MIKE COLIAS

Buick: It's the interior, stupid

Mike Colias covers General Motors for Automotive News.Mike Colias covers General Motors for Automotive News.
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DETROIT -- The soon-to-launch Buick Verano comes with an interior color that the brand bosses love: It's called "chocochino."

The espresso-drink theme -- all rich caramel hues -- is one of the many food-derived interiors Buick is considering for future models, some as early as next year.

How about an eggplant-and-chocolate two tone?

"If we could make the inside of the car smell like coffee, we would," says Dave Lyon, Buick's executive director of design.

So what's the deal? Do Buick designers have a food fetish?

Not exactly.

It's further evidence that General Motors is betting on interiors to set Buick apart and get consumers to take it seriously as a premium brand, even with a price tag 30 percent below those of Lexus and other rivals.

Lately, Buick has been plugging the Verano's "library quiet" interior -- even deploying leaf blowers to prove the point to journalists. (And, yes, it's pretty darn hush).

The interior of the Buick LaCrosse GL concept is a design study that’s draped in plush leathers and brushed, tinted chrome.

Photo credit: GM

The new focus on innovative color packages and materials is the next frontier in Buick's interiors push. A LaCrosse GL concept that Buick will show next week at the Los Angeles Auto Show is a design study that's draped in plush leathers and brushed, tinted chrome.

Lyon says Buick looked to the inspirational things in life that the Buick buyer can relate to: A Gibson guitar. A horse saddle. Red wine. Buick buyers, a press release tells us, "enjoy the finer things in life, but don't need to flaunt it."

(Well, some of the stuff is pretty flaunty. The concept includes a suede headliner and A-pillar which, Lyon acknowledges, "nobody puts in a car south of 70 grand.")

Will the emphasis on interiors give Buick a competitive advantage? Time will tell. After all, rivals such as Lexus make some pretty plush interiors, too.

It's clear, though, that interiors are central to Buick's strategy to sit above the mass market and below the luxury makes -- but offer enough touches to attract buyers from both.

Lyon puts it this way:

"Is a Buick going to be the fastest vehicle in the market? Or make front-wheel-drive vehicles that handle like rear drive? No. Others cover that," he says.

"What we want to amplify is the interior experience. That's really going to be one of the hooks that closes the deal."

You can reach Mike Colias at mcolias@crain.com.

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