick’s newfound autonomy to continue pushing it to new heights in the premium market.
Rest assured, whichever direction GM selects for Buick will hinge on the Chinese market. The days of GM catering Buick to North American buyers ended back when the last generation LaCrosse was developed with a huge backseat at the cost of a small trunk. Chinese buyers love big backseats, so that was the bellwether that China will be Buick’s primary focus.
There are some leading indicators that suggest GM will keep pumping unique products to Buick. Last year rising GM Design star Helen Emsley was named VP of Buick-GMC design, providing the brand a designated design studio and someone who will likely champion building unique Buick-GMC products.
Additionally, GM has rolled out unique Buick concept cars, such as the Avista. Concept cars on their own don’t mean much, but the fact GM has been willing to spend millions to create fancy show cars for the brand is at least encouraging.
Another assurance for Buick is that it appears GM has secured production of the next-generation Buick Regal as part of the PSA acquisition. The Regal will likely buy GM some time to figure out what is next for Buick in an industry where product development lead times are four to five years.