If General Motors is able to convince the world that it can build cars that people actually want to buy, it has to start with the new models it launches over the next several months. Taxpayers, customers, and journalists all will be watching carefully.
In a sense, the attention is unfair. These are Rick Wagoner cars, planned and developed three years ago under the former CEO. Fritz Henderson cars won’t be coming along until 2012.
Still, GM has been arguing for some time that it builds world-class automobiles; all that’s missing now is its ability to convince convincing customers about the validity of that claim.
The 2010 Buick LaCrosse perfectly illustrates the problem. Stick a Lexus or an Acura label on it, and you would have a competitive car, one you would take on a second honeymoon to Napa Valley.
Let people know it is a Buick, however, and they expect to see it parked in front of Applebee’s for the early-bird special.
Badging aside, the LaCrosse ranks as my favorite GM sedan. Driving around the Detroit area, I was never disappointed.
What did I like about it?
First of all, the price. Even with 18-inch chrome wheels and other options totaling $1,850, the LaCrosse carried a sticker price of just $31,495. That’s a really good value for an entry-luxe mid-size sedan.
Second is the exterior design. With its high belt line, fast sloping rear end, and tasteful chrome accents, the LaCrosse is international in character and American in spirit. I even don’t hate the porthole simulations on the hood.
Third is the interior, bright and classy without being garish. You can argue about the unnecessary stitching, plastic wood, and overly busy instrument stack. But overall I felt comfortable and pampered, without any pandering.
Over the road, the Buick behaves like a large front-wheel sedan for aging baby boomers. Performance from the 3.0 liter V-6 is adequate — 60 mph arrives in eight seconds. For those who want more power, a 3.6 liter V-6 is available. The cabin is well insulated to screen out any unwanted noises. Fuel economy is an acceptable 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
For Buick to succeed and GM to prosper, the brand has to attract buyers who bring the average owner age down by a decade from the high 60s. Some better advertising and smarter marketing should do the trick.
With LaCrosse, Buick has the hardware; all it needs now is the image to go with it.