Trade Wars

New Chinese car shows Buick struggling in its biggest market

The Buick Electra-X concept, of which the Envista bears a similarity.

The Buick Electra-X concept, of which the Envista bears a similarity.
Image: General Motors

Buick, a bit like Chrysler, is a brand that I am continually impressed with and that is still with us. younlike Chrysler, however, Buick has historically enjoyed strong success in China. After all, China continued to buy Buicks when the brand was nothing but rebadged Chevys. in North America. Yet as Electric vehicles and the domestic market brands are gaining popularity in China, Buick’s position slipped. GM hopes to recapture that excitement with the Buick Envista – a gas-powered crossover unveiled a week ago with a sloping roof that seems to borrow cues from the brand’s Electra-X concept.

Images from the Envista were revealed in a Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology filing, as first reported by Carscoops. It’s a step into a new era for Buick design, but perhaps not very distinctive, especially with regard to the front. The thin, LED-accented daytime running lights are a nod to everything from the Lamborghini Urus to these ill-conceived generic interpretations of Lotus of the Dany Bahar era.

Image for article titled Buick's latest car for China shows how the brand has fallen in its biggest market

Image: Ministry of Industry and Information Technology

Overall, the styling of the Envista it’s a bit blurry a ultimate fusion of contemporary automotive design trends. To look at the China’s biggest best-selling electric vehiclesall from fledgling startups, the Buick’s the relentlessly generic style is probably intentional. GM and its partner SAIC seem to be hoping that an ICE-powered crossover can blend in with the trendy electric package, even like china ambitious consumers began to turn away from the three-shield brand.

Image for article titled Buick's latest car for China shows how the brand has fallen in its biggest market

Image: Ministry of Industry and Information Technology

Now it should be noted that Buick benefited from a slight increase in Chinese sales towards the end of 2020, but GM has had little to say about how the brand has fared in that region since then. Also, it was probably a break in a larger trend over the past five years. From a 2019 New York Times story:

In China, sales fell worryingly. In 2016 and 2017, Buick and its partner SAIC Motor of Shanghai sold approximately 1.23 million vehicles. Last year sales fell to 1.06 million, and are expected to end below 900,000 this year. China’s auto market is rapidly slowing from recession to near-depression, analysts said.

Along with headwinds from the trade war, the Chinese market is facing oversaturation, John Murphy, senior auto analyst for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in his annual “Car Wars” industry outlook in June. He predicted a 7.5% drop in sales this year.

This report obviously comes from a pre-pandemic period when the global economy looked like little different than it is today, but things haven’t exactly improved for the Chinese auto market since then. Just last month, Reuters reported car sales in China in May 2022 were almost half of what they were this time last year.

Buick is running out of steam, and while that doesn’t mean it’s a hopeless cause in a market that once loved it, it does mean GM can’t afford to bide its time to catch up. Buick has a few EVs on sale in China, in the form of the Velite 6 and Chevrolet Boltbased on Velite 7; comically, he also offers a car called the Verano Pro that my browser’s built-in translator manifests as “Veyron Pro”. GM’s plan is apparently to throw five new Buick-badged electric vehicles to car buyers over the next three years as it seeks to reinvent the brand this side of the Pacific with products like the Wildcat EV. I’ve lost count of how many Buick brand changes we have so far.