Lutz scraps redesign of 2 Buicks; LeSabre, Regal to get new look in 2005
|By RICK KRANZ
DETROIT -- Robert Lutz has tossed out conservative redesigns of the Buick LeSabre and Regal.
New designs for both cars approved by Lutz, GM's vice chairman for product development, are scheduled for the 2005 model year, GM sources say.
The changes are good news and bad news for Buick. Dealers will get the redesigned Regal a year later. The LeSabre was not delayed. But if Lutz's touch with product continues, Buick will get more attractive cars with a European flair.
Last year, Lutz canceled the Bengal, a two-passenger convertible that he said looked "like a big, green sausage." The company already had decided to drop the Century when the redesigned Regal is introduced.
Lutz has had less influence on Buick's growing truck and crossover lineup. The Rendezvous is posting solid sales, and the Rainier mid-sized sport-utility will go on sale in September 2003. Also, some dealers say GM is planning a Buick minivan.
Buick's falling car sales - down 10.5 percent in the first half of this year - are blamed largely on dull designs that appeal mainly to the Social Security crowd.
When Lutz came on board Sept. 1, redesigns for the Regal and LeSabre were in the works under the regime of Ron Zarrella, then president of GM North America.
Under Zarrella's guidance, redesigns of the Regal and LeSabre were conservative but employed elements drawn from Buick's heritage, said some dealers familiar with the changes. Zarrella left in November.
The redesigns, inspired by a concept car called the LaCrosse, were scheduled to get portholes in the fenders, popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and a Y-Job-inspired grille. The Y-Job was a Buick concept that debuted in 1940.
Lutz scrapped the portholes and Y-Job grille for the Regal and LeSabre.
Spokesman Tom Kowaleski said, "It just didn't work because you just don't take a few pieces off of it (the LaCrosse), stick it on a vehicle where the whole proportion of the vehicle is different, and expect it to be successful."
But one styling element from Buicks of the 1950s, a rise in sheet metal at the top of the rear doors, remains.
A Buick dealer who saw the redesign said Lutz "took a bland potato and made a very nice-looking automobile out of it."
Another dealer said: "There was nothing that made your heart race. When Lutz got through with it, I'm not going to say my heart races, but I think it is a much better-looking car and will probably be far more attractive to customers whom Buick hasn't seen in the past."
Lutz, at a press event in Le Mans, France, last month, described his work on the Regal this way: "There is not an inch of the car that wasn't changed. We just started over. It is a bold new design without being shocking. It is much more modern, very much more in a European mold, but still distinctly Buick."