- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

General Motors is breathing new life into one of its oldest brands: Buick.

Nearly two years ago, following the automaker's announcement that it would phase out Oldsmobile, many auto industry experts wondered if the demise of Buick could be far behind.

Buick was in a sales slide as it was selling only cars in a market in which trucks accounted for half of all vehicles. In addition, Buick has one of the industry's oldest owner bases; the average age of its buyers is 62, indicating a failure to attract new, younger buyers. Further, experts, especially Buick dealers, had been concerned that GM was providing no new products to the division.

The tide appears to be turning, and Buick, which celebrates its centennial next May, seems to have a brighter future.

In speaking to Detroit's Automotive Press Association recently, Roger Adams, Buick general manager, said the division would introduce a new vehicle or a vastly redesigned existing vehicle every year for the next five years.

The new product brigade has already kicked off with the Rendezvous, introduced last year. Based on GM's minivan platform, the five- or seven-passenger sport utility, which is the more-handsome sibling to the Pontiac Aztek, is Buick's first truck in 80 years. It represents the first new vehicle aimed at attracting new buyers.

Indeed, it appears to be working. Buick finds itself in the rare position of trying to find a way to produce more Rendezvous, sales of which are expected to hit 60,000 this year. Plus, the Rendezvous is hitting its target.

Of people buying the Rendezvous, 73 percent are first-time Buick owners, 30 percent are first-time GM owners and 35 percent are under age 50.

The Rendezvous has given the entire division a boost. Buick sales for the year are up 22 percent, while the overall industry is only 2.5 percent ahead of last year.

Following on the success of the Rendezvous, Buick will add a second sport utility vehicle to its lineup in fall 2003. The Rainier uses the same chassis as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada but will have Buick styling cues and a different powertrain than the inline six-cylinder engine and optional all-wheel-drive on the others.

Mr. Adams would not confirm details of Buick's other future products. He did say Buicks in the future would remain true to Buick's heritage by focusing on power, interior elegance and gorgeous styling.

Sources, however, say Buick is looking at a number of other truck-type products and people-mover products. In terms of cars, Buick has freshened the 2003 Park Avenue Ultra to include vetiports; it will be replaced entirely in 2005. GM is looking to revamp its midsize Regal and Century sedans even sooner. The question, say sources, is should Buick offer both cars or just one?

Buick also is searching for a halo car to replace the long-defunct Riviera. The Bengal, a curvaceous four-door roadster concept shown last year, appears to be dead. Also unlikely to go into production is the LaCrosse concept that gained a lot of attention on the auto show circuit. The LaCrosse was a cross between a sedan and a sport utility with an available pickuptruck bed.

In terms of marketing, golfing great Tiger Woods will remain in Buick's advertising into the foreseeable future, said Mr. Adams. Buick signed Woods to signal to the public that Buick is becoming a more youthful-oriented company.

As the brand focuses on youthfulness in its vehicles and marketing, it will simultaneously celebrate its illustrious history. Buick, which was established on May 19, 1903, kicked off a yearlong celebration by installing a Michigan historical marker at Detroit's Renaissance Center, home to Buick and GM's corporate headquarters.

The marker notes that David Dunbar Buick began building automobile engines and experimental cars in Detroit before Buick's move to nearby Flint, Mich., and that Buick became the financial foundation for the creation of GM.

During the year, Buick will host a heritage tour of about 20 vintage Buicks now traveling nationwide and winding up in Detroit next July. The 20 classics will join a collection of more than 2,000 vintage Buicks for the centennial celebration in Flint, July 23-27, 2003.

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