The new General Motors is this month starting to breathe new life into its profitable but slow-selling Buick range in the US.
The average owner age is 70-plus so needs to attract new buyers, particularly younger, more affluent ones, in what the brand's chief acknowledged to Dow Jones would be an "uphill battle."
"We needed to fix our balance sheet. We needed to fix our labour costs," GM product development chief Tom Stephens said during a media launch of the redesigned 2010 Buick LaCrosse sedan. "But what's going to make a great General Motors is great cars and trucks."
To launch the new LaCrosse, GM is planning a high-priced internet ad campaign to roll out the sportier version of its mainstay and will limit even more its ties to the golf world and move into the mainstream. It axed long-time Buick spokesman Tiger Woods last year.
The automaker is also working on a new, smaller Buick intended to fill out the brand's portfolio, comprised now of two sedans and a crossover, Dow Jones said.
Stephens said he'd already driven the next Buick and promised a 2.4-litre four cylinder EcoTec LaCrosse capable of 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
With the LaCrosse, Buick hopes to court younger buyers - age 40-59 - with household incomes above US$100,000. The target, Stephenson told Dow Jones, "is the same person who would buy a Lexus."
The goal is to win buyers from Lexus and premium brands such as Acura and Infiniti, though the company's marketing exprts say the more likely converts at first will come from Ford, Chrysler and possibly GM's own Cadillac brand.
Those charged with marketing the new Buick acknowledged the brand name is more of a liability than an asset, given the line's reputation as a favourite among senior citizens.
"It isn't that people aren't aware of the brand," said Susan Docherty, chief of the Buick-Pontiac-GMC channel. "You talk to people in their 40s and 50s and they know it. But they say, 'This isn't for me.'"
Stephens believes a quality car would eventually win over consumers, even with Buick's image hurdles. If not, he told Dow Jones, the brand would remain a success given its popularity in China, which is on track to becoming the world's largest auto market.
"I look at North America as a bonus," he added.