Though not a golfer, nor someone who buys cars with automatic transmissions, I fulfill much of the demographics that Buick is working hard to shed, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the brand. I have been advocating a rear-wheel-drive car for Buick’s lineup ever since Sang Yup Lee’s 2004 Velite concept used General Motors’ old Zeta platform. The convertible concept was to have become a RWD sedan for 2009 but, well, you know what happened to a lot of good future product intentions back then.
But in the years since the Buick Velite concept, Chevrolet has had several mainstream RWD cars, in addition to the Corvette, Cadillac has returned to a mostly RWD car lineup, and even Pontiac had a couple of them before that brand was killed.
So when I sat down at the 2016 North American International Auto Show with Buick/GMC chief Duncan Aldred, it was the focus of my line of questioning. The Avista, Buick’s second RWD concept in two years, was spinning on its turntable just a few yards away.
What are the chances it will go into series production?
“The capabilities are there to build it; it was brought into here as a pure concept,” says Aldred. “We wanted to show off Buick design, we wanted to showcase a few of the things that you will see in Buicks over the next one, two, three years, whether it’s the lighting technology, interior design, grille treatment, etcetera. And from there, we wait and see what happens.
“We have a halo in the range, the Cascada. When that’s run its course — it’s right at the beginning of its journey, but you’ve got to plot ahead in this game — I’d like another halo for Buick. It’s a very important brand, 1.25-million sales internationally last year.”
The front-wheel-drive 2016 Buick Cascada convertible can expect to have a lifecycle of up to seven or eight years, though the German-bred car has been on the market as an Opel since 2013. For now, Aldred isn’t willing to describe the Avista as anything but a concept.
Aldred is willing to be definitive about last year’s stunning Buick Avenir concept, a full-size luxury fastback sedan built off the Cadillac CT6’s RWD Omega platform. (The concept model has “all-wheel drive,” as if it matters.)
GM executives have downplayed the Avenir’s chances of production for most of the past year. Since last November’s Los Angeles Auto Show, they’ve pointed to the new, but still FWD 2017 LaCrosse as the perfect example of how the RWD Avenir’s design cues would make it to production.
As one enthusiast friend who’s not in the industry noted, Cadillac has always pushed back whenever it looks like Buick might encroach on its territory. The days of Limiteds and Electra 225s are long gone.
“We’re not going to build Avenir,” Aldred finally confirms. “… We never went into the show with the plan to build it. You’re going to see elements of Avenir in LaCrosse. But the reaction we got last year did stimulate a lot of valuable work, really looking at ‘can we, should we build that car.’ Bottom line is, that didn’t quite work for us. And … the sedan market is declining quite rapidly. We’ve also got an emerging and strengthening Cadillac line as well, and you’ve got to look at that potential. It would have been a viable business case, but we haven’t got unlimited capital.”
Now I’m convinced my non-automotive-industry friend is right: Buick had a business case for Avenir, but Cadillac put the brakes on it.
Aldred says he has to “make sure I’ve got my bases covered” with new product in the most important segments, such as the premium compact CUV market. That’s the Buick Envision, though because it is assembled in China, the brand doesn’t expect to export enough for it to become its bestselling CUV. It also has the b-segment Encore (built in South Korea) and the full-size, American-built Enclave.
Aldred is also in charge of GMC, which launched the new, smaller 2017 Acadia here. When I ask about replacing the very successful but old Buick Enclave, he says we won’t see the new model this year, and we shouldn’t necessarily expect it to be on the Acadia’s new Chi platform. Buick-GMC dealers thus may have greater distinction between the two CUVs sharing showroom space.
So, we’re left with a pretty handsome concept as the remaining hope for a RWD Buick (My colleagues are about evenly split on it. See 2016 Detroit Auto Show Hits, Misses, and Revelations.)
Being a two-door coupe, it can’t rely on China for its business case. I suspect it has a better chance than the Avenir if for no other reason that it’s on a much less-costly platform, Alpha, that Cadillac (ATS, CTS) already shares with Chevrolet (Camaro). We have seen many two-door concepts become four-door production cars before, and if it has any chance, the same thing will happen with this Buick. To distinguish a production Avista (change the name though; it sounds too much like “Olds Vista Cruiser”) a four-door coupe with the Avenir’s roofline makes a lot of sense.
So, does that mean I’m predicting it will be built? No. I’d say it has a better chance than Avenir, but it’s still a long shot.