January 7, 2010
Say the word Opel in America, and you will either get a blank look from people who have never heard it before or a dismissive roll of the eyes from those who have. But say the word Opel in Europe and you will get a much warmer reception. Opel is GM’s European arm and has been building excellent road cars for generations. Last year, the Opel Insignia sedan won the European Car Of The Year award. On the Continent, Opel slots in just below Mercedes, BMW and Audi in prestige.
We Americans behave strangely when it comes to trade names and brand loyalty. We would never plunk down extra money for a gussied up Chevrolet, but happily do so for one that calls itself a Buick or a Cadillac. Buyers are delighted to pay extra for a Lincoln that is essentially a Ford underneath. For us, the name on the trunk lid is the key to our buying decisions.
We are also skeptical of brands we are not familiar with. 20 years ago, Ford imported a quite delightful sedan from its German subsidiary but made the mistake of calling it a Merkur. The customers stayed away in droves. GM tried selling Opels in the US in the 70’s with similar results. The Japanese seemed to have learned this lesson well. Upmarket cars that they sell all around the world under the Toyota or Nissan name are called Lexus or Infiniti here in the US.
According to The Motor Authority, the same Opel Insignia that won the Car Of The Year award in Europe will appear at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show but will be called the Buick Regal GS. And quite a car it is. With 20″ alloy wheels, big Brembo brakes, a 6 speed transmission and a 255 horsepower turbocharged engine, it promises some serious performance. And the goodness doesn’t stop there. Beneath that handsome exterior is a sophisticated, electronically controlled, all wheel drive powertrain. But this Buick isn’t done yet. The driver will have a choice of Normal, Sport or GS settings to adapt the suspension, steering, throttle response and shift pattern to his or her individual tastes. Put it all together and you have a car that sprints to 60 in under 6 seconds and handles corners like a champion. Now that is a garageful of goodness any car enthusiast can appreciate.
There was a time when Buick was known for building high performance automobiles like the Grand Sport and Grand National, cars that would blow the doors off anything else on the road. Then, GM, in its wisdom, decided to reposition Buick as the preferred transportation for undertakes and octogenarians. Just looking at a Buick in the past 20 years could put you into a coma. Now that Pontiac has been permanently deleted from the GM corporate structure, Buick will be called upon once again to build cars for people with a pulse. In Europe, the Opel Insignia is available with a turbocharged V-6 that pumps out 325 horsepower. Maybe if the GS makes its mark in America, that engine will find its way across the pond as well. It’s certainly something to wish for.
Rumors persist that the new Saab 9-5 – the one that was all ready for production before GM decided to kill off Saab – will also arrive here soon as another Buick model. Between that car and the GS, people who haven’t considered a Buick since the Carter Administration will soon be beating a path to Buick dealerships all across the country. Somebody better go wake up the sales staff!
All photos: Buick
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