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Buick Tops Lexus — Yes, Lexus

Wednesday, 2 Mar 2011 | 12:34 PM ET
2011 Buick Lacrosse
Source: buick.com
2011 Buick Lacrosse

Admit it, the headline made you chuckle. You probably thought to yourself, "Yeah right, there is no way Buick could catch the #1 luxury brand in the U.S."

Granted, we're just two months into the year, so the fact Buick has outsold Lexus for two straight months should not be taken as a sign GM's beleaguered brand can catch Lexus over an entire year.

That's not the point.

The point is Buick is finally showing it's a relevant player in the luxury car market.

Consider the sales number so far this year.

  • Buick: 29,076 (Up) 51.6%
  • Cadillac: 28,834 (Up) 60%
  • Lexus: 26,674 (Down) 9%

Source: Autodata

Yes, January and February are two of the lowest volume months of the year and when sales heat up this spring Lexus could easily blow past Buick. Still, the surge in sales at Buick is a testament to the fact several things are working for a brand that used to rely on Tiger Woods to generate buzz. Buick is turning heads by refurbishing about a third of its dealerships while also offering generous incentives to people trading in foreign luxury cars.

But the biggest reason is the re-styled line-up at Buick. The Regal, Lacrosse, and Enclave have the styling fit and finish to compete with other luxury and near-luxury models. Jeremy Anwyl with Edmunds.comsummed up the rise of Buick and slump by Lexus saying, "Lexus has been slow to refresh their product line and this is a marketplace that really likes hot new product and that's one of the things that Buick has been offering."

The question is whether the rebound at Buick is a flash in the pan or can last? I don't expect Buick to stay as hot as it has been the last two months, but I do see it building momentum. The models are far better than the boring, bulky models GM used to crank out and tag with a Buick badge. Plus, the quality of Buick models has been among the industry's best in recent years.

The real trick is getting potential buyers past the "Buick stigma".

Tom, a friend of mine since grade school, is looking at buying a new Buick and called me recently for my opinion. In the course of our discussion he eluded to the perception of Buick being boring cars for old men. I'm not sure if that perception will stop him from buying a Buick, but it clearly is not impacting other buyers who are taking a fresh look at GM's long-forgotten brand.

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___________________________ Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.comand Follow me on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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