Buick surprises with Avista concept ahead of show

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Buick rolled out the elegant and sporty Avista concept coupe Sunday, the second consecutive year it revealed a stunner on the eve of the Detroit auto show press days.

The Avista, described as a rear-wheel drive “contemporary grand tourer,” drew applause from journalists and across social media, but it appears that General Motors Co. and Buick have no plans to build it — at least not now.

GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra told reporters after the reveal that while she would “love to” build the Avista, it is a design concept that represents the brand’s future direction.

“It’s such a beautiful vehicle, but it also ties performance and that coming together really captures Buick and where we’re headed,” she said.

Ed Welburn, GM’s vice president of global design, said the Avista’s looks speaks for itself.

“I think this is absolutely right on for the brand, as far as its mood, its character,” Welburn said. “It’s a bold design. Is it aggressive? Yes, it’s somewhat aggressive. It’s sleek, and it has its subtleties.”

Whether the vehicle is built or not, the design study could pinpoint to the styling direction for Buick in many areas such as interior trims, its interior touch screen and more, said Duncan Aldred, vice president of global Buick sales, service and marketing.

Welburn described work on the Avista, which took more than a year and was created in Warren, as “labor of love” and that “every new Buick under development is benefiting from this experience.”

Its twin-turbo V-6 delivers 400 horsepower through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It is equipped with stop-start technology.

A year ago, Buick surprised with the debut of its head-turning flagship Avenir — French for “future” — concept that was shown to communicate the design direction for the brand. Aldred told reporters in November that the brand has no plans to bring the Avenir to sales floors.

Prior to Sunday’s event, analysts had speculated Buick might show a new Verano, Enclave SUV, Regal sedan — or a concept of a small car based on an Opel vehicle that the brand is said to be planning to bring to the U.S. in a few years. Some thought Buick might show a large car based off the Avenir.

Aldred also confirmed that for the first time, Buick will air a Super Bowl ad. He said the 30-second spot will air right before halftime. He said the ad would celebrate the brand, but would not say what vehicles would be featured.

“We wanted to showcase our newest vehicles to a global audience and millions of consumers,” he said. “The Super Bowl 50 is the perfect opportunity.”

On Sunday, the brand also showcased its 2016 Cascada convertible, 2017 LaCrosse sedan and 2016 Envision compact SUV for the U.S. market, a vehicle it will import from China.

Buick announced in early December it would add the Envision, sold only in China, to its U.S. lineup in the summer, giving it an entry in the U.S.’s hottest sales segment. It marks the first time one of the Detroit automakers has imported a vehicle from China.

Not everyone is happy with the decision, including the UAW, which called the move a “slap in the face” to U.S. taxpayers who helped save the company. Analysts say GM and Buick’s strategy for Envision likely was for a soft debut, off the auto show floor, to defray some of the attention.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who attended Sunday’s event, said she’d rather the Envision be made in the U.S., too.

“I’m an advocate for investment in the U.S.,” she told The Detroit News. “But I totally understand we are in a global auto environment, and it’s important that they balance it.”

Buick has said the Envision was developed and engineered in Michigan.

Buick’s largest market is China, where the brand came in just shy of 1 million sales. It set a retail sales record of 989,167 vehicles in China, up 12 percent from 2014. It sold 147,093 Envision SUVs in the market there last year.

After five straight years of U.S. sales growth, Buick sales fell 2.6 percent in the U.S. to just more than 223,000. The brand globally set a sales record of 1.23 million, as the premium brand surpassed 2014 global sales on Dec. 11. Global sales were up 5.3 percent from 2014.

The Envision is one of three new or significantly refreshed vehicles Buick has confirmed will launch this year and one of seven it has plans by 2018. It will be positioned between the small Encore and large Enclave SUV.

The Cascada convertible, shown at last year’s Detroit auto show, is set to arrive in showrooms at the end of the month into February. The new 2017 LaCrosse sedan, which bowed in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show and will be built at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, will come out around July.

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