Jim Federico is currently in charge of B-segment small cars for GM around the world, from the United States to Europe to Brazil to China to Indonesia and everywhere in between, but his engineering hands have been all over some ten GM vehicles that are currently on sale in the United States, including:
1. Buick LaCrosse
2. Buick Regal
3. Buick Verano
4. Buick Encore
5. Chevrolet Spark
6. Chevrolet Sonic
7. Chevrolet Cruze
8. Chevrolet Malibu
9. Chevrolet Impala (upcoming)
10. Cadillac XTS
Here at the 2013 Detroit auto show, though, Federico is all about the Encore, Buick's new small luxury crossover that's taking on the BMW X1 and, he maintains, "almost, sort of completes the Buick lineup." What he means is that Buick now has a large crossover, the recently refreshed Enclave, this new Encore small crossover, and small, medium, and large sedans in the Verano, Regal, and LaCrosse, respectively. If one surmises that there is still room for a range-topping, image-leading, headline-making vehicle in the Buick lineup that resurrects the Riviera nameplate on a version of GM's rear-wheel-drive platform, Federico only smiles and reminds us that "I'm Mr. GM Small Car Worldwide," not in charge of the Buick brand or Buick product development, but he allows that "I don't think anybody disagrees with you [that Buick needs an image leader]."
As Mr. Small Car, Federico also oversaw the development of the ultrastylish Opel Adam hatchback that debuted at last fall's Paris Motor Show. Could it come to the United States? "The Adam's intent is to go head-to-head with the Fiat 500 in the European market," Federico maintains. "There are no plans for it to come to America. It's up to the product planners, of course, but it was designed and purpose-built for Europe." Federico is convinced that Chevy has plenty of small cars in the Spark, the Sonic, and the Cruze, and it's hard to argue with that assertion, even if none of them has quite the personality of the Adam. The cheeky little Spark, for its part, seems to have struck a chord with a sizable slice of the subcompact buying segment, selling some 3000 to 5000 units a month and enjoying special popularity in crowded urban centers like Chicago. "It's been surprising a lot of people," Federico tells us.
Back to the Encore, which Federico is eager to point out is the first small luxury crossover from an American automaker, just as the Verano was the first compact luxury sedan from the Big Three, if one conveniently forgets the Cadillac Cimarron of yore. The Encore was largely designed in Korea and is also built there. It starts at $25K in the United States and is powered solely by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Federico jokes that he was exchanging text messages yesterday with Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer, hours before the new C7 Stingray debuted, and teased him that, although his Encore has only 140 hp, he at least has a turbo.
Federico's biggest point of pride in the Encore is that, even with a four-cylinder engine and a one-box interior, "it's Buick quiet. I had to fight for that, and it's a huge play [for us]." He's also proud of the handling and reminds us that "I had to develop this car for the autobahn, also. It will be sold in Europe as the Opel Mokka." Indeed, our first drive of the Encore revealed a surprisingly good dynamic package.
Federico himself lists the BMW X1 as the only obvious competitor to the Encore. So, what does he think about the upcoming Mercedes-Benz CLA, which debuted last night at a Mercedes event here in Detroit? "It's got a presence," he says. "It's a good [product] walk for them. You can see what they're doing [with their lineup]."
And then Mr. Small Car leads us back to the Encore to point out the standard 18-inch wheels, the flat-folding rear seats, and the strong Buick identity in the front-end styling, with the chrome waterfall grill and the "Buick Blue" rings surrounding the headlamps. This man has a new small luxury crossover to sell!