Somewhere in this universe or beyond, the Scottish inventor of the pushrod engine and founder of Buick Motor Co., David Dunbar Buick, is having the last laugh at the expense of the remnants of the old Henry Ford company, which eventually became General Motor's Cadillac brand.
Buick is becoming the premium brand GM has dreamed of for Cadillac since … forever. Buick has done this quietly, without hype or empty promises. Last year, Buick delivered nearly 1.2 million vehicles in China, the United States, Canada and Mexico, a second straight sales record. Buick's luscious Avenir concept unveiled at this year's Detroit auto show was a hit and will eventually become a production car. And Buick vehicles are dependable and reliable – having finished second only to Toyota's Lexus brand in the latest J.D. Power vehicle dependability study (VDS), and seventh overall on the latest Consumer Reports brand report card. Buick is first among the Detroit-based brands, ahead of Honda and BMW, and CR recommends 83 per cent of Buick's lineup.
Cadillac? GM's brand of endless art and science promises and the poaching of yet another Cadillac head – Johan de Nysschen from Nissan's own luxurious disappointment, Infiniti – keeps stumbling. The latest Cadillac saga includes the pricey headquarters move to New York. This comes after the overhyped tales of the launch in China, the failed distribution deals in Europe and the countless billions spent on a never-ending reinvention and promised renaissance.
Caddy did finish fourth in the VDS, just behind Toyota and ahead of Porsche, Mercedes and others. And later this year, Caddy will launch a new flagship sedan, the CT6. We saw a glimpse of the new CT6 in a commercial during the Oscars and de Nysschen has since hyped, in an online Q and A, a new twin-turbo V-8 for the CT6. Car and Driver reports de Nysschen also "laid bare plans for a new family of V-6 engines" for the car.
So Cadillac is not on cruise control. De Nysschen has rolled out a $12-billion (U.S.), multiyear capital-expansion plan. We'll see new Caddy platforms, powertrains, various technologies and perhaps even designs as good as the Avenir. De Nysschen has the backing of GM chief executive officer Mary Barra, who in a Reuters report said, "We have a lot of work ahead of us with Cadillac."
Cadillac's long-stated strategy has been to give BMW, Mercedes and Audi owners a Detroit-based alternative. "The problem is Cadillac is not BMW," said Larry Dominique, president of ALG in Santa Monica, Calif., in a Reuters report, adding, "The ATS [compact] is the product that Cadillac could have used to build brand equity, but it was overpriced and overproduced."
Ouch. The truth hurts. And thus, as Forbes points out, Caddy's sales momentum began flagging toward the end of fiscal 2013 and deliveries have continued to fall ever since. Sales in the key U.S. market were down 6.5 per cent last year and this year, while the big and profitable Escalade SUV is sizzling, GM is offering fat discounts to move ATS and CTS sedans, considered by Caddy as rivals for BMW's 3- and 5-Series, respectively. In Cadillac's dreams.
At least GM has Buick. In all the important markets last year, Buick's sales were up double digits, including 31 per cent in Canada. The future is even brighter. Why? With due respect to David Buick, the GM people running Buick stopped living in the past five years ago when they turned to reinventing what was then a stark Buick reality coming out of GM's bankruptcy.
The Verano compact premium launched in 2011 is a winner and the Encore small crossover landed in 2013, just when young urban types began seriously looking for it or something like it. Instead of trying to be and to beat the Germans, Buick filled gaps in the marketplace to answer the needs of emerging car buyers before those consumers even asked.
"You could really argue that Buick is a white-space brand,"
AutoPacific Inc. analyst Dave Sullivan told Automotive News.
This is a great story. Let's hope GM leaves Buick alone to be unusually innovative. And keep praying for a Cadillac revival.
Here are the number of total vehicles sold in Canada by each brand. (Mouse over the bars on the graph to see the exact figures)
Here are the numbers broken down by vehicle beginning with the Buicks
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