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Chinese designers to play key role in future Buicks
April 22, 2013
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SHANGHAI: General Motors revealed a new plug-in hybrid Buick Riviera concept on Friday on the eve of the Shanghai Auto Show.

The concept has wireless charging capabilities. GM did not discuss how far the car could travel on electric power without using a motor.

The new Riviera, a coupe that Buick sold in the US from 1963 to 1999, illustrates how the Chinese market is influencing the future of Buick. GM China’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center led development of the new concept.

“With this new Riviera concept car, we can witness the future global development direction,” said Ye Yongming, president of the Shanghai GM joint venture and vice president of GM partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

GM didn’t say whether it will offer a new Riviera for sale. Automakers introduce concepts to gauge public reaction to new technologies and design.

“It is purely a concept, but ... there is a lot that will have a significant influence on future Buicks,” said Ed Welburn, GM global design chief.

The new Riviera features a new take on Buick’s signature waterfall grille and gull-wing doors. The gull-wing doors are just for show and won’t be integrated into a production vehicle, but the grille is realistic, Welburn said.

“This very contemporary expression of the grille we must incorporate in some way in our future vehicles,” Welburn said.

Revealing the car in China reflects Buick’s prominence in the world’s largest vehicle market, which buys about four times as many Buicks as the US Buick sales in China rose 8 per cent in 2012 to 700,007 units.

J.D. Power & Associates projected that Buick will sell more than 1 million cars here by 2016.

The vehicle rolled onto the stage after a series of videos showcasing Buick’s 110-year heritage, including a tribute to its roots in Flint, Mich.

GM nearly eliminated the Buick brand during its 2009 bankruptcy, but opted to keep it because of its foothold in China, where it is viewed as an upper-echelon offering for wealthy businesspeople and government officials.

“Buick has a very strong presence in China,” said Namrita Chow, a Shanghai-based analyst for IHS Automotive. “But they need to keep appealing to the new Chinese buyers.”

Welburn said Chinese designers would continue to play a key role in future Buicks, but design leadership will remain in the US “In some ways the Chinese market wants very much the same thing as the American market,” Welburn said. “What appeals to the market here is the design language that has been a part of Buick for decades, the flowing lines, the graceful nature of Buick design.”

Welburn recalled his father’s 1965 Buick Riviera, and his early days at GM working for then-chief designer Bill Mitchell, who designed the first Riviera.

The Riviera name dates back to GM’s Roadmaster Riviera coupe, which debuted in 1949.

“Buick Riviera has been part of my life for many years,” Welburn said. “It was one of the first cars I ever drove.

Meanwhile, a new National Research Council report says the US may be able to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 in light-duty cars and trucks.

The highly ambitious goal could be reached, the report says, through a combination of more efficient vehicles and the use of gasoline and diesel alternatives such as biofuels, electricity and hydrogen.

“To reach the 2050 goals for reducing petroleum use and greenhouse gases, vehicles must become dramatically more efficient, regardless of how they are powered,” said Douglas M. Chapin, principal of MPR Associates and chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

For reasons both good and bad, the US has already seen a reduction in oil consumption. In November 2005, for example, US oil consumption peaked at more than 20.8 million barrels a day, according to Energy Department statistics.


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