GM’s Buick division – which re-sells four mildly restyled Chevy crossovers – will soon sell only electric crossovers, all of them named Electra.
Buick dealers who don’t want to “invest” several hundred thousand dollars each in the “infrastructure” needed to “fast” charge – and otherwise deal with – electric Electras are being offered buy-outs by GM, similar to the ones offered recalcitrant Cadillac dealers who likewise didn’t want to “invest” in GM’s all-electric future.
“Not everyone necessarily wants to make [the electric] journey, depending on where they’re located or the level of expenditure that the transition will demand,” Buick Global Vice President Duncan Aldred said the other day. “So if they want to exit the Buick franchise, then we will give them monetary assistance to do so.”
The question is, why would anyone want to “make this journey”?
Especially as regards Buick, which is GM’s Mercury – if anyone remembers that brand, which re-sold mildly re-styled Fords. It no longer sells anything, having been cancelled by Ford back in 2011. Similarly, Plymouth – which used to sell slightly re-styled, re-badged Dodges.
These in-between brands made sense thirty-plus years ago when GM, Ford and Chrysler were the “Big Three” and together owned two-thirds-plus of the American new car market. They existed as part of the strategy pioneered by Alfred Sloan back in the 1920s to shepherd the buyer from the entry-level Chevy to a more prestigious Pontiac or Oldsmobile on his way to almost Cadillac in the form of a Buick – from which he might eventually aspire to a Cadillac, at last. Ford and Chrysler emulated the strategy. A Plymouth was a lesser Dodge, while a Dodge was an almost-Chrysler.
It stopped making sense thirty-plus years ago, by which time the “Big Three” had been much reduced in size, market-share-wise. As a metric of this, all of GM today – that is, Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac combined – accounts for less market share than Chevrolet once accounted for, all by itself, circa 1970.
Part of the reason for this winnowing had to do with the influence of government, which rendered it untenable for these lesser divisions to maintain their own independent engineering divisions – and the brand-specific engines you used to get when you bought a Buick rather than a Chevy (or a Pontiac) let alone a Cadillac. It cost too much to “certify” a Buick-designed 455 V8, for instance – relative to what it cost to fit Buicks (and Pontiacs and even Cadillacs) with the same “corporate” engines, most of them designed by Chevy engineering.
“Buicks” became shells. Skates, in modern EeeeeeeVeeeeee parlance. A different body over a common underlying architecture. This reduces costs. It also arguably eliminates the point.
That point has already been reached, arguably. As of 2022, Buick’s share of the American car market is a near-irrelevant 1.2 percent. Pontiac and Oldsmobile were cashed out when their share of the market was still several times that.
There are only twelve stand-alone Buick dealerships left in the entire country. The remainder (some 1,900 of them) sell mostly GMCs, which are rebadged Chevy pick-ups and SUVs. And – just added – the electric Hum Job, the one brand-unique model in the lineup. Which GMC-Buick dealers will never sell many of because there are only so many people who can ante-up the $106,700 base price of this rig.
But GM sells a lot of Buicks in Chyna.
More than 80 percent of all Buicks are bought there, in fact. GM never sold any Pontiacs – or Oldsmobiles – in the Land of Mao. So why do Buicks sell in Chyna? It probably has something to do with so many Buicks – such as the Envision, for example – being made in Chyna. They are “domestics” over there. A few of them sent over here.
It is likely even fewer will be sold here, once they are all “Electras.” The first of these is expected to arrive next year (2023) as a 2024 model and will probably sticker for around $50,000 to start.
If that proves to be accurate, it is probable Buick’s share of the U.S. market will slip below 1 percent, for it is mostly if not chiefly the 1 percent that can afford a 30-plus percent uptick in the price of a new car. Which is what we are talking about, Willis, when we’re talkin’ bout electric cars.
Then there is this business of them all being essentially the same car – the same skate.
This is the electric tar baby being embraced by the car industry, generally. As for example Dodge, which is giving up on selling different cars like the V8-powered Charger and Challenger in favor of electrified cars that are by dint of that not much different than so many other cars.
Or rather, why buy?
GM had trouble selling Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs when those brands no longer offered much that was different, except the badge and the price. It is having trouble right now selling Buicks that aren’t much different from Chevies, excepting badge and price.
Now the idea seems to be trying to sell Buicks that all have the same name – and are the same, except for their shape and price.
It is a bleak futurity to ponder. Especially if you can remember when Buick made cars like the Electra – “not electrified.” And the Riviera and Regal, which Buick sold orders of magnitude more of than all of the rebadged Chevys made-in-Chyna that “Buick” manages to sell here, today.
But that was back when Buicks weren’t just skates. And they were made right here, in what was once America.
. . .
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