By Andrew Ganz
Monday, Apr 12th, 2010 @ 8:38 am
 
When Bob Lutz introduced the Buick Regal GS "concept" to the media a few months ago, he was adamant that Buick would return to its glory days despite the brand's borderline geriatric average buyer age of 72. Now, thanks mainly to a handful of fresh products, Buick has lowered the age of its average buyer to 65 as it targets buyers as young as 40.

Buick is aiming to bring in buyers from more established Japanese and German buyers - primarily Lexus and Mercedes-Benz shoppers - seeking something a bit different, less expensive and less ostentatious. The bold plan seems to be succeeding as analysts expect the average buyer age to plummet even further when the brand's entry-level Regal hits showrooms later this spring.

"The perception is changing - I don't want to say it's done yet because perception takes a period of time and consistency," said industry analyst Erich Merkle of Autoconomy in an interview with the Detroit News. "I'm seeing consistency out of Buick, but it's going to take more time."

The relatively rapid decrease in average buyer age - a rarity in the industry - is due primarily to the automaker's recently-launched LaCrosse. While Buick continues offers the Lucerne, a big, wafty sedan, and the still fairly fresh Enclave crossover, sales and market share increases for the brand are concentrated mostly on the LaCrosse. Nearly one third of all LaCrosse buyers are under 55, which GM says is double the number it was on the outgoing model.

But not only is the LaCrosse appealing to a younger buyer; it's selling better than its predecessor. Buick sales were up 76 percent last month - admittedly a good month for nearly every industry player, but an especially good one for Buick. The biggest news came from the LaCrosse: Sales skyrocketed an amazing 236 percent last month compared to the dated outgoing model.

Keeping Buick alive
When GM slashed its brand count to just four "core" units last year - by closing Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer and selling Saab - it took a lot of convincing of the Obama administration's automotive task force to keep Buick from facing the same fate. Then-CEO Fritz Henderson had to show the government that Buick had a future - both in North America and in China, where the brand is one of the market's strongest.

"They made the right decision," Aaron Bragman of IHS Global Insight said. "To kill Buick would have been crazy. It's one of the most important brands in the Chinese market."

Cadillac concern
While Buick is making massive strides in terms of product, sales and market share, some of its success comes at the expense of Cadillac. Although the luxury market as a whole has not quite recovered the way more mainstream brands have this year, Cadillac's relatively modest 41.6 percent gain last month over an especially weak March 2009 was concentrated nearly entirely in its succesful new SRX crossover. The brand's former volume leader, its CTS, actually saw a 26.4 percent drop in sales last month - by far the biggest single decrease among all of GM's mainstream consumer models.

The 2,870 CTS sedans that found new owners pale compared to the 6,054 LaCrosse sedans delivered in March. Granted, the LaCrosse is much less expensive than the CTS - but the numbers indicate that the dent Buick is making in Lexus and Mercedes-Benz luxury sales could also be eating away at Cadillac's numbers.