NEW YORK -- GMC's Denali line, mixing chromed-up exteriors with French-stitched leather seats, has effectively become a second U.S. luxury brand for General Motors. Its sales were roughly on a par with Acura and Cadillac last month, while generating higher transaction prices than Audi and Lexus.
"I think probably everyone in the industry has looked at it and gone, "How did that happen?' and "How do we do that?'" said Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global Buick and GMC. "Everybody's trying to replicate that."
That includes GM itself. The automaker is applying a similar formula at Buick with Avenir, a new subbrand that adds a bolder grille, flashier wheels and a plusher interior cleansed by a cabin-air ionizer. While Avenir may have a hard time matching Denali in the U.S., it has huge potential in China, where Buick logs more than 80 percent of its global sales.
North American dealerships are to get their first Avenirs in September, with the arrival of the redesigned 2018 Enclave crossover. In China, the Avenir version of the GL8 minivan has been well-received since its launch in November, a spokesman there said.
Buick isn't expecting Avenir to produce Denali-esque magic overnight. Denali, introduced on the 1999 GMC Yukon, has succeeded precisely because it was allowed to grow slowly and organically, Aldred said.
It accounted for 23 percent of GMC's U.S. sales in 2016, according to IHS Markit registration data, and GM data show that 29 percent of GMC's retail sales last month were Denalis.
"Denali was never forced. It was never rushed," Aldred said in an interview at the New York auto show, where the Enclave Avenir made its debut. "That's probably pretty unique for GM, that we haven't kind of hurt something by trying to do it too quickly."