Buick is developing a vehicle called the Rendezvous that is intended to compete with the likes of the Lexus RX 300 and the Mercedes ML320.
The Rendezvous is slated for production in March 2001, said a supplier involved in the project. The vehicle will use the platform of General Motors' next-generation minivan, said the supplier and a GM insider.
Code-named GMX257, the vehicle will have all-wheel drive and a 3.4-liter, V-6 engine. It will share mechanicals with the Pontiac Aztek, a sport wagon scheduled to debut shortly before the Rendezvous. Sport wagons combine light-truck and car styling and equipment. Buick has no trucks in its lineup.
Buick spokeswoman Peg Holmes declined to comment on the project, but top company executives have hinted that GM plans to unleash a new generation of sport wagons.
GM North America President Ron Zarrella has predicted that the budding sport wagon market eventually may total 1 million to 1.5 million vehicles.
Subaru says it invented the segment with the Legacy Outback all-wheel-drive wagon. But the Legacy remains a niche vehicle.
Ford Motor Co. is targeting a mass market with the U204, a compact sport wagon due in calendar 2000.
Although sport wagons vary in size and shape, they tend to share sport-utility traits such as high seating positions, high rooflines and all-wheel drive.
Buick's first effort to design such a vehicle was embodied in the Signia show car, which was unveiled at the 1998 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Rendezvous is not a production version of the Signia, sources emphasized.
Sources said the Rendezvous' styling will be less aggressive than the Pontiac Aztek, a concept vehicle that debuted in January at the Detroit auto show. The Aztek features a motorcyclelike instrument cluster in its cockpit.
It is unclear whether Buick is willing to risk alienating traditional customers to expand its appeal.
'Is Buick's objective to cater to a 55-year-old buyer, or does it want to move to a different buyer?' asked Lincoln Merrihew, manager of forecasting services for consultant McGraw Hill-DRI in Lexington, Mass. 'If it wants tomorrow's 55-year-old, the styling might be more subdued and the ride more pliant. If it wants a younger crowd, it should get more aggressive.'