By Jeff Gilbert

BIRMINGHAM (WWJ) Buick is looking for growth in new areas. The brand is introducing its first hybrid right now, and its first compact car in the fall.

General Motors will debut its mild hybrid eAssist system on the 2012 LaCrosse. It promises a 25 per cent fuel economy improvement, for a relatively low price premium.

“That 25 per cent is a combined improvement over today’s vehicle.” Says Darryl Wilson, who is lead development engineer for the system. “We saw even more than that in the city.”

VIDEO: We ride along with Buick Marketing Manager Roger McCormick, and talk about eAssist and Verano.

The vehicle starts at around $30,000, and has a fuel economy rating of 25 city/ 35 highway.

Unlike a full hybrid, Wilson says eAssist helps vehicles at acceleration, and allows the engine to be shut off at idle, but does not allow the vehicle to be run in an electric only mode.

“It’s a different integration of that type of system than what you see in the market today.”

They avoided the word hybrid, Buick executives say, because they didn’t want buyers to think they would have to make compromises in power or comfort. However, the eAssist version of the LaCrosse could bring in a different kind of buyer.

“This is a system and a package of attributes that just hasn’t been available before,” says Roger McCormick, Buick marketing manager. “I think it will draw some of those people who otherwise would have had to spend a lot more for a full hybrid.”

So far this year, McCormick says 41 per cent of Buick customers have come from other brands, and 19 per cent of its customers came from imports. He says Buick sales are up 35 per cent this year, after a 49 per cent increase last year.

The next launch for Buick is the Verano, the brand’s first compact vehicle. McCormick says they plan to aim this vehicle at a younger customer.

“We’re looking forward to the idea that people who maybe didn’t look to us in the past, cause we didn’t have a car in the class that they were looking for, now they can look at the Verano and see if Buick is for them.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert:
Twitter: @jefferygilbert


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