Back before the Great Recession, General Motors tried to turn the now-defunct Saturn brand into a U.S. outlet for its European Opel models. Now, it appears to be doing the same thing with Buick.
U.S. buyers can already get the Buick Regal (a rebadged Opel Insignia), and will soon get the Opel-sourced Buick Cascada convertible as well. And just like it did with Saturn, GM may also be planning to import the Opel Astra compact as a Buick, according to Car and Driver.
Future versions of the new Astra that debuted at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show could eventually become Buicks, the magazine says. The Astra will debut as a five-door hatchback and a station wagon, but four-door sedan and two-door coupe models are expected to follow. Those are the variants that could be sold in the U.S.
Related: 2016 Opel Astra walkaround
A Buick Astra does make some sense. While GM is pitching the new Astra as a car that “annoys the upper class,” it’s still more or less standard economy-car fare. But remember that the current Buick Verano is actually a Chevrolet Cruze in disguise, so Buick doesn’t have a problem with repurposing cars from more mainstream GM brands.
The Cruze gets a complete redesign for 2016, but GM hasn’t discussed the fate of the Verano. The Astra already shares some underpinnings with the Cruze, so using it to replace the Verano wouldn’t change the status quo too much. In Europe, it’s also offered with a fairly high level of equipment, including heated and cooled massaging seats, and lane-keep assist with corrective steering action. Features like those would help the Astra’s credentials as a premium model in the U.S.
A focus on European-sourced models is one of the many things that doomed Saturn, but GM may be hoping that turning mainstream Opels into more upscale Buicks will produce a different outcome. It already seems pretty committed to the strategy with the Regal and Cascada, and there are even rumors that the tiny Opel Adam could come to the U.S. as a Buick in 2018.