The product development team at General Motors under Mark Reuss is not afraid to take chances, and some, such as the reintroduction of the midsize Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups, have been home runs.
Other nonmainstream cars, such as the Chevrolet Bolt battery-electric car and Buick Cascada convertible, have generated OK U.S. sales but have not lit up the scoreboard -- yet.
This fall, GM will take another chance with the redesigned Buick Regal, which will be available in a body style that has never broken out of niche status in North America: the midsize five-door hatchback.
(Full disclosure: I own a five-door hatchback, a 1985 Rover 2600S that I imported from Britain last year. A couple of reasons I bought it: I like the sporty look of five-door hatchbacks and the utility they offer, and the Rover is a fast-rising classic in England.)
As I sat in the driver’s seat of the Vauxhall version of the Regal Sportback at the Geneva auto show in March -- with the rear seats folded down -- I thought of how GM might market this car in the United States.
While GM may be highly profitable these days, the company could be doing much better. There isn’t a lousy vehicle in the company’s portfolio, but there is a weak point: marketing. Product development builds compelling, high-quality products, such as the diesel-powered Chevrolet Cruze with a manual transmission, but those vehicles are left to flounder in the market with very little marketing and PR to raise consumer awareness while GM sells the deal and not the car. Some things never change.
But let’s get back to the Regal. With the market filling up with SUVs and crossovers of every size, but mostly the same basic shape, the time is right for the midsize five-door hatchback that looks like a sporty car, not an awkwardly styled wagon/crossover mashup like the failed Honda Crosstour.
The Regal is coming to the market at the right time, says Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Markit.
“What has happened in the U.S. over the past few years is entries like Audi’s A5 and A7 Sportbacks, the BMW 3- and 5-series GT, the Porsche Panamera, and even the Mercedes-Benz CLS, have created an environment where a faster roofline and hatchback profile can be executed in a way that conveys a premium design element,” Brinley told me. “The Regal Sportback looks more like a fast sedan than the hatchback of the Honda Accord Crosstour or, going back, more traditional Saab hatchbacks.”