General Motors is planning to import the 2016 Buick Envision from China to sell in North America early next year. The decision has stirred up all kinds of scorn, contempt, and generally negative feelings towards GM, Buick, and the new compact luxury crossover itself. But there are what we believe to be vital elements have been lost in all the hoopla and fuss surrounding the topic.
1. A Vital Vehicle In A Growing Segment
Americans are going crazy for crossovers, at least for now. Consumers want them and automakers can’t make enough of them. Just in November 2015, crossover sales grew 35 percent at Chevrolet, 11 percent at Buick, 12 percent at GMC, and 53 percent at Cadillac. The figures are in line with those of the industry, but are actually quite impressive given that all of GM’s crossovers are aging or, simply put, old and about to get replaced.
By contrast, the 2016 Buick Envision is all-new. It was developed in the U.S. for global markets and it’s an all-new vehicle that’s modern, unlike the rest of GM’s CUVs. More importantly, the compact-sized Envision lands in the hottest-selling crossover segment. It’s not too big (Encalve), it’s not too small (Encore), and it appears to have just the right combination of luxury, attractive design, high technology, convenience, and value to be the first pick of many who cross-shop it with the Lexus NX, Acura RDX, Volvo XC60, and Audi Q5, among others.
So yes, the 2016 Buick Envision is a vital vehicle for Buick in terms of sales volume and brand image. After all, the brand has been starved of new product since 2013. So if anything, GM should have begun importing it last year to further capitalize on the crossover boom.
2. Shit Has (Not Yet) Hit The Fan
Most have not yet learned that Buick will import the Envision from China. But when they do, expect even more backlash, derision and scorn. The bailout monkeys will come out to play; they will probably make posters to parade in front of Buick dealers and GM’s Ren Cen; there will be cutesy Facebook and Instagram meme-like images ridiculing the Chinese-made Envision.
Heck, we’ll give the crowd a freebie right now: “Envision: The People’s Buick” can be printed on a photo of the Envision alongside the Chinese flag. Photoshoppers, feel free to go to town.
But will it all ultimately matter? Will it impact Buick’s reputation, or public mindshare, or the sales performance of the Envision? Time will tell. But let’s not forget that the Encore (a sales champion) is still imported from South Korea.
3. Import Volumes Will Be Limited
It’s very likely that only 30,00-40,000 units of the Envision will be imported per year. By comparison, Chinese consumers have purchased close to 130,000 Envisions since the model’s launch last fall. In the U.S. market, not a single Buick vehicle reached even half that sales volume in 2014, with the Enclave’s 62,300 sales being the highest for the brand.
3. It’s Not The First Time
It’s not the first time that Buick has imported a vehicle from overseas. When it launched in 2011, the current generation Buick Regal was imported from Germany until GM had enough time to set up production at its Oshawa facility in Ontario, Canada. Import volumes were very similar to the ones expected of the 2016 Buick Envision. Ironically, very few voiced any issues with importing a midsize sedan with a heralded, purely American nameplate, from Europe.
Be that as it may, the Envision has been developed in the U.S. and will be assembled to GM’s global manufacturing and quality standards wherever it’s produced, be that in China, Korea, Australia, South Africa, Thailand, Canada, Mexico, or the United States. Manufacturing operations and quality are both global games.
4. It Could Be Temporary
And that brings us to the possibility that the Buick Envision rides on GM’s new D2XX platform. This same architecture will underpin the next generation Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, among other vehicles. But as it happens, GM plants in North American haven’t yet been equipped to build a D2XX crossover just yet.
When that happens, we expect that Envision production will move to North America, probably to the Ingersoll plant in Canada, which will get updated in about a year to build D2XX-based CUVs.
Until that happens, Buick will (most likely) sell every single unit of the 2016 Buick Envision it imports from China, thereby attracting new customers to the brand, increasing sales volume, market share, and profitability.
5. It’s Not “The Start” Of China-Assembled Buicks
“This is the start of GM making all Buicks in China”.
We have seen comments like this one all over the web since last week’s announcement. Besides the fact that there is no evidence to support this theory, it’s worth mentioning that the all-new, 2017 Buick LaCrosse will be built in Michigan. It just so happens that there is an advantage of getting the Envision to market as quickly as possible, and that means importing from China for the short term.
“We have production already going (in China) and adding a second manufacturing facility for the volumes that we would expect in the U.S. just wasn’t feasible,” Buick spokesman Stuart Fowle told The Detroit News. “We wanted to take advantage of the manufacturing already in place.”