California Autos Examiner

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2011 Buick Regal going rogue? From the Autobahn with love

2011 Buick Regal introduced by design chief Ed Welburn

This article is Part II in a series on the 2011 Buick Regal reveal held in Hollywood. For Part I on the 2011 Buick Regal event, please click here.

The 2011 Buick Regal is being marketed as a lower cost, sportier version of the Buick LaCrosse. That doesn't mean that when the 2011 Buick Regal arrives in the second quarter of 2010, it will be cheaper that the lowest cost Buick LaCrosse. That is because only the higher level CXL model will be initially available and while it will be cheaper that a LaCrosse CXL, it won't be less than the LaCrosse CX. The 2011 Buick Regal will be priced to compete favorably against the Acura TSX which starts at $29,310 before freight charges.

You can view more pictures from the Regal event in this slideshow link and in the previous article's slideshow.

GM's decision to market the Regal not just as a decontented LaCrosse, but also as a sportier entry is a good choice. The 2011 Regal's lines are taut, more athletic and its direct German heritage will appeal to buyers in this market. When I attended the press event prior to the official unveiling, I had a chance to ask Craig Bierley, Buick's product marketing director, about the Regal's future. Options like ventilated seats could become available after the car's launch, such as when the car is manufactured in North America as opposed to Germany. When switchover from Germany to (most likely) Canada occurs, the Regal could also gain a hybrid option, portholes and other changes. As for more adventurous variations, such as a manual transmission, hotted up 325HP monster motor and station wagon bodystyle, Bierley was much more coy "That would be great, wouldn't it?" he responded to each question. Certainly the fact that Buick is considering these possibilities is welcome news, would greatly enhance the appeal of the car to young buyers and differentiate the Regal from the more luxurious LaCrosse.

Also in attendance at the event were Buick's forthcoming "mini Enclave" Gamma-based crossover and the Delta-based small sedan. These two concepts have not been shown to the public yet and we were not allowed to take photos. The crossover is a tight package, looking for all the world like a smaller Enclave with perhaps a bit more detail in the bodywork. This crossover looks to be smaller that the Acura RDX, but undoubtedly the Acura would be a likely contender. The smaller sedan carries over many cues for the LaCrosse and Regal. Some journalists mistook the sedan for the Regal, an issue that I spoke with GM's design chief Ed Welburn about. "They are not Russian dolls," Welburn quipped about the LaCrosse, Regal, and small sedan trio. Certainly when positioned side by side the differences between the models would be evident, but viewed alone, the small sedan evokes much the same look as its elder sisters. That is not to say that this Chevrolet Cruze stablemate is unattractive, but to my eyes it did not have the pop of the small crossover. It will be very interesting to see these vehicles in their final form, something that cannot happen soon enough.

At each opportunity I can, I routinely ask (he might say harass) Jim Federico, vehicle line executive for GM's mid-sized architecture, about active headrest availability in the USA. The Opel Insignia has a mechanical active headrest, much like the Saab system that tilts forward in the event of an accident to help limit whiplash, but it will not be available in the 2011 Buick Regal due to differences in regulations. Federico says that GM is working on both active and non-active systems for the USA, but there is no timetable for implementation. While the LaCrosse certainly is no slouch in the safety department, just look at its fabulous "Top Safety Pick" finish in the recent IIHS testing, I believe that having active headrests is an important marketing tool, another box that can be ticked when comparing against the competition and would be a welcome addition to the Buick lineup.

General Motors' team in attendance: Docherty, Welburn, Lutz to name a few, are a promising bunch. While it is uncertain how much longer Lutz will stay un-retired, he is always at the center of the media's attention. Docherty and Welburn are both very bright and personable people to interview. Ms. Docherty and I spoke about the Regal event, and she stressed how important it was for the event to be about GM's customers. Post bankruptcy GM has made a big effort to connect with buyers, whether at experiential marketing events, "Tweet Ups," blogger-only affairs and parties like the one held in Hollywood. The company's future plans are no longer the privileged information of media elites and financial analysts, but with the people who are actually going to buy the cars being shown.

In summary, how does the 2011 Buick Regal measure up? Since we have not been allowed to get behind the wheel, there is only so much we can surmise. However, the Regal's nearly twin sister the Opel Insignia has scooped up a nice chunk of automotive awards in Europe, so that is a good sign. As I had stated in the first part of this series, the Regal doesn't quite have the visual pizazz of the LaCrosse, but I happen to think the LaCrosse is the best looking sedan in its category, bar none. The turbo motor and adaptive suspension are promising and an even higher performance model is quite mouth watering. All of these new Buick's will cause buyers to at least consider the brand and as evidenced by the LaCrosse, conquest rates will rise as a result. Rome wasn't built in a day and Buick won't transform overnight but it now possesses a fighting chance and will no longer have to compete with Saturn for all the choice hardware. I could sense some of the ice thawing when I spoke to a BMW owner at the event. While the young buyer was not willing to give up his BMW 3 Series, he said he could see the Regal catching on with younger buyers. With China providing the greater chunk of sales, Buick will be allowed greater freedoms than US sales volume alone could ever support. That is nothing but good news for Americans who have a fond place in their hearts for the tri-shield brand. Now how about that Chinese Park Avenue?

Below this post is a video walkaround I took of the 2011 Buick Regal.

General Motors covered my expenses to attend this event.

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