- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

DETROIT Marie Teasley likes the Buick Rendezvous because it makes her feel young.
Her husband, Ron, likes it because of its look and the fact that golf superstar Tiger Woods hawks it in television commercials.
The Detroit residents, who say they are "over 65," represent the demographic Buick executives have typically targeted.
Their interest in the youthful appeal of a Buick, however, is not typical for the General Motors Corp. brand; youth and Buick have been mutually exclusive terms over the years.
"The latest research shows the 2002 model-year Buick still has the oldest buyer body of any brand at 66," said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific Inc., a Santa Ana, Calif.-based automotive market-research firm.
On average, Cadillac buyers are 65; for Lincoln, buyers average 63; for Mercury, it's 60; and Oldsmobile, a surprising 53, Mr. Peterson said.
But Buick salesman Sylvester Harper has noticed something happening since the introduction of the Rendezvous last year.
"It appeals to all ages with its style, ease of entrance, options and pricing," said Mr. Harper, sales manager at Suburban Olds Cadillac Buick in Troy.
Through June, Buick sales were up 4.3 percent compared with the first six months of 2001, powered by the success of the Rendezvous.
The Rendezvous was Buick's first truck in 80 years, and in September, 2003 there will be a second one, the Rainier, a more traditional-looking but luxurious sport utility vehicle.
The goal for Buick is to walk the thin and potentially dangerous line of flirting with a slightly younger buyer while holding onto its traditionally older customers by making them feel younger.
"We will satisfy today's customers, but we will probably on average be five to 10 years younger in our age skew than we are today by offering products that are right for people that are 45 to 50 years old," Roger Adams, Buick general manager, said in an interview at GM's recent full-line preview.
The Rendezvous and Rainier represent Buick's shot at widening the brand's appeal while reaching out to younger buyers.
"It's definitely the right direction, and adding the Rendezvous and Rainier will help bring in younger buyers," Mr. Peterson said.
Mr. Harper said he's seen younger buyers who might never have owned a domestic vehicle suddenly become attracted to Buick because of the Rendezvous.
Mr. Adams said the average age of first-time Buick buyers is 45.
"We have people that have never been to Buick, who will have young families, who say Rendezvous is a much better alternative than a minivan to them and it offers more features than SUVs," he said.
The addition of the Rendezvous and Rainier does not mean Buick is abandoning its core passenger-car business. The division is looking to lure younger buyers by jazzing up the style of its passenger cars but not with anything too radical.
"Buick has always stood for American style, a lot of curved edges, shapely looks, and those are the things we want to continue," Mr. Adams said.
Attention to design by GM North America Chairman Robert Lutz led to a year's delay in introducing what was supposed to be the 2003 Buick Regal midsize car.
"A lot of his comments were about making it more stylish, not settling for something that was easy to do from any engineering standpoint really pushing the envelope. He's also been strong on interior design," Mr. Adams said. "He wants when people sit down in the car to say 'wow.'" It's going to take "a little of that Bob Lutz magic," to begin to counteract Buick's stodgy image, said Michael Flynn, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan. Mr. Lutz, a former Chrysler Corp. vice chairman, came to GM last year with a mandate to reinvigorate its product line.
With Oldsmobile being phased out by the 2004 model year, Mr. Adams sees an opportunity to win over the division's traditionally older customers.
"As we offer a lot of premium products, they could naturally migrate to us," he said.
Although the Rainier is a direct replacement for the departing Oldsmobile Bravada, Mr. Adams said Buick won't stretch its truck line into pickups. But that doesn't mean Buick won't expand its sport utility offerings.
"We do see the opportunity to prove more functionality as long as we can deliver the comfort, style and luxury attributes Buick's always had," he said.

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