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Buick’s new Avenir sub-brand takes the name of a popular concept car

At the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, Buick unveiled a striking concept car called the Avenir. A large and luxurious sedan, it looked like just the thing to take the General Motors brand out of its decades-long doldrums. But Buick isn’t keeping the car, just its name.

Avenir, which Buick notes is French for “future,” will be the name of a new sub-brand that will launch during the 2018 model year. Buick’s announcement of the Avenir sub-brand included few details, but it likely features upgraded versions of existing Buick models, distinguished by special styling elements.

Those styling elements will include at least one item cribbed from another Buick concept car, the Avista, a turbocharged rear-wheel drive coupe that debuted at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show earlier this year. The Avista’s grille will serve as one of the “guideposts” for designers working on Avenir models, according to Buick. Avenir models will also get larger wheels, “unique trim finishes,” and upgraded interior materials.

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Buick hasn’t confirmed anything, but Avenir seems like an equivalent to fellow GM brand GMC’s Denali line, offering higher levels of equipment and special trim. In its press release announcing Avenir, Buick noted that 90 percent of Enclave SUV buyers purchase on of the top two trim levels, and GMC has touted its buyers’ preference for high-end models as justification for Denali’s existence. A special grille is also one of the main elements that distinguishes Denali models, just as Buick intends for Avenir.

Denali models are big sellers over at GMC, so introducing a similar sub-brand for Buick could be a smart move. The Avenir models will also likely be more profitable: trim changes like the ones discussed for the sub-brand don’t add significantly to the cost of building a car, but they do allow manufacturers to charge more for it. The question is whether Avenir models will encroach on the territory of GMC’s Denali models, not to mention Cadillac.

While it may fill a profitable niche, Avenir probably won’t do much for Buick’s image. To really expand sales, it needs to introduce actual cars that are more compelling than its current lineup. Cars like, say, the original Avenir concept. It’s too bad only the name will live on.