by Sam Abuelsamid (RSS feed) on May 6th, 2010 at 11:58AM
The thought of holding a vehicle launch drive for a new Buick sedan at Germany's Nürburgring race track would have been considered utterly absurd 18 months ago to just about anyone except Jim Federico. Federico is General Motors' vehicle line executive for its global mid-size car platform code-named Epsilon II. In those late pre-bankruptcy days, few outside of Federico's team had any idea what Buick had in its pipeline.
In that intervening period, Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer have all passed into the history books and Saab has been sold off. The car that was intended to have become the second generation Saturn Aura has now been re-purposed in North America as the all-new Buick Regal. We had a brief introduction to the car last fall, but when the time came to really exercise the Regal, Buick invited us to its birthplace in Germany to show off its moves. Is the Regal really a genuine European sports sedan as our title claims? Read on to find out.
The first Epsilon II vehicle to come to market was the Opel Insignia in mid-2008. The Regal for North America was a comparatively late addition to the Epsilon II lineup, although the Buick version has been part of the plan from day one for the Chinese market, and as such launched just months after the Insignia in late 2008.
The GM Europe engineering team working out of Russellsheim, Germany has primary responsibility for development of the mid-size platform with additional input and support coming from engineering and design teams in the United States and Asia. While developing the Insignia, the intent has always been to take it upmarket from the European-only Vectra it replaced to compete directly with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Federico and his team wanted the Insignia to be taken seriously as a German sports sedan, something the Vectra never really achieved.
Buick already offers an Epsilon II-based model in North America as the LaCrosse. The Regal, however, is being targeted at a very different customer than its larger brother. The LaCrosse is more luxury oriented with Buick seeing the Lexus ES350 and Acura TL as its primary competitors. The Regal will be marketed as a more sporting sedan aimed at the Acura TSX and Volkswagen CC.
Like GM's new global compact (Delta II) platform, this larger architecture was developed to conform with all the different regulatory requirements in Europe, North America and Asia at the same time. In order to do that, the structural engineers spent months going through hundreds of thousands of simulation iterations in order to create a common design. In spite of all the emphasis on commonality, there are still elements that just have to be unique to each market, including the car's head and tail lamps, rear view mirrors and grille.