Beyond question, GM’s Buick brand is extremely successful in China – a huge country with an enormous population and a healthy economic. However, Buick has zero presence in other Asian markets outside China, despite Asia presenting many other opportunities. In particular, we at GM Authority wonder why there has been no serious attempt to sell Buicks in South Korea.
To show why we think this might have been a good plan, we must first briefly examine GM’s presence in both countries. In 2020, Buick was The General’s second top-selling brand in China, where Buick has been regarded as a quasi-mainstream-premium brand for well over a century, and the most successful one with an American name (or, strictly speaking, a Scottish one, since David Dunbar Buick was born in the town of Arbroath in eastern Scotland before his family moved to the United States when he was two years old).
Within the GM portfolio, Buick was second to Wuling, but achieved more than double the sales of Baojun, while easily outselling Cadillac and Chevrolet combined. Furthermore, Buick sold more than five times as many vehicles in China (885,207 units) as it did in the U.S. (162,714).
GM’s history in South Korea is too long and complex to be dealt with in detail here. Today’s GM Korea was created in 2011, but its roots are in the Daewoo Motor subsidiary of the failed Daewoo Group conglomerate, which General Motors purchased. It is through GM Korea that the The General has been able to develop small vehicles including the Spark, Sonic/Aveo, Trax and Cruze, all of them sold globally, including in South Korea, North America and, in the past, Europe.
Previous to that, GM sold Chevrolet and Cadillac models in South Korea. However, there has been only one attempt to introduce Buick to the market, and that was under a different name – the Alpheon brand. Alpheon was created to sell a rebadged version of the second-generation Buick Lacrosse. The new brand was launched in 2010 and discontinued in 2015. The vehicle was replaced by the Chevrolet Impala in 2016.
It’s clear that Buick is one of the most well-established automobile brands in China that’s almost unknown in South Korea. Furthermore, the South Korean market is much smaller than the Chinese one, though it is larger than that of Canada, and that hasn’t prevented Buick from being sold there. Armed only with this information, it’s difficult to make a case for bringing Buick to the Korean peninsula.
But it might still work, so long as GM sells another type of vehicle alongside Buick’s growing range of crossovers such as the Buick Encore and Buick Encore GX, both of which are built for local and export markets at the GM Bupyeong plant in Incheon, as well as the all-new 2021 Envision. By “another type of vehicle,” we mean sedans.
This is the view of a retired GM executive who oversaw part of the automaker’s international operations, and is familiar with Asian markets. “Buick would have worked great in South Korea,” this executive told GM Authority. “It’s a big market for comfortable luxury vehicles that don’t put a focus on a sporty driving experience. The [third-generation] Buick LaCrosse would have done very well there.”
In other words, it would have done better than the second-generation LaCrosse sold as the Alpheon. But, as mentioned above, GM chose to replace Alpheon with the Chevy Impala instead. “Impala was good, but it wasn’t premium enough to compete with the likes of the Kia K900, Cadenza, Hyundai Azera,” the executive said.
Buick vehicles are extremely popular in China, and are also sold in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. That makes four markets. With only a slight change in policy, GM could still raise that number to five by including South Korea, which has the potential of being more successful than Canada or Mexico.