Driven: 2011 Buick Regal CXL

Sam Abuelsamid

Fine in China
Buick is booming in the People's Republic.

Over the past decade, as GM's fortunes in North America declined, its sales in China grew from 31,794 cars in 2000 to 1,826,424 in 2009. Buick has been instrumental in that success and now sells four times as many cars in China-447,011 in 2009-than in the States. In fact, the Regal was introduced in China first, in late 2008, and GM has already sold more than 100,000 of them there. Whereas we have four Buick models, China has seven, ranging in price from $14,000 to $87,000 (for a loaded Enclave) and including a version of GM's old "dust-buster" minivan called the GL8 that has been successfully marketed as a chauffeur vehicle. The average age of Buick customers is about thirty-two years, half what it is here, and the brand enjoys residual prestige from the pre-Revolution days, when it was a favorite of emperors and other political leaders.

At a spacious and modern Buick dealership in the Beijing suburbs, Gao Yu, 25, explained that she bought her bright red Regal, which matched her bright red coat, because it was "safe and fashionable." She paid 230,000 RMB ($33,700) in cash; financing is rare. Xu Zhijun, a 41-year-old finance analyst for a construction company, got his first driver's license only a year ago and was bringing in his LaCrosse, for which he paid $41,000, also in cash, for service. David Shi, Buick's marketing chief for China, was on hand to give us his own personal perspective: "When I started working in 1982," he recalled, "my fondest hope was that my wife and I might someday have nicer bicycles-ones with 28-inch wheels. I never dreamed I would have a car." Now he has three: an Enclave for himself, a LaCrosse for his wife, and a Chevy Cruze for his son.

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