Projecting Flat U.S. Sales, Buick Calls '07 a Transitional Year

'Work in Progress' Includes Three New Models to Reach 'Grown-up' Buyers

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- While Buick is building momentum in China, the General Motors Corp. premium brand is shrinking in its home market, making 2007 a year of transition for the automaker, which is rolling out three new vehicles.
Buick's VP-marketing and advertising called the new Enclave crossover 'smoking hot.'
Buick's VP-marketing and advertising called the new Enclave crossover 'smoking hot.'

Steve Shannon, general manager of Buick, told an Automotive Press Association luncheon this week that 2007 is a transitional year for Buick in the U.S. He projected sales would be flat this year, partly due to production being halted for the 3-year-old Terraza minivan this summer. He declined to discuss how 2008 sales would play out. Buick also stopped production on its Rendezvous SUV-styled crossover in December, a model that attracted younger buyers.

'Grown-up' target demo
The average age for a Buick buyer is 60 years old: 67 on the car side and 53 on the truck side, Mr. Shannon said. Buick is seen as a stodgy brand catering to older consumers, but Mr. Shannon expects to lower the average age of his buyers by only two or three years in the next couple of years, calling his target "grown-ups." Many of his target buyers have remained loyal to Buick over the years.

Mike Jackson, VP-marketing and advertising for GM in North America, told Advertising Age that Buick is a "work in progress" that will have three products: the Lucerne sedan, LaCrosse sedan and Enclave crossover (the Enclave, which he called "smoking hot," hits showrooms this summer). The LaCrosse and Lucerne are "dramatically better" than the Buick cars they replaced -- the Century and LeSabre, respectively, Mr. Jackson said. And the automaker, after a 51-year hiatus, is also bringing back the concept of "Super" -- even more premium versions of the two sedans.

Buick's ad agency is Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, Birmingham, Mich.

Brand peaked in 1984
Buick has seen sales decline so far this year, selling 27,121 new vehicles in the U.S. in the first two months of 2007 vs. 38,598 units for the same period in 2006. GM sold 240,657 Buicks domestically last year, nearly 15% fewer than 2005. The brand's peak year was 1984, when it sold 941,611 cars in the U.S., marking a 9% share of all cars sold that year and 6.6% total industry share with trucks (Buick only sold cars then).

In China, GM said Buick sales rose by 25% in 2006 to 304,230 units. Mr. Shannon said Buick's success in China could eventually be used in marketing the brand in the U.S. down the road. "We are rebuilding," he said, "brick by brick."
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