The average Buick buyer is a man in his mid-60s — not the type of consumer inclined to trick out his car with 22-inch wheels, a lowered suspension and tinted windows. So why was a Buick Lucerne with just those modifications on display at a party hosted by General Motors Corp. last weekend that also featured actress Vivica Fox, known for roles in movies like “Booty Call” and “Soul Food,” and hip-hop star Jay-Z?
The answer is simple math. For 2006, sales of GM’s Buick were down by almost 15% compared with 2005, according to Autodata Corp. Now, the brand is trying to expand its appeal among young, urban consumers — deemed essential if it’s going to help reverse GM’s flagging fortunes and build sustainable sales.
“The idea is that the urban market sets the trend for the mainstream market,” says Heather Waszczenko, Buick’s national advertising manager.
With that in mind, Buick is re-examining its advertising and studying car-customization trends. So far, that has brought about the brand’s first major appearance at a large car aftermarket show — the venue for the customizers to show off their souped-up vehicles — in Las Vegas; a pilot marketing program in Atlanta featuring billboards, Lucernes displayed outside nightclubs and radio spots; and bigger wheels for Buick models.
Buick is not alone in trying to court a younger, urban buyer. Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln and Volvo luxury lines, and Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus are among the other automobile brands that traditionally appeal to a more mature demographic and have recently been looking for younger buyers.
Such attempts to speak to a younger and more urban audience carry risks: They could alienate the brands’ longtime older customers, who remain comfortable with their car’s sedate and respectable image.
And if the companies try too hard and don’t have a clear idea of who they are trying to reach, they could alienate consumers of all stripes. Buick says it’s too early to tell whether its new efforts will work but says more car customizers