Archive for the ‘Opel’ Category

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse will come with an eAssist option package that is a pretty trick piece of engineering.  It starts with the combination of GM’s 2.4 liter 4-cylinder Ecotec direct gas injection engine and a Hydra-Matic 6-speed automatic transmission, then eAssist is added.  Here’s GM’s description of the system:

The eAssist system is a bundle of technologies that includes a lightweight and compact 115V air-cooled lithium-ion battery pack, integrated power inverter and 12V power supply—mounted just in front of the trunk but having a minimal impact on the trunk’s cargo space and still allowing the use of split-folding rear seats—and a liquid-cooled electric motor-generator attached to the LaCrosse’s engine in place of a standard alternator. Working together, this hardware delivers:

  • Enough regenerative braking power to provide up to 15 kW of electricity for charging the LaCrosse’s battery pack.
  • The ability to add up to 11 kW (15 hp) of electric power assistance when the car is accelerating.
  • Automatic engine shut-off functionality when the vehicle is stopped.
  • An aggressive fuel cut-off system that kicks in during deceleration.
  • Intelligent charge/discharge functionality for its high-voltage battery pack.

GM says the Buick LaCrosse eAssist will start at about $30,000 and is projected to get 25 mpg city, 37 highway. That’s damn good fuel economy for something best described as a “mild hybrid.”  Those figures are easily in diesel territory and the price is cheaper than a full hybrid.

My problem:  The Buick LaCrosse, based on the Opel Insignia, is a terrific car, loaded with technology but handicapped by too much bling and fake plastic wood. The Buick nameplate (in the US market) is tarnished from decades of neglect and abuse as part of GM’s notorious divisional system where crappy products ruled the day.  The average age of a Buick driver is now 65, down from 72 and the average age of a new Buick customer is 61 down from 64.   From the LA/So Cal perspective, I’d say those numbers are low and I don’t know anyone who wants to buy a Buick LaCrosse or Regal.  No one.

In Palm Springs, they still sell Buicks by adding landau tops and gold trim packages for the retired folks.  I claim no scientific sampling, but it seems that the Buick drivers in the desert cities are easily in their 80s.  In LA, Buick is still an airport rental. Note to GM: The constant dumping of these cars into rental fleets sucks the life out of retail sales.

I don’t have a good answer for this conundrum.  With Saturn, Oldsmobile and Pontiac gone, GM’s only “luxury” front drive brand left is Buick. I’d love to see the technology re-engineered to work on a rear-drive Cadillac, but I don’t think the “new GM” is willing to invest in that direction.

Yes, I admit Buick sales are “way up” but when you start from such a low number and dump two fresh new models into the market, the only direction to go is up.  It still boggles the mind that the Chinese think Buick is a super-premium brand — that’s the only reason Buick survived the bankruptcy. But it has a long way to go to attract U.S. buyers who aren’t on their last car.

Check out the video and see if you’d consider the 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist technology.

One would hope that after GM’s massive bankruptcy, something would have shaken GM’s  infamous entrenched bureaucracy and Byzantine divisional structure to its core.  Once Saturn, Pontiac and Oldsmobile were vanquished to history’s dustbin, only Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC remained.  The old practice of taking a Chevy and cloning its products upstream to every division was supposed to be dead, right?  Not so much.

For as long as I can remember, GMC has had no unique products, but the premium GM gets for dressing up Chevy trucks is so seductive that it couldn’t give up that profit center. Okay, I get it, but I think GMC could have been jettisoned and a new sub-brand of Chevrolet could be created to sell Chevy trucks that look better and are laden with luxury.  My idea was to have the Black Tie division or sub-brand. It would be instantly recognizable as a Chevy and the Black Bow Tie on the grill would be prestigious.  That way, you didn’t have to feed a completely separate division and you could keep the profits within Chevrolet. No such luck. We are stuck with GMC.

Buick was supposed to be different. It was going to get some rebadged Opels, and that’s what you have with the LaCrosse and Regal – both based on the Opel Insignia platform. Sure the Enclave is just a Chevy Traverse or GMC Acadia, but that comes from the “old GM” where each division got a cloned Chevy.

I guess the temptation to fall back into its old ways was too much when the Chevy Cruze was introduced.  Chevy  uses the Cruze platform for the Volt and the Cruze is a world car sold in many markets outside the U.S.  The use of a world platform drives the costs down to the point were GM can build the Cruze in the US (Lordstown, OH) and still make money.

The car of no one's dreams: The Cadillac Cimmaron

A Chevy Cavalier: Looks a bit too much like that Cadillac, huh?

Enter the Buick Verano: A rebadged Chevy Cruze with some cheap-looking fake wood accents and a few more luxury appointments. What next? A modern Cadillac Cimmaron?  See if you see any family resemblances….

2012 Buick Verano: Front

2011 Chevy Cruze: Front

2012 Buick Verano: Rear

2011 Chevy Cruze: Rear

2012 Buick Verano: Cockpit

2011 Chevy Cruze: Cockpit

Sure, there are some subtle differences, but it all looks just a bit too familiar.  The Verano is better than other GM rebadged products in that the cockpit shows some different fascia and the door armrests are reshaped, but the size and look is still Chevrolet, in my humble opinion.  The exterior is also familiar in overall dimension, including the door cutouts and roof slant. The Buick gets a Buick grille and distinctive taillights. Whoop de doo.

GM is crowing about Buick’s sales renaissance; but when you start with such a low bar, it’s not hard to have double digit (55%) increases.  From my point of view in LA, Buick isn’t finding younger buyers; its finding its place in the rental fleets again. Hell, it’s hard to even find a Buick dealer in town.  The Santa Monica GM dealer now appears to share space with Santa Monica Infiniti!  This was a tiny dealership to begin with, so I don’t know how that’s going to work.  The  times I’ve gone there to  look at new models, they haven’t had any inventory.

Buick just doesn’t seem to have any traction in the LA market.  I doubt the Verano is going to help. I see a rental car fleet in its future.