Did GM downplay debut of SUV to avoid Trump's wrath?
by Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT -- If you're wondering why you haven't read a review of the Buick Envision SUV yet, blame Donald Trump.
That theory has gained currency among the automotive press, and I find myself increasingly persuaded by it.
General Motors has been completely open about the fact that it builds the Envision in China, where Buick is hugely popular and the SUV became a hit when it debuted last year. It is one of the first new vehicle models imported into the U.S. from China from a major automaker.
The Republican nominee so politicized the auto industry this year with factually challenged attacks on Ford that General Motors may have soft-pedaled the introduction of a promising new vehicle to avoid becoming a partisan target. GM, having spent way too much time in the political cross hairs during the Great Recession, declined to comment.
The Envision, if you haven’t heard of it — and you may not have, because its sales launch this summer was quiet as a ninja at midnight — is an intriguing new compact SUV. Attractive and well-equipped, it competes with small luxury crossovers like the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX and Mercedes GLC. It has sold well and won Buick new customers since reaching dealerships in May, but the U.S. sales launch has been anything but typical.
Normally, automakers can’t wait to get a vehicle like this into the hands of journalists who will write about its technology, design, efficiency and value.
Not so the Envision, which went on sale months before most reporters and critics got to sit in one, much less give it a meaningful test.
Why? The theory — first espoused in Automotive News in the summer, I believe — was that GM felt the political winds blowing from an ugly quarter this year and battened the hatches.
Since Envision was an addition to the Buick lineup, its Chinese production didn’t cost American jobs, and strengthens GM and Buick with sales of a vehicle they wouldn’t have without Chinese production.
Yet earlier this month, Buick didn’t send an Envision to the North American Car of the Year jury’s test of semifinalists for the car, truck and utility vehicle of the year awards.
The comparison drive attracted several dozen vehicles from nearly every major manufacturer. It took place among southeast Michigan lakes and woods, barely an hour’s drive from Buick headquarters on the Detroit riverfront. Hyundai, Nissan, Honda, Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Porsche, Volvo, Kia and Genesis had no trouble getting vehicles to the event, where about 40 leading journalists spent three days evaluating them.
Buick’s stablemates at General Motors — Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC — had no trouble getting vehicles to the test. Buick managed to deliver a LaCrosse large sedan, the other new model it launched this year.
There are a hundred good reasons to build the Envision in China, but Ford had a hundred good reasons for moving production of the Focus compact car to Mexico. That didn’t keep Donald Trump from making Ford his piñata in a series of vituperative speeches.