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Buick Works Hard to Perk Up Its Image - 2003-11-29


The Buick division of General Motors observed its 100th anniversary earlier this year. It was a low-key birthday, in keeping with Buick's conservative image. But, the company is now working hard to perk up that image.

Buick has a problem. The average Buick customer is 62 years old. Their customer base is literally dying. In order to survive, they must appeal to younger people. They're doing it with trucks. The newest is the Rainier.

William Jeanes is a contributing editor at AutoWeek magazine.

It's not exactly its [Buick's] first truck, depending on how you categorize things," he said. "It has the Rendezvous, which is one of what they refer to as a crossover vehicle that they had some success with. I think they sold about 60,000 or 70,000 of them last year, but this is their first real sport utility vehicle and it should do well for them."

The Rainier uses the same sturdy body-on-frame underpinnings as the Chevrolet Trailblazer and GMC Envoy of the mid-sized sport utility class. Chris Mazglad, marketing director for Buick Trucks, says they gave the vehicle two engine choices, the standard in-line six and an optional big V-8, for plenty of power.

"Buick has also always been known for its exceptionally smooth ride and what we did with Rainier was, to make sure that that was the case on every single vehicle," she said. "So, not only do you start with a great architecture already, but we put the electronic air suspension as standard on every vehicle, so in essence, you're riding on air."

Prices for the Rainier start around $35,000 for the six-cylinder model. The V-8 begins around $39,000. Options can take the total up to more than $44,000.

AutoWeek's William Jeanes says the company made some additional improvements to make the Rainier stand apart from its General Motors brethren.

"Buick took it and added a great many Buick touches to it, not the least of which is a fairly sophisticated sound-deadening system," said William Jeanes. "And they did some exterior styling tweaks on the sheet metal, softened it enough that a traditional Buick buyer, the people who would go into a Buick showroom in the first place, they won't have something that's too rough-and-ready for them."

We asked Buick's Chris Mazglad whether the two "trucks," the Rendezvous and the Rainier, have had the desired effect on the age of customers. She's says it's a bit early for definitive figures on Rainier, but...

"We're very happy that Rendezvous is part of our Buick portfolio," said Chris Mazglad. "And, yes, it has certainly served to bring the overall average age down. And we're currently running about 15 years or so younger than what our former Buick sedan buyers are."

We asked journalist Jeanes if he found any particular shortcomings in the Buick sport utilities.

"There's nothing really, really wrong with them," he said. "The only thing that you could say, that you could push for, and it's true of all the large SUVs, it would be nice if they'd use less fuel. But they don't and, you know, that's that."

Mr. Jeanes is right. The Rainier, in particular, is big, powerful, luxurious and the V-8 engine drinks up a lot of gasoline. But, until the price of gas rises well past the $2 per U.S. gallon level, Buick should sell a lot of trucks.

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