Why Buick is right to import the Envision from China – Detroit Free Press
Expect plenty of attention on the Buick Envision compact luxury SUV when the North American International Auto Show opens at Cobo Center in Detroit next month.
Some will be because it’s a good looking SUV that competes in a white-hot market segment and offers some intriguing features. Some will be because it’s built in China.
This will offend some people, for a variety of reasons. Get used to it.
Buick’s a global brand. It sold more than 900,000 vehicles in China last year, compared to about 225,000 in the United States. If Chinese drivers didn’t admire Buicks and aspire to drive them, the brand would be as dead as Hummer, Oldsmobile and Saturn.
American drivers who like Buick – and the brand has its best lineup in decades today – should be grateful to those Chinese buyers, and they should look forward to the Envision. To the extent that the Envision will make the whole brand healthier, the assembly workers who build the Buick LaCrosse in Detroit/Hamtramck, Enclave in Lansing and Regal in Oshawa, Ont., should also welcome the Chinese-made SUV. The Envision doesn’t compete with the other Buicks, and every one sold makes the brand and its dealers stronger.
The Envision is a good looking, sporty and luxurious vehicle, according to IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley, who recently tested one at GM’s Milford proving ground in Michigan. Buick will probably sell 150,000 a year in China and 40,000 to 50,000 annually in North America.
The economics of production don’t justify building it in two places at that level, and it makes more sense to produce it in China, where Buick sells 80% of its vehicles and builds 75% of Envisions. GM’s North American SUV plants are running flat out, and the Envision’s engineering is different enough that it’d be tough to build alongside a Chevy Equinox or GMC Terrain even if GM weren’t already struggling to meet demand for those SUVs.
“This is not a signal that U.S. vehicle production is moving to China,” Brinley said. “Buick’s center of gravity has shifted. We will see more Buicks imported, from China and elsewhere, but GM’s North American production is largely staying here.”
Contact Mark Phelan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-222-6731. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.