DETROIT -- Buick dealers still salivating over the Riviera concept that General Motors unveiled at last month's Shanghai auto show should take a deep breath: There's little chance that the flashy coupe will ever grace a Buick showroom.
But they should view the Riviera -- which GM says points to the brand's design direction -- as a signal that GM is serious about adding pizazz to the Buick lineup now that the 110-year-old brand, which barely survived GM's bankruptcy four years ago, is getting comfortable in its born-again skin.
"We've very carefully built Buick back to a brand that has respect," GM North America President Mark Reuss told Automotive News. "Something special for Buick, I think, is really needed for the next phase of where that brand is going," he said, citing as possibilities a Riviera-like flagship, a convertible and a coupe.
The resolve to invest more in Buick after launching two nameplates over the past 18 months -- the Encore crossover and Verano compact -- shows that GM executives are confident that the brand's comeback has staying power.
Reuss wouldn't elaborate on the possibilities. The Opel Cascada convertible, shown at the Geneva auto show in March, is a prospect. And some enthusiast magazines recently reported that GM plans to revive the Grand National nameplate with a rear-wheel-drive sports car.
A person familiar with GM's plans said that as recently as last year the company was considering a plug-in hybrid SUV for Buick. It's not clear whether those plans are active.
Adding to the intrigue: Reuss says Buick is ready for an entry "that's very special, that's not shared with anybody else and is quite unique."
Of course, GM's investment in Buick has less to do with North America than China, where the brand sold 700,007 vehicles in 2012, almost quadruple its U.S. sales.
But the rebuilt U.S. lineup has had budding success, too. Since Buick's nadir in 2009, sales have soared 76 percent to 180,408 units last year, nearly double the industry's 39 percent growth. Through April, Buick sales rose 23 percent to 64,777, its best total since 2006.
Reuss' confirmation that GM is considering "something really fun" for Buick would have seemed remarkable three years ago, when the brand was limping along with just two sedans and the Enclave crossover, which Reuss credits with Buick's "reinvention."
Since then, GM has filled in the U.S. lineup with the late 2011 rollout of the Verano, Buick's first compact since the 1980s; a performance entry, the Regal GS; and the Korea-built Encore, which has been flying off dealer lots -- staying a scant 18 days on average before each sale -- since its February launch.
Challenges remain. Despite being the only brand out of 38 tracked that saw its average buyer age decrease since 2007 -- to 59 from 62, according to a May 2012 R.L. Polk study -- Buick still struggles to shake its geriatric image.
Buick has made progress in carving out a niche between mainstream and luxury, sometimes called near-luxury, Polk analyst Tom Libby says.
"What they need to do now is strengthen the brand's image so that when Buick comes out with a new product, it doesn't cannibalize the others," Libby says.
That has been a problem with the Regal mid-sized sedan. Its sales sank 39 percent to 24,616 in 2012, the first full year on the market for the lower-priced Verano. Through April, Regal sales fell 41 percent from a year earlier, to 5,830 units.
"We know why it's happening. Because we've got a damn good car underneath it" in the Verano, Reuss says. To separate them, Buick continues to position the Regal as the sporty entry in Buick's lineup, including the addition of all-wheel-drive and a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine for the 2014 model year.
Reuss says he isn't concerned if Regal doesn't sell in high volumes. "I'm not focused on getting more Regal sales," he says. "I'm focused on more sales for Buick."