Most Americans think of Buick as an all-American brand, best known for its large comfortable luxoboats that mostly appealed to senior citizens in the US and Canada. What they don’t know is that besides the 220.000 cars a year in the US and another 17.000 or so in Canada, Buick produces and sells over a million cars a year in China. Well, perhaps thanks to the UAW protests over GM’s plan to import the Envision SUV into the US from China, some more people are starting to become aware of that fact now.
So what kind of vehicles does Buick sell in China? A few models are quite similar to those in the US, like the Regal, LaCrosse, Encore and Verano, although the latter is a bit confusing, as the US Verano is called the Excelle GT in China, while the model that’s sold in China as the Buick Verano (Weilang in Chinese) is a China-only model positioned between the US Verano (Excelle GT) and the Regal. There’s also a hatchback version available, the Excelle XT, which is a rebadged Opel/Vauxhall Astra.
Besides the Weilang, Buick offers three more China-only models, the GL8 MPV, the Envision SUV and the Excelle. The latter has been Buick’s most successful nameplate in the world for almost a decade, with more than 2,5 million sales since its launch in 2003. You read that right, Buick still sells a compact sedan that was first introduced 13 years ago. To make matters worse, the Excelle isn’t actually a real Buick, it’s a rebadged Daewoo Nubira, which has been sold in the US as the Suzuki Forenza from 2003 to 2009.
Buick had planned to replace the Excelle in 2010 by the Excelle XT and GT, but as these were more expensive, they feared customers would defect to cheaper rivals from local Chinese brands or Volkswagen (which also still sold the 1985 Santana Vista at that time), so Buick decided to keep the Excelle in production as long as there was still demand for it. And boy, was there demand for it. The Excelle was the best selling passenger car in China overall in 2011. It’s taken the Excelle XT and GT five whole years to overtake their intended predecessor as Buick’s best selling model in China, and therefore worldwide. With a 40% drop in sales in 2015, the 12 year-old Excelle has finally lost its crown.
However, the XT and GT are in fact not a single model in hatchback and sedan versions, but two separate models with different exterior dimensions and wheelbase, even if they’re on the same flexible platform. So technically speaking the 13 year-old Excelle is still the most popular Buick, even though it dropped below the 200.000 annual sales for the first time in 7 years.
If you’re wondering why the Chinese are so fond of this outdated model that was already mediocre upon its introduction in 2003? Why did they buy more of this single model than all other Buick models in the US and Canada combined as recently as 2014? Just one word: price. The official price of the Excelle in China is currently 86.900 Yuan to 105.900 Yuan (€ 12.129,- to € 14.781,- or US$ 13,209 to US$ 16,097) but the Chinese Buick website promises discounts as much as 25% on the model, so I guess it’s safe to say the Excelle is finally in run-out mode. For comparison: the all-new Excelle GT starts at 109.900 Yuan and the XT at 145.900 Yuan.
The best selling Buick in China is now the duo of Excelle XT and GT, which are are both completely new developed vehicles, and at 163.000 sales in 2015 the Buick Envision SUV is quickly catching up to the Excelle as well, underscoring the landslide shift from sedans to crossovers in China.
Who would’ve thought that only two years ago the best selling Buick in the world was still a 2002 Daewoo, and now the Chinese are getting the new Verano even before the US do, the new Excelle XT at the same time the Europeans get the new Astra, and they’re even starting exports of the Envision from China to the US this year. What a difference two years make. Welcome to the 21st century, Buick.