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Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Will Buick Lucerne Carry The Load?

The New Buick Lucerne Posted by Hello

Buick has had a difficult time of late, fighting off encroachment into its entry level premium sedan category. Oldsmobile paid a heavy price...can Buick find increased relevancy among shoppers with the new Lucerne, introduced today at the Chicago Auto Show. Depends on how well this vehicle is executed...especially on the quality and powertrain front...because it's not a styling breakthrough (and...fortunately...it doesn't have to be a styling breakthrough)

On previous rants, I talked about how imports have won marketshare with fewer brand entries and better product execution. GM has more brands than I have fingers (ok...I'm exaggerating...but it's close). Honda, Toyota and Nissan (making a vigorous comeback now) have done very well with 2 or 3 brands, respectively (Scion being the new kid on the block for Toyota). So, Buick has its work cut out...creating distinction in an extremely crowded Sedan marketplace.

I said in the opener that styling doesn't have to carry the day. Ever notice how the Accord and Camry aren't exactly trend setters? Great executions from a quality and powertrain and ergonomics standpoint. They certainly don't overwhelm you with luxury...they beat you to death with some of the best powertrains and quality, year after year after year. So, take a quick look at the Lucerne...does it strike you as breakthrough. No. But it doesn't have to be a 300...it needs to draw level with the better premium executions on powertrain and quality.

The Good News

Buick is drawing level on quality...if the latest surveys are to be believed. On to the next challenge then...powertrain, performance and handling. I haven't driven the car, so I can't speak to that, but guys like Paul Eisenstein will quickly give us feedback on how it performs. Will import buyers drive it and say, "mmm...very nice engine...handles really well...and I've heard great things about Buick's strides in quality...I think I'll take one of these." Or, will they say..."I like it...but my (fill in name of smooth import here) is smoother and rides better." We know the Buick will have good creature comforts on par or better with the imports, so this package evaluation will be critical.

How To Attack The Imports

Although Buick would prefer to compete with Acura, Lexus, BMW and Infinity, reality is they also compete with the more premium "entry" brands like Honda, Toyota and VW. If Buick's Lucerne stacks up well, I'd attack the imports at their core...reputation for reliability and performance. Although it takes years for the market to credit quality (lagging indicator as happy Buick customers tell their neighbors about their good experience), demonstrating it loud and clear via personal experiences can make a difference on the margin...and winning market share back is all about winning at the margin. Marketing can help sway those on the fence. Traditional ads, although nice for a broad message, will not get it done. Experiental, one to one experience is key. Hit them with facts (quality data) and close them with the test drive.

Easier said than done...but as we saw in the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl, throwing deep is easy when you run successfully and your quarterback has protection...shorthand for good blocking and tackling. There are lots of good opportunities for import consumers to get personal experience with an improved Lucerne...you just have to execute when it happens.

Is Buick still targeting the "older" buyer? I don't know of too many people under the age of 40 who drive a Buick...and as I get there (closer to 40), I'm not sure my association with Buick and "old" will go away. Yes their product line is looking younger and edgier...maybe signing on Tiger Woods has helped with their younger audience.

Quality is important, so is styling, so is performance...and so is "brand" and "label". It will be interesting to see how Buick changes over the years.

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