DETROIT -- The Buick lineup has taken on a decidedly European flavor in the past three years. The Regal and Verano sedans and the new Encore compact crossover are Opels that migrated to the U.S. market wearing Buick badges.
Expect the Buick and Opel brands to become even more intertwined in coming years as GM seeks to squeeze all it can from its costly engineering resources in Germany, CEO Dan Akerson said at an investor confernce last week.
"What we're trying to do is bring together the product development teams much more closely," Akerson said, so that "there will be all sorts of synergies, I believe, between Opel-Vauxhall and Buick."
Opel began filling out Buick's lineup after the 2009 demise of Saturn, which primarily sold rebadged Opels in its last years. Buick emerged from GM's 2009 bankruptcy around the same time with a thin vehicle lineup and was scheduled to get some Opel-derived products to sell in the United States and China.
The 2011 Regal, a rebadged Opel Insignia, was the first Opel-based Buick for the United States. And now most of Buick's U.S. lineup now has Opel DNA:
- The Verano sedan, launched in late 2011, is a version of the popular Opel Astra.
- The Encore small crossover that hit U.S. showrooms in February had its European launch a few months earlier as the Opel Mokka.
- The Regal, Verano and Encore have siblings sold in China.
It adds up to what Akerson calls a "hybrid global brand": three brands, including the British Vauxhall, that are sold in the world's largest markets on the same platforms, as opposed to Chevrolet, which is sold worldwide under the same brand name.
Developing Buicks and Opels that are underpinned mostly by GM's German engineering provides "architecturally more scale" and helps to leverage the cost of its European engineering resources, Akerson said.
"We think we can take costs out that way," he said. "You've got to change the rules of the game in Europe -- we do -- because of where we are today."
GM lost $1.8 billion in Europe last year and around $18 billion since 1999. It expects a slight improvement this year and hopes to break even there by mid-decade.
GM CFO Dan Ammann said that sharp demand for the Encore and Mokka offers a "proof point" that the Opel-Buick strategy "isn't just a concept." He said European dealers have taken more than 100,000 orders for the Mokka. The Buick Encore has been turning over on dealer lots in a speedy 27 days.
A spokesman said that even though GM already is leveraging Opel products for Buick's U.S. and Chinese lineups, "it makes sense to plan more stategically."
Or, as Akerson put it: "This is probably the most complicated Rubik's Cube, if you will, within the company right now."