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New Buick Model to Boost Sales Change Image - 2001-07-30

Buick needs a boost. In the first five months of 2001, U.S. sales at the Buick division of General Motors were down 15 percent. The average age of Buick customers is 62. The company has turned to a light truck, a so-called "crossover" sport utility vehicle, to try to pump up sales and attract younger buyers.

The new Buick is called Rendezvous. Technically, it is classified as a truck and, according to Assistant Brand Manager for Rendezvous, Cole Grissom, it has been a long time since Buick's name was on a truck. "1923 was the last year that Buick produced a truck," Mr. Grissom says. "It was actually a delivery truck. And then, since then, it has been a car line."

Buick officials have called the Rendezvous an important new direction for the brand. Cole Grissom says it is hoped this crossover vehicle will attract a new and different customer. "Our primary demographic is going to be people between 35 and 49 years old," he says. "They are going to be primarily professional, household incomes of $75,000 plus, family-oriented people. If we achieve a 50 year old buyer on average, we are going to be happy."

Rendezvous is based on a General Motors minivan platform, not a truck platform and, as such, points out Mr. Grissom, is not designed for rugged off-road driving. "It does not have the true off-road capability," Mr. Grissom explains. "You know, it can manage snow fine. It can manage wet conditions, sand, but you know it is not a true 4 X 4 per se."

The Buick spokesman sees the popular Lexus RX300 and Acura MDX as the Rendezvous' main competitors, along with Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Road & Track magazine's Detroit editor, Matt DeLorenzo, believes Rendezvous might be able to do well against Lexus and Acura on price. "A lot of people who will cross-shop this thing," he says, "might be looking at an RX300 or an Acura MDX and they will find that the Buick is considerably less expensive and yet has the load-carrying capability of the third-row seat which is becoming, I think, increasingly critical in that segment."

The Rendezvous' price range starts at just over $25,000 for the front-wheel drive model and rises to $28,000 for an all-wheel drive version. Options can push the bottom line to $35,000. All models are powered by a 3.4 liter V6 engine producing 185 horsepower. And all models feature three rows of seats accommodating seven passengers.

Buick is betting on a growing market for comfort and versatility, not rugged off-roading. The Rendezvous offers those qualities, along with car-like ride and handling. Popular golfer Tiger Woods has signed on as spokesman for Rendezvous. It will be interesting to see if Tiger can help shake the brand's conservative image and make a winner out of a new Buick truck.