Buick is trying to go from Geezerville to Tinseltown.
When the classic General Motors brand takes the wraps off its 2017 LaCrosse sedan Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show, it will be its first new-model debut there in five years.
The hope is that the LaCrosse, which is one of two cars built at GM’s Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas City, Kan., will turn heads. The car’s bold styling is based on the Avenir, which in January was named “best concept vehicle” at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Showcasing the LaCrosse in a hip urban setting like L.A. is in keeping with the division’s “That’s a Buick?” ad campaign, which makes a self-deprecating case that its newer cars are too cool for its geriatric reputation. The average Buick buyer is 66, according to San Diego-based consulting firm Strategic Vision. By contrast, BMW’s average buyer is 50 and Lexus, also known for comfort like Buick, has an average owner age of 59.
“The issue has not been our products,” said Tony DiSalle, vice president of Buick and GMC marketing for GM. “It’s a perception that Buick is for older people. We have a lot of upside here.”
The LaCrosse has the same grille and shares a family resemblance with the Avenir, Buick vice president Duncan Aldred said in September. The Avenir “shattered expectations of what a Buick could be,” Aldred said, promising that the LaCrosse would do the same.
But wooing California buyers won’t be easy in a state where foreign luxury cars are status symbols, American brands struggle and Buick has market share of less than 0.5 percent. The brand has only a 1.3 percent market share in the U.S. but 4 percent in China, the world’s largest auto market, where 80 percent of Buicks are sold.
In the U.S., the biggest battle will be to change perceptions. Even though Buick makes crossover SUVs and nimble sedans like the Regal, it has conventional wisdom and pop culture to overcome. In the 1977 movie “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen famously says the spider in the bathroom is “the size of a Buick.”
“Buick stands for comfort and is known by older generations,” said Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision. “If they want to attract people from more lively brands, they need to talk to a different kind of buyer.”