Archive for March 24, 2011

Buick has been on an evangelical mission to find younger buyers as it’s older ones die off or abandon the brand. The new Lacrosse and Regal are pretty nice entries into the crowded compact/mid-size sedan field — it’s just hard to stand out.

2011 Buick Regal CXL

2011 Buick Regal interior

The upcoming Verano, a rebadged and gussied-up Chevy Cruze, should be interesting too.  However, Buick’s long-tarnished image as a car only for your grandparents presents an almost insurmountable barrier for younger buyers and a difficult challenge for even the most talented marketing team.

2012 Buick Verano

2012 Buick Verano interior

Buick recently dropped its long-time sponsorship of the Pro Golf tournaments (old folks) in favor of the NCAA basketball March Madness hoop-a-thon (young folks).   Buick is also sponsoring “Quest for the Keys” in various cities across the country.  The ultimate prize is a Buick.  It’s a scavenger hunt with clues on Facebook and Twitter – you know, where the young, hip customers lurk.

All the marketing muscle is showing some progress as the average age of a  Buick buyer has dropped from 70+ to 60.  However, this is still too high for GM.

Finding a Buick dealer in metro LA is harder than the Quest for the Keys scavenger hunt.  The Chevy/Buick store at Centinela and Santa Monica Blvd in Santa Monica is now an Infiniti dealer and while Buick’s website still shows them there (or nearby) I drive by it frequently and can’t find the store to save my life.  There are two dealers in the Valley (Woodland Hills and Sherman Oaks); but after that, you have to go to Penske Cadillac Buick GMC South Bay in Torrance.   If you live in Metro LA,  you aren’t going to Torrance to get service and you may not want to drive to the Valley either.

So aside from the challenge of finding a dealer, this New Rule must apply: When you drive into a Buick dealership, the first car you see can’t have a Landau roof, gold package and Vogue tires.

Jessup Auto Plaza (Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and GMC) in Cathedral City, California probably has lots of older customers – and that’s a good thing. But this is what you see as you drive onto their lot:

2011 Buick Regal - All dressed up and ready for ??

This Regal was laden with all the relics of times long past.  The “custom top” in canvas just looks wrong.

Vogue tires, chrome wheels... ugh.

Someone spent a lot of time to do this roof. Note the special chrome-like trim that "tricks" you into thinking it's a convertible. How about those two-tone pin stripes?

This custom coach even gets a special grill. It screams bad taste.

Note the "gold package" Buick crest and model designations - a theme carried out anywhere they could stick one. Fake gold veneer everywhere.

I don’t know how much this package cost, but it wasn’t cheap.

I had gone to Jessup to test drive the Chevy Cruze with a friend.  The pimped-out Regal was astonishing, but more treats awaited us on the Chevy side of the dealership.  There was a Malibu and an Impala with this special package of “upgrades.”

The Chevy Malibu, an all-star in the rental fleets, gets the special canvas top, gold applique, Vogue tires and chrome wheels.

Here’s the window sticker of the Malibu:

Let me translate. MSRP of the Malibu - $28,385; Custom top, gold package, Vogue tyres, mesh grill - $4,480; Pin stripes - $249. Total add-ons: $4,729. Wow.

If this package cost this much for the Malibu, it must have been at least that much on the Buick Regal.

But wait, there’s more!  I can’t believe anyone buys a Chevy Impala, the top star of rental fleets. It’s about as boring and anonymous as it gets.  It makes a Toyota Camry look glamorous.  Here is the Impala with the same grotesque package:

My, what a fetching face for this Impala. Not. It's destined for someone's garage.

Rental car no longer. This car says something about its owner: Bad taste.

The Impala's butt - either you're asleep by now or wide-eyed with amazement that these kinds of packages still find an customers.

Bottom line: If Buick wants younger customers, they can’t put these laughable relics on full display in front of the dealership.  Keep them in the back or in a special spot off to the side.  If a customer was wavering on the Buick brand and was concerned about its image as an “old person’s car” then this kind of display will kill the deal and send they to another brand.

Dealers are the all-important point-of-contact with customers.  Buick dealers must sync with regional and national marketing efforts. If they’re not, Buick will fail to find the younger buyers it so desperately covets.