America Says: Premium Supermini Who?

If you have any idea of how to stop General Motor’s Opel division losing money, now’s a good time to tell them. Production of the next Astra will most definitely move from Germany to Britain and Poland. At the same time, the cars they’re making will be cheaper because the European market just doesn’t need ‘premium’ anything right now. Is this overreaction or a justified response?
I really don’t care, because how much money Opel making and how is their own business. But the fact of the matter is without Opel there would be no Buick revival, and with that you’d lose the foreign company that sells the most cars in China. Besides that, I have an idea of how Buick could make more money, and it's called a premium supermini.

Opel and Buick have, in a way, become Siamese twins the past couple of years, with Chevrolet following behind not very closely with budget version of the same cars. They did it with Insignia, with the Astra and soon with that small crossover you’ll know (next year) as the Buick Escape in America and the Opel Mokka in Europe.

But they seem to draw the line where American consumers don’t understand the product, while in Europe the trend has always bee towards taking risks. Mercedes CLS, Porsche Cayenne or the MINI Cooper revival - they were all relatively dangerous stunts to pull off, and they payed off.

But Buick is unlikely to take such a risk and offer the Opel Adam because nobody in America knows what a premium supermini is, and don’t you dare mention the MINI Cooper, because that thing is huge now.

The way the market usually works, you first give people what they need and after that you show them something better… something they want and don’t need. They did this with mobile phones, lawnmowers with seats on them and extra cheese on burgers… it’s an universal strategy that wins big bucks.

But with superminis, it’s never going to work that way! Buick’s less well off brother, Chevrolet, has begun rolling out the Korean-designed Spark in America, but people are never going to want or need a car this small. Japan, with its tiny hotel room… maybe… but America… NEVER!

Though about the same size and just as ingeniously packaged, the two cars are worlds apart. The Spark is as funky as an old Nokia mobile phone, while the Adam has three “moods” to suite different customers. Both are supposed to appeal to young buyers in a time when there really aren’t any. So I’m going to say right off the bat that a Buick Adam would be brilliant because of what I saw in the Fiat 500.

Sergio Marchionne called the 500’s US sales goal of 60,000 a year in the US “incredibly ambitions”. But since its launch in March 2011, they must have delivered over 20,000 of them, right? That’s still a success story for a car first launched in Europe in 2007 by a struggling Italian carmaker with a reputation for dubious build quality.

It’s even more surprising when you take into account what a Fiat 500 costs. At about $16,000 it’s as much as some as more practical sedans (I’m thinking Japanese and Korean, can you guess which?). It’s also the one of the few cars I know that’s not significantly cheaper in the US than it is in Europe. While I was looking at the configurator, my significant other walked by an blurted this out: “Eeee, they are so cuuute. Aren’t they cute? I love the 500 in red.”

And how is the Chevy Spark supposed to compete? A half a gallon’s worth of cheap plastic for the interior and a bucket of Korean reasonableness. You don’t what to know what she said about it. She said “that Kia was better”, while referring to the new Picanto I showed her the other day. And guess what! The Adam is a “really sporty car that looks fast”.

And it’s not just her who wants to tickle Adam’s apples, because when they put a 1.6 Turbo in there, I’d really be tempted.

Honestly, Buick is really shooting itself in the foot by not rushing to get a cool supermini of its own to rival the 500. Do they really want to stick with their really, really old customers so badly that they won’t take this risk?

The only thing i don’t like about the Adam is the name. If Adam Opel founded the company, should we call the American version a Buick David after David Dunbar Buick, who founded the Buick?

Honestly, General Motors really should forget about the Sonic and the Spark. They are way to strange compared to the cool designs Hyundai is offering. There’s basically no development costs for the Adam, Opel took care of everything. All they need is a factory.

Go on GM! Do it! Take a risk! Because a Buick buyer that shops at the GAP and wears UGS is better than one that tucks his shirt in.
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About the author: Mihnea Radu
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Mihnea's favorite cars have already been built, the so-called modern classics from the '80s and '90s. He also loves local car culture from all over the world, so don't be surprised to see him getting excited about weird Japanese imports, low-rider VWs out of Germany, replicas from Russia or LS swaps down in Florida.
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