New SUV Is Possible Salvation for Buick, Execs Say

Product delays have kept General Motors’ Buick Division from reaching its goal of becoming the “Amer ican Lexus,” the company’s top officials said at last week’s North Amer ican International Auto Show in Detroit. And they defended their image ads, which have been criticized by marketing consultants, the media and other auto mak ers, who said Buick hasn’t backed up the claims in the campaign.

New Buick products, starting with the launch of the Rainier SUV in September, will better support the brand campaign’s aspirational pre m ise, GM and agency execs claimed.

Buick’s U.S. sales rose 6.5 percent in 2002 to 432,017 units, but GM vice chairman Robert Lutz said last week the marque has been “some what disadvantaged” because of a decision a year ago to make designers rethink new LeSabre and Regal models.

“They were really, in my judgment, so far off the mark and so totally wrong, they would have been an embarrassment,” Lutz said, adding, “We all agreed it was wasted investment and that Buick was going to have to limp along with what they had for a while.”

Buick’s current image ads, launched in 2002, feature an actor portraying legendary ’30s and ’40s GM auto designer Harley Earl, proclaiming, “I’ve come back to build you a great car.”

“Harley Earl is less about where we are and more about where we are go ing,” said Dave Moore, ecd at McCann-Erickson, Troy, Mich., Buick’s national shop, which created the ads.

The company will stick with the cur rent work, said C.J. Fraleigh, GM’s executive director, advertising and corporate marketing, and GM North Amer ica president Gary Cow ger. “Data shows it’s doing a pretty effective job of getting the message out,” Cowger said.

Buick spent about $160 million overall on advertising in 2001, per CMR. No spending for Rainier was disclosed, but GM typi cally spends about $50 million to support the launch of a new vehicle.