It’s been almost six months since Michael MacPhee assumed the reins as brand director of Buick Canada, based at General Motors headquarters in Oshawa, Ontario and we met up with him again over coffee to chat about his brand during the 2018 Canadian International AutoShow.
For many years, Buick was perceived as a solid marque, a brand which tended to have greater appeal to an older, male-oriented demographic. Buick wanted to change that perception and provide automotive solutions to a much broader customer base.
Today, the Buick brand continues to evolve the most of any General Motors brand. Now that it appears that loyal customers and new conquests seem to believe that Buick has found its (new) niche, Buick continues to encourage innovative thinking, introducing new technologies and, as Mr. MacPhee stated, “We have one of the freshest showrooms in the industry.”
“How do we evolve our marketing strategies to better present Buick to a younger, professional and inclusive audience?”
A difficult task? Yes—but not impossible.
“Buick had to convince consumers we were no longer associated with only large sedans,” continued Mr. MacPhee. “Internal research showed a false familiarity with our brand. Generally, we were still liked, but consumers were apathetic to the brand. Buick produced good quality robust vehicles—just not for me!”
So how “fresh” is a Buick showroom? Today, the oldest car they sell is the Cascada—introduced two years ago. “Every other car Buick offers is either brand new or recently refreshed, proving just how nimble the brand has been when it comes to offering new cars,” states Mr. MacPhee. And it all started with the Buick Encore, a versatile, easily maneuverable crossover that appealed to a broader demographic than Buick had originally enticed. This was the foundation and Buick built from there.
Big picture, what does Buick do to retain and remain relevant to the vehicle buying public going forward? How does Buick continue to build upon the sweeping changes made to the brand’s philosophy and actual raison d’être?
According to Mr. MacPhee, “Buick has been on a massive journey recently and is in the process of a complete product renaissance. We have one of the fastest-growing SUV brands in Canada with a lineup including the Encore, Envision, and the Enclave. In fact, we’re very excited about our growth in this segment—up 69 percent over the previous year! And those are customer registrations—real numbers!”
“It’s all based on attainable luxury and how we communicate with our customers and dealer network each and every day. Our website has been overhauled, to ensure no prospective customer is caught in an annoying loop. And, to cater to more people, our website is available in English, French, and now, Chinese.”
To be clear, Buick with its rich and storied brand had initially built their general reputation on producing cars and this auto show was no exception. “We’re excited about the introduction of the Buick Regal GS, a very well-appointed all-wheel drive performance sedan loaded with tech and safety features—exciting to drive and pleasing to the eye! Visually appealing and with an enhanced driving dynamic offering greater fascination to a younger demographic with the inclusion of Brembo brakes and Recaro seats.”
Not content with shaking up the brand, Buick is now taking things even further with the launch of the Avenir sub-brand for the Enclave SUV and the LaCrosse sedan. Both vehicles are at the full-size end of the Buick offering in crossovers and cars. This bold move is intended to elevate Buick to different levels of luxury—in terms of design, fit, finish, quality of materials—everything. Avenir is Buick at the next level. It still falls within the “attainable luxury” segment Buick is carving out for the brand, generally.
As an engineering-oriented company with depth in marketing, Buick has the skills and the desire to work the research and present designs which consumers will notice. Hence the almost self-deprecating “that’s not a Buick!” campaign.
Now, with the inclusion of technology, especially as it relates to safety and also connectivity, there is now a quiet expectation that Buick can and will deliver a value proposition that continues to meet the attainable luxury target head on.
David Taylor is an independent automotive lifestyle writer, producer. and editor based in Barrie, Ontario who is fascinated by innovation and technology which enhance the overall driving experience. He’s also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and is a Director of that organization’s Canadian Car of the Year Award. Follow him on Twitter @Omemeeozzie or on Instagram @hugoscaroftheweek.