DETROIT -- Buick is finally about to get some fresh sheet metal to go along with that catchy advertising jingle.
The next-generation LaCrosse sedan scheduled to bow at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week will be the centerpiece of a coming product wave for Buick, ending a three-year drought. The Cascada convertible that goes on sale in January will be the first new or redesigned vehicle to hit Buick showrooms since the popular Encore subcompact crossover in January 2013. The new LaCrosse is expected to go on sale next summer.
Buick has made the most of the lull. Executives are convinced that the "Experience the New Buick" ad campaign running since the spring of 2014 has broken through to an ambivalent buying public. But the stale lineup has stifled U.S. sales -- they’re off 1.6 percent through October after rising 11 percent last year -- forcing Buick to juice dealer cash incentives and consumer discounts lately.
"We're struggling to keep up year-over-year sales on the Buick side," says David Ferraez, CEO of Green Brook Buick-GMC in Green Brook, N.J., one of Buick's highest- volume dealerships.
"We're excited for the new convertible. We need the new LaCrosse and a redesigned Regal. We need that five-passenger crossover," Ferraez says, referring to the Envision compact crossover launched in China last year.
Dealers have been itching for the Envision in particular to fill the wide chasm between the petite Encore and bulky Enclave large crossover. GM is likely to greenlight Envision exports from China to the U.S. for sale as early as late spring, two people with knowledge of the plans say.
The new entries will serve to test the staying power of Buick's resurgence.
After almost being axed in GM's 2009 bankruptcy, Buick staggered along with a three-vehicle lineup until late 2011, when GM added the Verano compact sedan. The Encore that arrived about a year later was a major shot in the arm, with a two-year head start on a slew of other new tiny crossovers, such as the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Chevy Trax. The Encore is now Buick's top-seller; sales rose 36 percent through October.
Global Buick chief Duncan Aldred bet big on the Encore's continued success. Early this year he ordered a 50 percent bump in supply from the plant in Korea that makes the vehicle for the U.S. But he acknowledges that Buick needs more product to sustain its comeback.
"When you're building a brand and measuring brand health ... there's no doubt that it's stimulated and helped by new product news," he told reporters last week.
"What we've achieved with the Buick brand over the last few years without new product has been fantastic," said Aldred, who took over the brand in March 2014. "To have new product now will just really enable us to push that second phase of our journey."
Aldred concedes, though, that the new sheet metal arriving over the next 12 months -- at least the stuff Buick has discussed publicly -- isn't exactly in the sweet spot of the market.
The LaCrosse has been Buick's top-selling car for years but competes in the shrinking large-sedan segment, which sank 14 percent through October, vs. 5.8 percent growth across the industry. The Cascada will be a low-volume halo car for Buick, even though dealers are clamoring for the brand's first droptop in 25 years. Initial dealer orders outstripped supply 10 to one, Buick says.
Remakes of Buick's other nameplates are further out. The popular Enclave large crossover and Regal midsize sedan aren't scheduled for redesigns until 2017, industry sources predict.
Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds.com, says the Envision could do well in the U.S., despite tough competition in what has emerged as the industry's biggest segment.
"The segment may be crowded, but it's diverse, with a lot of baby boomers and woman buyers," Caldwell says. "That fits well with Buick's brand positioning."
For now, Buick has been relying on advertising, incentives and a repackaging of trim levels to keep sales humming.
In July, it began a lucrative stair-step program that has paid dealerships bonuses of as much as $1,000 per Buick sale, according to four dealers who didn't want to be identified discussing the factory's programs. Those dealers said it is one of the most lucrative dealer-incentive programs they have seen from GM.
Buick's consumer incentives also are up: According to Autodata Corp., they grew 9 percent through October to $6,071, double the rate of the rest of the industry.