The State of Buick: Tony DiSalle on the prospects for GM's premium division

By Matt DeLorenzo on April 12, 2016 2:00 PM

As GM’s premium brand, Buick has been working hard on changing its perception in the marketplace. While much of that emphasis to date has involved the use of more contemporary advertising themes, it’s now begun focusing on a new product onslaught that includes the recently introduced Cascada convertible, a facelifted Encore and soon-to-be launched all-new Envision along with a redesigned LaCrosse. During the New York Auto Show, we sat down with Tony DiSalle, U.S. vice president of marketing for Buick and GMC to talk about the division’s outlook for 2016.

Q: So what can you tell us about the all-new Envision?

A: So that comes in the summer, it should be in dealerships June/July timeframe. There’s no pricing yet. Dimensionally, it is perfectly in the middle, a foot and half longer than Encore, and a foot and half shorter than the Enclave. We’ve know that there is room in that space -- the compact crossover segment is the highest volume segment in the industry. The piece of that growing fastest is the very upper end, the premium or luxury subset of compact, so we are launching into a market that has a feverish growth rate.

Q: Will we see a new Enclave soon?

A: We can’t talk specifics on timing, but it has remained remarkably strong. The major refresh in 2013 did a lot for the vehicle. There is a fabulous loyalty for Enclave which is about 33 percent, which is a very high number. We saw that back in 2013 when we did the refresh. Number one reason for purchase of that vehicle and a top three reason for purchase across all of Buick is design is exterior styling. The Enclave has such a timeless design. We’ve put the brand on more people’s radar screens through the communications and ad campaign and a lot of people think the Enclave is new. And that’s because it has a timeless design.

Our design team has done a phenomenal job on Buick and they know how to execute Buicks and the notion of sculptural beauty. Our desire is to get people to say one word when they see a Buick going down the road and that’s “beautiful.” And they do, they literally use that word, beautiful.

Q: Sedans have taken a hit from crossovers, what do you see in store for Buick on the car side?

A: We have certainly felt the erosion of sedans, it is eroding from such a large base, if you combine mid-size and large cars you still have 3.5 million units, so it is a big component of the market. We are very bullish about launching an all-new LaCrosse. From an engineering standpoint you can improve on comfort and quiet or performance and handling confidence. And usually that is a binary tradeoff. But what we did with LaCrosse is to improve the comfort piece of it, the quiet piece of it but we also lowered the vehicle, lowered the h-point, and lowered the overall car, so it also improved on dynamic confidence through handling. It is a sleeker, sportier design. We felt that is an opportunity to capture some growth, garnering some folks moving up from midsize cars and perhaps conquesting some from existing luxury makes. The vehicle dynamically has been benchmarked against the best. It’s another one of those where Buick is winning not just from a styling standpoint but from dynamic standpoint as well.

Cars are becoming a little more sporty purchase. We are going aggressively on the car front in the case of LaCrosse, which is coming this fall, in making it much more sleek and sporty.

Q: What about the future for Avista coupe concept?

A: It is a concept. The opportunity for the concept was to generate brand buzz and combine the celebration of today’s beautiful sculptured exteriors and interiors with the performance heritage of the brand, which we’ve never done that before at least in a contemporary way. We thought it would be a great opportunity for concept, but that’s all it is.

Q: Is there anything that would point to the re-emergence of coupes as a trend?

A: There’s nothing that would point to growth [in that segment]. There’s been more change over the course of the last few years and you can stretch back a decade or so and not see as dramatic change. Coming through the great recession, there were a lot of predictions that certain segments would go away, but from the industry standpoint we have seen very rapid growth in trucks, utilities and now crossovers.

Q: What Buick’s role in electrification at GM?

A: You can see that as an area of intensity in China that is becoming more of a requirement there.  This is a reality of today’s market, of needing to be good in that base.

Fuel economy is important. What we’ve done with Buick is a very nice strategy with spirited, efficient performance which manifests itself with many small displacement turbo engine -- the 2.0-liter turbo in Envision, a 2.0-liter turbo in Regal and Regal GS, a 1.6 in Cascada, and a 1.4 in the Encore. It is interesting the amount of output now generated by small displacement engines resulting in great fuel economy but also in terrific performance, surprising performance. That’s one of the things that we bring as a brand to consumers that is a very pleasant surprise.  Consumer mindset has shifted, no longer focused on what is the number on displacement but tell me what the benefits are from a performance standpoint and a fuel economy perspective.

Q: How has the launch of Cascada progressed?

A: The initial launch has been very strong. Timing is perfect…who would have thought that convertibles have become a white space here in this market because a lot of competitors have left the playing field? We have a value proposition in the convertible space. We have a Cascada that is the size of an Audi A5 for the price less than the Audi A3, which is a tremendous value. We know that these consumers are not as brand loyal as they are segment loyal. They want a convertible, and oftentimes it gets us into garages that this brand may not be in already. It has great conquest potential.

Q: Will we see a lot of Cascadas in daily rental?

A: If done well in terms of a targeted exposure program with limited volumes, it could be a good thing. But, it is not something we have done to date with Cascada. They are not sitting on dealer lots very long at all, so we wanted to prioritize all this initial production to go to retail consumers.

You have to be very cognizant of protecting the brand image and growing the brand. [The Cascada] changes consumers’ perception of what Buick is. Our biggest challenge remains contemporizing consumers’ view of the Buick brand. We made a ton of progress. We’ve won a lot of quality awards a lot of third party accolades, consideration is way up, net brand momentum is way up. Still we have a job to do in educating people on what today’s Buick is instead of what they are carrying around in their heads.


 

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