In an effort to increase customer traction, General Motors has made long-time international design leader Bryan Nesbitt the new global head of design for the Buick brand. The shift was first reported by Automotive News earlier this month, when a large-scale executive design restructuring was announced. Nesbitt, who was most recently in charge of design at GM China, has helped lead the company into fourth in sales overseas last year. And while many feel that Buick is already on the right path, Nesbitt’s sudden transfer has left us wondering if there will be any immediate involvement on his end with the Avenir Concept car which was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show this spring.
The 46 year-old first made his splash on the scene back in 2000 when his PT Cruiser became a smashing success for Chrysler. A year later, he jumped ship and began working for GM and went on to design Saturns, Buicks, and Cadillacs. GM has shuffled Nesbitt around quite a lot over the years, as he was the executive director of design at GM Europe, and even held the post of general manager for the Cadillac brand before being sent to China.
The Buick brand has been doing quite well, and bringing a powerhouse like Nesbitt into the fold could spell unbridled success for the Detroit-based car manufacturer. There is a growing level of concern over efficiency and emission standards as well, and having someone like Nesbitt back on American soil could give GM the aerodynamic upper hand.
But it is still a bit unclear as to what the Detroit automaker has in store for the Shanghai transplant. As we all know, Buick has been hitting us with a slew of advertisements that boast how the brand is so freshly redesigned that it is hard to believe it is a Buick, and that Peyton Manning and Shaquille O’Neal both drive one and are loving every minute of it. While GM claims in a report from earlier this year that the brand saw its second consecutive annual global sales record, the Buick badge still carries with it images of grandparents driving LeSabres for most young adults.
Buick has really been trying to shore up its image, and in certain ways it has done an outstanding job of doing so. Long gone are the whale-ish lines and matching curb weights, as cars like the Regal GS and Verano are indeed quite a bit smaller and sharper looking all around. While consumers may argue that Buick’s external styling cues are still a bit curvy and behind the curve (the badge and grille do need a refresh), there is no arguing with the fact that the automaker is on its “A-game” when it comes to the interior department in cars like the Enclave.
The GM offshoot has also been playing with the performance department, and the aforementioned Regal GS now comes equipped with a turbocharged powerplant that churns out 259 horsepower and can be mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Turbocharged performance Buicks haven’t been a thing since the Grand National left this world decades ago, and non-enthusiasts are sure to scoff at the idea when they hear of it.
But there are still quite a few issues with the Regal GS that require Nesbitt’s attention if he wants to generate sales and attract an entire generation of millennial car buyers. In order to get the manual gearbox, you must forego having all-wheel-drive, thus causing immediate hesitation from anyone comparing it to the 268 horsepower, turbocharged Subaru WRX. The car also could use an aero package of some sort to make the car look a bit more aggressive, all while masking that over-sized grille and replacing the chrome wheels with something more “performance oriented.” There is also the issue with GM cannibalizing Buick sales via the popularity of its Cadillac line, which continues to grow both in models and as a go-to for people who want a slice of American luxury.
Nesbitt certainly has his work cut out for him, as American consumers tend to either unintentionally overlook the Buick brand due to its bland styling or just write it off as a redesigned geriatric go-getter. And while the Panamera-ish Avenir does indeed appear to be quite luxurious, and the convertible Cascada looks like a ton of fun with its turbocharged motor and clever suspension, we wonder if Nesbitt will be able to garner the attention and sales the way Subaru has as of late. We think he should bring back the Grand National so it can go toe-to-toe with Dodge’s Hellcat, and maybe then he will have everyone’s undivided attention.