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Buicks for a new generation

Its Rendezvous SUV drew younger buyers last year. The new Rainier and its first minivan should continue the downward trend.

February 26, 2003|Jim Mateja | Chicago Tribune

Christine Mazglad, marketing director for Buick trucks, has a comeback aimed at silencing critics who say the General Motors division needs some juniors to offset the seniors.

"The average age of Rendezvous buyers is 50, or 15 years younger than the average age of Buick car buyers," she says of the new-for-2002 sport utility vehicle that attracted 61,000 consumers last year. And to keep lowering the buying age -- and tapping a broader group of potential customers for longer periods of time -- Rendezvous will be joined this summer by the Buick Rainier SUV as a 2004 model, followed by Buick's first minivan for the 2005 model year, Mazglad said.

"We're proud to have joined the sport utility party, and we're excited about the [arrival] of the minivan after that," she said.

Buick might not be getting new cars for a couple of years, but with Rendezvous, Rainier and the unnamed minivan, at least it will have some new products in showrooms, albeit trucks and derivatives of other models, until the next-generation sedans arrive.

The Rendezvous and Pontiac Aztek share platforms, and the Rainier shares platforms with the regular-length Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy SUVs. The minivan will be a derivative of the Chevy Venture, Pontiac Montana and Oldsmobile Silhouette.

The arrival of a Buick van for '05 coincides with the phaseout of Oldsmobile and the departure of Silhouette in the '04 calendar year, and with the mid-cycle design freshening planned for GM's minivans for '05.

Buick will redesign its sedan lineup starting with a new Regal in '04 as an '05 model and a new LeSabre in '05 as an '06.

The new Regal and LeSabre were due out sooner, but GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz arrived a couple of years ago and sent them back to the design room for a remake.

Mazglad denies that Buick is just biding time with the trucks. "These [trucks] were all in the works for Buick before Lutz arrived. With trucks accounting for about 50% of industry sales, it was a market we belong in," she said.

Rainier will be offered in only a regular-length version with two rows of seats, and not the extended length with three rows offered by both Chevy and GMC. Rainier needs to hold just five, because Rendezvous holds seven, Mazglad said.

But Rainier will offer as an option the 5.3-liter, 290-horsepower V-8 from the extended-length Chevy and GMC SUVs.

Rainier also will offer two-wheel or all-wheel drive, traction control, electronic air suspension, a "quiet package" with laminated side windows and extra floor-pan and wheel-well insulation, power-adjustable gas and brake pedals, 17-inch radial tires, perforated leather seats, a Bose sound system, an OnStar emergency communication system, XM satellite radio and a DVD entertainment system.

No prices yet, but expect the base two-wheel-drive model to start at about $33,000.

Mazglad expects Rainier to attract 30,000 buyers annually.

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