This calendar year, Buick dealers in the United States might be lucky to top 100,000 vehicle sales despite deals, discounts and incentives of up to 20 percent — and lately even more, at times — off the manufacturer’s suggested price. (Buick’s North American sales are a small fraction of G.M.’s Chevrolet and GMC truck volumes, although more than Cadillac’s.)
In China, sales have been dropping ominously. In 2016 and 2017, Buick and its partner SAIC Motor of Shanghai sold about 1.23 million vehicles. Last year, sales fell to 1.06 million, and they are expected to finish under 900,000 this year. China’s auto market is rapidly slowing from recession to near-depression, analysts say.
Besides headwinds from the trade war, the Chinese market faces oversaturation, said John Murphy, senior auto analyst for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in his annual “Car Wars” industry outlook in June. He predicted a 7.5 percent sales drop this year.
Another problem for Buick is that it is running out of cars. It is winding down its flagship LaCrosse sedan and Cascada convertible — models no longer available from their source, Opel of Europe, since G.M. sold the division two years ago. Its last car, the Regal sedan (now also offered in hatchback and wagon variants), is dated and in need of a costly redesign. Fewer than 6,000 Regals are likely to be sold in 2019 — an unsustainable volume.
If an affordable Regal replacement can’t be found, Ms. Malcho conceded, Buick will probably cancel it, too, thus exiting the “car” side of the business.
“Ninety percent of our sales are now in S.U.V.s and crossovers,” Ms. Malcho said. The flagship Enclave, produced in G.M.’s Lansing plant alongside the largely similar GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse, is enjoying improved sales this year, after a down year in 2018. Sales of the Chinese-built Envision are flat this year but down considerably from recent years. The tiny South Korean-sourced Encore line of crossovers is up slightly this year, and hoping for a boost from a coming variant, the GX.