Buick considering importing Envision SUV from China

Melissa Burden and Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. is still considering importing the Buick Envision midsize SUV to the U.S. from China as it weighs the public backlash it may face, according to a source familiar with the automaker’s product plans.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that GM plans early next year to begin selling the midsize Envision in the U.S., sourced from China.

Buick spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato said in an email Thursday that the brand would not “comment on product speculation.”

Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, said according to his forecasts, GM will begin importing the Envision in the spring 2016 and could sell around 30,000 a year in the U.S.

Another source with knowledge of GM’s plans who wished to remain anonymous because they have not yet been shared publicly, said the automaker has plans to begin importing the Envision from China early next year and that it is planning to sell about 40,000 vehicles a year here in the U.S.

If Buick were to import the Envision, it would mark the first time a U.S. automaker has imported a car from China. Volvo Car Corp. this year began exporting a China-made vehicle, the S60 Inscription sedan, to the U.S.

Schuster said there could potentially be some concerns by customers about the quality of a China-built vehicle, but he said those concerns would be largely unfounded.

“I think consumers, generally speaking, have become more educated that it is a global market,” Schuster said. “This is GM: well-established with a global operation and newer factories. The quality standards they adhere to for products like Buick are going to be at a very high level.”

Buick launched the Envision — slotted between the subcompact Encore and large Enclave SUVs — in fall 2014 in China. Sales of the Envision have been strong in China since and the popularity of the SUV helped Buick sales in October in China rise 42 percent year-over-year and set a record of more than 100,000 sales in a month for the first time. Through October this year, Buick has sold more than 108,000 Envision SUVs in China.

The UAW in August said it planned to address during contract negotiations with the automaker speculation that GM is considering importing a Buick SUV to the U.S. from China. UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who heads the union’s GM department, said at the time: “The Envision should be made in the U.S. by the workforce that saved GM in its darkest time and UAW members intend to address this issue in contract talks.”

A UAW spokesman said Thursday that Estrada’s statement from August still stands.

Buick currently offers five vehicles — two SUVs and three sedans — in its U.S. lineup, and will add the Cascada convertible — built in Europe — early in 2016.

Karp Buick in Rockville Centre, New York, says the Envision is coming to America next year. The dealership, on its website, cites Buick North America as its source. Craig Graber, a sales consultant at the dealership, said the Envision is coming.

Some Buick dealers say they would be happy to have more vehicles to sell to customers. “If they bring it, we’ll sell it,” said Russ Shelton, owner of Shelton Buick GMC in Rochester Hills.

Buick’s U.S. sales are down 1.6 percent year-to-date through October to 186,387. Sales of the Encore are up 35.7 percent year-to-date through October, while Enclave sales are up 1.7 percent.

“Buick would benefit from having a product that size in the market,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst of the Americas at forecasting firm IHS Automotive. “It’s a product that can give Buick healthy volume and a little boost.”


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