- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 22, 2009

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. | General Motors Co. said it canceled plans for a Buick sport utility vehicle after potential customers said the model lacked luxury touches they expect of the brand.

The decision was made Aug. 14, after GM earlier in the week showed the SUV and other future vehicles to consumers, dealers, employees, analysts and reporters, Vice Chairman Tom Stephens said Thursday on a company blog. One blogger called it “hideous,” and users of Twitter dubbed it the “Vuick.”

“We were all struck by the consistency of the criticism,” Mr. Stephens wrote. “It didn’t fit the premium characteristics that customers have come to expect from Buick.” He didn’t elaborate on the vehicle’s shortcomings.

The decision to cancel the Buick was based on all of the input, face-to-face, blogs and tweets, said Christopher Barger, GM’s spokesman for social media. No matter how they expressed it, “they just didn’t like it,” he said.

The plug-in hybrid technology that was to be used for the Buick SUV will be applied to another vehicle that Detroit-based GM will discuss soon, Mr. Stephens wrote. GM had said it would begin selling the plug-in hybrid version in 2011, after the gasoline-only model began sales in late 2010.

“It’s obviously a sign of a faster GM and a GM more open to outside feedback,” said Jim Hall, principal of the auto consulting firm 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, Mich. “It also suggests there were already concerns inside the company about the product.”

Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson has said he wants to transform GM to be more responsive to customers and make speedier decisions.

Negative feedback spread on Twitter Inc.’s site after users began calling the vehicle a “Vuick,” a reference to GM’s Saturn Vue that provided the basis for the Buick. It looked more like a retread than a fresh design, they said. Detractors began using the “Vuick” name as a hash tag - an indexing tool on Twitter that lets users quickly find messages on the same topic.

Rebranding a mediocre model with a new name was typical of the “old GM,” blogger Joel Feder said last week on his Twitter account. He called the car hideous and a crying shame. “Vuick must die,” Mr. Feder wrote.

GM still plans a different small Buick SUV that it referred to as the “baby Enclave,” Mr. Stephens said. The Enclave is a sport utility vehicle built on a car platform with three rows of seats.

Buick’s U.S. sales peaked in 1984 at 941,611, according to the trade publication Automotive News. By 2008, that total had dwindled to 137,200, a 26 percent drop from a year earlier.

Mr. Hall said the plug-in hybrid system that was going to be used for the canceled Buick SUV originally was intended for the Saturn Vue, part of a brand GM is selling. Adapting the system to another SUV will probably mean added costs and reduced performance because the likely candidates, the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, are larger than the Vue, Mr. Hall said.

“Bottom line is they probably can’t afford not to do it in some form” with the new emphasis on vehicles powered by electricity, he said.

GM, which is 61 percent-owned by the U.S. Treasury after a government-backed bankruptcy, is introducing models with greater fuel efficiency as federal mileage requirements rise 35 percent by 2016.

The plug-in hybrid system that would have been used in the Buick SUV shares some technology with the Chevrolet Volt car, which is powered by lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged through a household electrical outlet.

The Volt, an electric-drive vehicle with an on-board generator, is scheduled to go on sale in November 2010. The Buick would have been powered by its electric motor or gasoline-burning engine.

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