GM just quietly created a new car brand

Avenir Image FinalBuickA new brand.

For a hundred years, General Motors was defined by its brands: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, GMC, Cadillac. Later, Saturn, Saab, and Hummer joined the portfolio.

But the lead-up to the financial crisis and the Great Recession itself, driving GM into bankruptcy, saw Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Saturn vanish, while Hummer and Saab faded away.

This was actually a plus for GM, as supporting all those brands had become a drag on the business. Since coming out if bankruptcy, however, GM has discovered that it can develop new brands without having to promote them and market them as such.

On Friday, the automaker’s Buick division announced that it has created a new sub-brand, “Avenir.” That’s the French world for “future,” and it takes it cue from a concept car that Buick unveiled in 2015.

“Through the first half of 2016, Buick has been the industry’s fastest-growing major international brand, and Avenir is key to future growth and delivering on the high expectations of new customers coming to our showrooms,” Duncan Aldred, Buick’s boss, said in a statement.

“Avenir will be Buick’s signature. The highest expression of the luxury experiences we’re delivering now and in the future.”

According to the car maker, “Avenir vehicles will add distinct touches to Buick’s timeless, sculpted designs, including a three-dimensional mesh grille, large-diameter wheels, and unique trim finishes.” Interiors will also be upgraded.

The inspiration for this brand-within-a-brand idea at Buick has come from stablemate GMC. Dealers often sell both brands, and the Denali designation for GMC vehicles has become a de facto premium nameplate, with sales prices approaching those traditionally captured by better-known luxury brands, such as Range Rover.

Creating Avenir as a sub-brand also avoids GM’s perpetual problem of brand management. The automaker has always struggled with a business model that required brands to capture customers in different market segments, but that also eventually sees the lines between those brands blur.

It’s probably better to think of Avenir as a sort of super-trim-level, with premium pricing attached. The move also proves decisively that Buick is back. GM considered killing the brand — the original GM marque — as the Great Recession loomed. GM’s China business depended on Buick, however, so the brand had to be fixed at home. The arrival of a new crossover SUV, Enclave, rescued sales at an opportune moment.

The creation of Avenir is a good indication that Buick is going to be around a lot longer.

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