I Love the Opel Insignia, So Why Does the Buick Regal Rub Me the Wrong Way?
By Kevin Miller
Recent 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.
That 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.
While 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.
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