When the Buick LaCrosse was redesigned for 2010, the result was an instant'”and much-needed'”hit for the brand. Yes, the Buick Enclave was an impressive piece of machinery, but the division wasn't going to be able to see much in the way of sustainable future growth as a car brand that had a large crossover as its flagship. So it was nice to see the new LaCrosse turning heads and marching up the sales charts with triple-digit monthly sales increases.
However, things had changed by the end of last year. The car still finished 2010 boasting a 120 percent improvement in sales over 2009, but its performance in December reflected a relatively smallish bump of 16.4 percent, and sales are down 6.7 percent through May. It's even to the point where the Enclave is once again Buick's best-selling model, with 23,998 sales through the first five months of 2011 as compared to the LaCrosse's 23,362. And that's actually a two-pronged problem.
Not only does Buick need to be car-driven to keep its positioning in line with its traditional roots and place within the GM family, but'”like all auto brands today'”it has to keep focused on improving its fuel efficiency.
Which helps explain why Buick is turning to a recent Lincoln strategy to help support the LaCrosse.
Lincoln's Leadership Role
Now, I'm no big fan of today's Lincoln lineup. Its best vehicles, like the Lincoln MKX, remain upgraded versions of their Ford-division counterparts, and cars such as the Lincoln MKS, which at least wears a notably different design from its Ford sibling, simply doesn't offer an overall package that's competitive with its industry rivals. Yet Lincoln did showcase a true breakthrough with the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid'”although it had nothing to do with the car itself. Instead, I'm talking about the brand's decision to eliminate the hybrid premium on its entry sedan and give both the hybrid version and the traditionally powered model the same MSRP.
Flash-forward to earlier this week and guess what? General Motors has just announced that the starting price of the 2012 LaCrosse would be the same regardless of whether drivers choose its (mild) hybrid eAssist powertrain or an enhanced 3.6-liter V6. Plus, Buick actually goes one better than Lincoln by claiming that the high-efficiency setup is "standard" and the high-performance mill is the option, albeit one that requires no extra cost.
It's a nice double play for Buick, because it addresses two of the LaCrosse's biggest drawbacks. On the one hand, while Buick received some green props for offering the 2011 LaCrosse with an I4 engine, the result wasn't exactly an easy sell. The Buick's EPA line of 19 mpg city/30 mpg highway/23 mpg combined wasn't that far ahead of, say, the Acura TL's 18/26/21, and the LaCrosse had to give up two cylinders and nearly 100 hp to get that advantage. Then, the most-powerful LaCrosse, configured with a 3.6-liter V6, delivered the same amount of horsepower as the "starter" Acura, with no answer for the hi-po TL that holstered 305 hp.
Buick's powertrain strategy here was a good one, but its execution left something to be desired.
2012 LaCrosse: Spec Check
The upgrades in both areas for the new model year will address those two concerns as well as offer a few further advantages for Buick.
The LaCrosse with eAssist'”which can provide a boost of added electric power in certain driving situation'”is expected to ring up an EPA highway rating of up to 37 mpg, along with a city rating in the low 20's. As Buick helpfully points out, that highway mark exceeds that of some hybrids, including the MKZ and Lexus HS, and is dramatically higher than the ratings offered by traditionally powered competitors like the TL and Lexus ES 350. In fact, the LaCrosse tops the Lexus' mark by a full 10 mpg (and bests the Acura by a still-impressive 8 mpg).
The foundation under the hood remains the 182-hp I4 used in the 2011 LaCrosse, but a 25 percent increase in fuel efficiency now makes a much stronger counterweight to the better performance offered by Acura, Lexus, et al.
And speaking of "stronger" that's an apt description of the '12 Buick's V6, which will now be competitive (and then some) with those same rivals. It's the same engine that has gotten very positive reviews in the Cadillac CTS, among others, and is expected to make 303 hp and 264 lb.-ft. of torque in the LaCrosse'”increases of 23 hp and a not-unnoticeable 5 lb.-ft. of torque as compared to the Buick's current V6. To put this in context, the ES 350 makes 268 hp/248 lb.-ft. of torque, and the top TL offers 305/273.
Room for the Regal
The other "advantage" worth pointing out here is that these new powertrains will allow Buick to raise the LaCrosse's starting price by almost $3,000, so that its new MSRP will be $29,960. This will make extra room for the Buick Regal below the LaCrosse'”their sticker prices are just $770 apart right now'”and, in a counter-intuitive sort of way, help consumers, too.
The starter ES 350 is almost $10,000 more expensive than a base LaCrosse right now, and that discrepancy alone can lead customers to think the LaCrosse is too inexpensive/cheap to be able to compete with the higher-priced Lexus.
Will raising the price of the LaCrosse really be able to raise its sales? When you consider the average transaction prices at GM are still more than the base price of the new LaCrosse, I don't see why not.