Buick Returns to U.S. Compact Car Market with $25,000 Verano

Autoinformed.com

Verano carries the modern Buick design cues introduced on the Enclave and interpreted for the LaCrosse and Regal.

The all-new 2012 Buick Verano compact sedan debuts at the North American International Auto Show next week. It’s Buick’s third new model in the past two years in North America, following the Enclave crossover, and the LaCrosse and Regal sedans.

Buick is attempting the same positioning it has used on those, as it reenters the small car segment. So no surprise that Buick is claiming Verano is a combination of luxury and technology that can compete with Audi and Lexus models, according to John Schwegman, vice president of Buick marketing.

More likely competitors, in my view, are domestic. The combination of Ford’s mercy killing of Mercury and a non-existent Lincoln small car entry until 2014, along with rising gasoline prices – headed to maybe $4 gallon – will offer better sales opportunities for the lost brand. Buick would have been wiped out in the 2009 GM reorganization if only U.S. Treasury Department employees could have figured out how to save profitable GMC truck dealers without the supporting Buick car brand they sold.

Another Verano plus is the demise of GM’s Pontiac and Saturn small car offerings, the result of the reorganization. Buick only posted sales of 155,000 in the U.S. in 2010, but that was a 50% increase from 2009 when GM emerged from its well-earned bankruptcy. So there room to grow here if – big if – Buick can garner consideration from import oriented small car buyers. This is marketing challenge of epic proportions.

Verano is based on the Chevrolet Cruze now on sale, itself based on the Opel Astra, and Verano also straddles the mid-size and compact markets by its size – with about 120 cubic feet of passenger and cargo room and seating for five. Since the Cruze is refined and smooth in comparison to previous GM small car offerings, Verano borrows from a solid, world-car base as a design hybrid. Verano engineering was done at Opel in Germany and Daewoo in Korea. Verano will be built in Michigan at GM’s Lake Orion plant starting late in 2011.  (See Driving Impression – Chevrolet Cruze)

Verano uses the powertrain from the larger Buick Regal. However, since it has a 3300-pound curb weight (about 500 pounds less than Regal, 11 inches shorter, and 2 inches narrower), it will be relatively quick, say about 0.5 seconds faster than Regal. An Ecotec 2.4L and six-speed automatic transaxle is standard and delivers what at the moment is an estimated 177 horsepower (132 kW) and 170 lb.-ft. torque (230 Nm). This means 0-60 mph acceleration of 8.0 seconds and an estimated 31 mpg GM promises on the highway, 22 city – but a caveat here, press release fuel economy can be wildly optimistic as it proved with the early Regal claims.

The Regal’s 2.0-liter turbo engine will be offered in the future. The optional forced-fed 2-liter turbo – 220 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque in the Regal CSX – could in theory make the Verano a seven-second car. Even if there isn’t much of a performance market out there for a front-drive tiny Buick, it will at a minimum give the car credibility.

AutoInformed.com

Flush-mounted components in the center stack have a gap tolerance of less than 1 mm. Instrument panel-to-door panel gaps are less than 5 mm. Tolerances are claimed to be among the best.

“Verano expands our lineup, continues Buick’s momentum and gives us a great opportunity to attract a new generation of customers with a product that delivers on their expectations for design, performance and technology,” said Schwegman.

He claimed the following five elements as key to the sedan:

  • Sculpted design – Buick’s recent signature cues – including a black chrome waterfall grille, blue translucent projector beam headlamps, portholes and chrome accents.
  • Luxurious interior – Premium seat comfort and support, matched with soft-touch materials and premium leather. Leading infotainment and ambient lighting.
  • Quiet tuning – Verano is claimed to be the quietest compact sedan on the road – with acoustical laminated glass, triple door seals, refined chassis dynamics and specially manufactured 17-inch standard forged alloy multi-spoke wheels, which minimize road noise.
  • Refined and responsive performance – The Ecotec 2.4-liter and six-speed automatic powertrain matched with a “refined” suspension system, Watts Z-link rear suspension and four-wheel disc brakes with standard anti-lock brakes, full-function traction control and StabiliTrak electronic stability control.
  • Purposeful technology – Convenience and safety features include 10 standard air bags, a next-generation radio, touch screen navigation and advanced connectivity technologies powered by OnStar.

All these claims look good on paper of course, but the proof of the press release will come from test drives of production vehicles.

About Kenneth Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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