I Love the Opel Insignia, So Why Does the Buick Regal Rub Me the Wrong Way?

By Kevin Miller

11.19.2009

2011 Buick RegalRecent news that GM will be bringing the lauded Opel Insignia to the US as a Buick Regal has been met largely with praise. Having recently traveled to Europe, I’ve seen plenty of Insignia sedan and wagon variants on the road, and, to my eyes, they look great. The Insignia is a good-looking vehicle in both sedan and wagon form, and it has been largely unadulterated in translation to Buick, with the same striking interior and body lines; only the front fascia is notably different. Slated to be available with normally-aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder powerplants (with enthusiasts hoping for even more poweful OPC-based variants in the future), the Buick Regal will be an economical and spacious family sedan which should be more fun to drive than anything wearing Buick’s shield logo since the GNX a quarter century ago.

Of course, I had the same feeling about the Astra when it was launched as a Saturn a few years ago. I thought that the good-looking, Euro-flavored new Saturn would sell like hotcakes compared to its ugly-duckling predecessor, the Ion. Unfortunately for Saturn, the Astra never caught on has was hoped. The Astra wasn’t price-competitive because of its Made-in-Germany label, and it turned out to be a bit too European (both in design and ride) for mainstream American buyers. Saturn dealers, whose star burned so brightly in the brand’s early years, didn’t find their salvation in the Astra; and they had been eagerly anticipating their own version of the Opel Insignia, but cruel fate conspired against that eventuality, condemning the brand to the history books. Unfortunately for Saturn (and GM), Opels have never sold very well in US.

2008 Saturn Astra XR 3-doorThat is one of the reasons that it made sense, during GM’s impending bankruptcy and subsequent negotiations with the US government, to offload their European mainstream brand to raise cash. In fact, GM’s bailout by the federal government, implemented to save US jobs, was predicated on the sale of Opel to raise funds to pay off GM debt. GM was in the throes of selling Opel to Magna when they announced abruptly several weeks ago that they would be keeping Opel. To me, that was a bad-faith decision, an about-face of what GM had told the US Government they would be doing to return their company to profitability.

The only reason GM is still in business is because US taxpayers’ money was “loaned” to them by the federal government. My understanding of the reason the government did that was to preserve US jobs. The money was given to GM with the express instructions that it was not to be sent overseas; that it was to be used here in the US to save US jobs. What has essentially happened now, however, is that the influx of cash in the US has made GM feel like it doesn’t need to sell Opel to raise funds; essentially the money from the US government has made it possible for GM to keep Opel; which to me is in direct conflict with the directive that the government’s money was solely for support of US operations.

256019While introducing another vehicle to Buick’s slim lineup will presumably help that division sell more vehicles, manufacturing the Regal won’t create any more American assembly jobs because the Regal will be made in Russelsheim, Germany. Manufacturing the car in Germany means that its price basis is in Euros rather than dollars, and the higher labor cost of manufacturing in Western Europe will make the car more expensive than if it was made in North America, and will make it more difficult to price the Regal aggressively.  After about 15 months, the plan is to shift production of the Regal from Germany to North America and a lower-priced model will be added.  The Regal will slot below the new 2010 LaCrosse in both size and price in Buick’s lineup.

Don’t get me wrong; I am excited about the new Buick Regal from a product standpoint. I think it will make a great addition to Buick’s lineup; it is an award-winning, world-class vehicle. Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether US consumers will be willing to pay European prices for the Regal, and history has shown that transplanted Opels don’t resonate with US consumers (especially US consumers who favor domestic brands). While the Regal is sure to be a great vehicle, I’ll predict that it isn’t going to sell in the volumes GM is hoping for. And I’m still not happy about the reality that GM has kept Opel- and I’m surprised that nobody in Washington has made much noise about that fact. So while I love the Insignia, I don’t think that makes the Regal that Buick needs right now, and the fact that GM deceived the US government to keep Opel makes the Regal’s imminent arrival in the US all the more bittersweet.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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10 Comments

  1. I don’t know if pricing will be a problem for the Regal, since GM has already said they’d price it below the LaCrosse. And they should – you’re getting less car for your money. My concern is that the back seat will probably not be large enough for traditional Buick buyers (or even regular midsize sedan buyers), since it’s built on the short wheelbase Epsilon platform. The Malibu is built on the long wheelbase variant.

    I like the car’s looks, but it’s a little disheartening that it lacks two of the three design features that I was told less than a year ago all future Buicks would have: the sweep spear on the body side and ventiports. At least the waterfall grille made it to the Regal, I guess.

    I’m also less bothered by the fact that it’s imported from Germany, since that’s only supposed to be a short-term solution until Oshawa or Fairfax are able to ramp up North American production. And as far as the bailout money saving Opel – I think GM’s engineering capabilities would have been adversely affected if it lost the talent able to create generally well-regarded compact and midsize architectures.

  2. Kevin Miller, what you say is true, but I’m sure if you were able to ask the GM board why they decided to keep Opel, they would say that it was to be more profitable more quickly, and to stay that way longer, which would mean that they could pay the U.S. Treasury back more quickly.

    Then the question becomes, “Do you believe that?”

  3. Ford went throught he same thing when they sold the rebadged Ford Mondeo as the Ford Contour. It was a very good car, but too European for American tastes, and the back seat was about 2 inches too small for a mainstream American family sedan.

  4. the contour was too european for ford customer tastes, to bad vw or volvo didn’t have the car to sell at their dealers

  5. Kevin,
    I agree wholeheartedly that GM stabbed American labor and the American tax payer in the back by keeping Opel. And like you, Conversely, I also feel that keeping Opel in the GM family will ensure better cars in GM dealerships here in the long run. So like you, I’m irritated at GM for reneging on the deal with Magna–but maybe it will be a good thing eventually for consumers here. Oh well, at least they axed Pontiac.

  6. Should have axed GMC and saved Pontiac.

  7. Anyone else seem to think that this car is in the wrong friggin’ brand? I mean come on, slapping a Buick badge here? GM should know better then to rebadge an Opel as a Buick of all things. This isn’t China, where the Chinese (most likely) think that it has just as much prestige as the twin Bee’s (BMW and Mercedes-Benz). Buick’s target audience is for people who don’t want to drive… Unless GM really believes that it can spin a 180 with this and market it towards younger demographics which, in turn,would totally screw Cadillac. So what’s Buick’s role in the reconstruction of GM? Chevy for the masses, GMC for the gung-ho, Cadillac for the wealthy, Buick for retirement?

    Regardless, thanks for screwing us over GM. Thanks for bringing that into the light Kevin.

  8. Beat-Nick, another factor who played against the Coutour, Chrysler released at the same moment the Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus/Plymouth Breeze who offered more interior space then the Contour and they stoled the show during the time they was showed to the public.

    As for Opel, I think it was a good choice to not sell it to Magna and the Russian bank group Sherbank who also run GAZ, I preffered RHJ or Fiat instead.

  9. Actually the Contour’s biggest competition was the Ford Taurus. The Taurus was only slightly bigger, but Ford dealers made a lot more money on the Taurus.

    When I bought my Contour the dealer tried really hard to talk me into getting the Taurus instead. I told the guy I wasn’t going to spend an extra 2 grand for a car that was 2 inches bigger. (plus the “jellybean” Taurus was too ugly for words)

    My 96 was actually more European than my sisters same-year Jetta. There were no english labels on anything. Every control was labled with Euro style pictograms. It was also quieter and had firmer, more positive steering control.
    I’m also firmly in the “keep Pontiac and kill GMC” camp. The Opel Insignia would have made a nice Pontiac.

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