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Buick Sales Surge As Buyers Get Younger

By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times - May 6, 2010

Remember the "This isn't your father's Oldsmobile" advertising campaign? It was such a flop, General Motors Co. couldn't save the brand.

The automaker's history is riddled with dead brands that couldn't attract enough younger buyers to stay alive. Pontiac was once GM's sporty performance division. But the last Pontiac rolled off the assembly line in November. Saturn, the division designed to win over a younger generation of buyers, sputtered and is shutting down this year.

So why are GM executives so excited about Buick — the brand most likely to be left behind when mom and dad move to the senior living center?

Well, lately it's been behaving very un-Buick like, attracting younger buyers and seeing sales soar in trend-setting regions such as California. It is the fastest growing major brand in the industry.

"Finally not every customer who comes into the showroom is using a walker or a cane," said Ron Charron, chief operating officer of Boulevard Buick in Signal Hill.

Buick was once among the brands GM considered scrapping. But the automaker now says it plans to double the number of models under the Buick nameplate, adding a sporty Regal sedan, a smaller sport-utility vehicle and a compact similar to the upcoming Chevrolet Cruze.

GM is hoping the new Buick models will act as an automotive fountain of youth and attract more customers such as 48-year-old Frank Zuniga, a real estate broker from Hacienda Heights.

"When people think of Buick they think of the stereotype big boats, but they have really done some nice redesigns to compete with upper-end vehicles," said Zuniga, who recently spent about $40,000 on a fully equipped LaCrosse.

"I was close to getting the Lexus, but when I looked at what the LaCrosse was offering it was pretty attractive. I think it will be a hot seller for a while," Zuniga said.

The comparison to the Lexus is exactly what GM executives are gunning for. Much of their advertising pits the LaCrosse against the Lexus ES 350, the luxury brand's entry-level sedan.

That's one reason LaCrosse sale rose 336% in California to 528 vehicles in the first quarter while Lexus ES 350 sales have fallen 37% to 1,100, according to the California New Car Dealers Assn. Overall Buick sales in California have doubled from a year earlier.

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