Aug 6, 2014
Teddy Field
Comments Off on Premium American Style: The History of Buick

Premium American Style: The History of Buick


For many years, Buick’s were badge-engineered boats, designed by accountants to keep the costs down. Americans responded to this corporate indifference by bypassing of their local Buick dealers, as they went in search of something from Japan or Europe. By the late 90’s, this storied car brand had completely fallen from the premium car segment. Then GM went bankrupt, and the boffins at Buick decided to give the luxury segment another go. This resulted in the Buick LaCrosse and Buick Enclave, two vehicles that finally lived up to the legendary Buick name.

At the end of the 19th century, horsepower was still measured by the number of horses that were hitched to your wagon. And chances were, your wagon was built by the world’s biggest buggy builder; The Flint Road Cart Company. This mammoth international concern was owned by a man named Billy Durant, and he could see that the world would soon be ditching his wagons in favor of the new-fangled ‘automobile’. He wasn’t a fan of these smelly, dangerous contraptions, but he knew there was a lot of money to be made building them.

A Scottish immigrant named David Buick had started making cars under his own name in 1899. Like most car companies of the period, Buick’s enterprise had gone bust just a few years after opening, and it was taken over by principle investor James Whiting. Whiting asked his friend Billy Durant to manage the business, and by 1908, Durant had turned Buick into the best-selling car in America. He then used his share of the profits to buy Buick and form General Motors. In 1912, Durant begins exporting Buick’s to China. The Emperor and President were so impressed with the luxurious American cars that each used Buick’s for their official state vehicles. Nearly a century later, China would become an integral part of Buick’s rebirth.

As Billy Durant built his automotive empire, Cadillac became GM’s flagship brand, and the more powerful Buick was slotted below it in the pecking order. Over the decades, Buick was seen as a premium American car, and their peak came in the 1980’s as the midsize Buick Century became their most popular model. Shortly after, well-built cars from Japan and Europe caused people to demand better quality from their expensive cars. GM didn’t adjust with the times, so Buick fell out of favor with American buyers. The Chinese on the other hand, still viewed Buick as a luxury brand. They bought so many of them in fact, GM opened a factory there in 1999, and began to develop Buick’s specifically for the Chinese market.

As GM entered bankruptcy in 2009, it was discovered that Buick was actually turning a hefty profit in China. The people there, loved big toothy grilles, and blinding amounts of chrome. So Buick gave it to them, and in 2011, the Buick Excelle became the best-selling car in China. A few years later, GM decided to sell the wildly popular Excelle here as the Buick Verano. And Shanghai has also been deeply involved in the styling of the brand’s other hit, the Buick LaCrosse. Mr. Durant would be proud.

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