Monday, December 25, 2006

Buick line is hot seller in China

Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Buick line is hot seller in China
While slumping in U.S., brand is expected to increase sales by 40% in hot market this decade.
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

Americans drivers have been cooling on Buicks for years, sending sales spiraling downward.

The opposite is true on the other side of the world, where the vehicles' popularity has helped General Motor's Corp's Buick brand hit an unusual milestone.

The distinctly American brand has sold more vehicles this year in China -- the world's fastest-growing major automobile market -- than in the United States.

The landmark, reached this fall, is a good-news-bad-news for phenomenon for Buick and GM.

It's a clear sign of the brand's struggles in the United States, where sales have been declining for years and Buick has struggled to break out of the stereotype of a car for older people.

But slumping U.S. sales aren't the only factor behind the dynamic. The vehicles are beloved in China, where auto sales are expected to increase by a 40 percent by the end of the decade.

Buick dealerships in China are designed to look and feel like the cars they sell. Buicks are driven by chauffeurs carting around the Chinese upper class. Even the last Chinese emperor, Pu Yi, owned a Buick. "There's just an incredible feeling about the cars there," said Buick General Manager Steve Shannon said.

GM sold 241,632 Buicks in China through October, compared to 206,589 in the United States. Buick posted a 28 percent sales increase in China through October. Sales in the U.S. sales fell 15 percent over the same period.

In China, "there's an opportunity for brand revival, and Buick proved they could do it," said Michael Dunne, vice president of J.D. Power Asia Pacific.

Buick's best-selling vehicle in China is the Excelle station wagon. The brand has a 4.5 percent market share in the country and next year plans to launch two new models: the Excelle and LaCrosse sedan.

Shannon said Buick in North America could take some lessons from its overseas counterpart. Since many vehicles there are chauffeured, the company pays especially close attention to the quality and features found the vehicle interiors. It's an area where GM has struggled in the U.S.

"There's a big focus on interiors, spacious back seats, entertainment systems," Shannon said. "There's a big premium there on beautiful, beautiful cars."

Staff Writer Christine Tierney contributed to this report. You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313)223-4686 or

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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