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Buick Encore may join Holden line-up

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The Koreans starred, the Japanese mounted a comeback, and One Ford hit the headlines with an extended family of Focus-based newcomers that it is certain to make a big hit in Australia. But it was one car and the commitment of its company chief that made the most impact as America fought back on the opening day of the 2011 North American International Motor Show.

And the Buick Encore small crossover unveiled this week at the Detroit motor show could be among those new models.

Holden boss Mike Devereux admits that there is an obvious SUV hole in their product line-up. "We need to expand our SUV line-up in Australia," he says.

"One of the things that holds us back is we don't have a huge SUV line-up and that's an understatement. We'll have a couple of SUVs in the next couple of years."

One of these new SUVs could be a Holdenised version of the Buick Encore. It's a luxury, 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder, five-seater SUV somewhere between the size of a Toyota RAV-4 and a Nissan Dualis.

"This is a segment buster," says Devereux. "It's in between compact and sub-compact SUV. I've sat in mules of this architecture and it's the right size.

"People are downsizing; up-classing but downsizing. With a smaller vehicle you can afford more luxury. "We're seeing younger people who want all the luxury stuff but don't have kids yet and don't need size yet. Most people see small as cheap but this is busting that myth.

"It's a pretty cool vehicle." Devereux's enthusiasm for the Encore will hinge on GM making right-hand-drive versions for other markets, but he's optimistic.

"If you think about global architecture, which this is, it is highly unlikely that GM would make just one car," Devereux says. "This is a global product."

Buick global design chief Ed Wellburn describes it as "Buick through and through. We strove for grace and beauty," he says. "It's the right size for the time, satisfying many customers' desires to simply their life and be more efficient."

The design is not as fussy as previous Buicks with an elegant "waterfall" grille, portholes and just the right amount of chrome accents. Inside, it's luxurious, not ostentatious, with plenty of premium materials.

Wellburn says the cabin is quiet, aided by an active noise-cancellation system not unlike those used in Bose headphones. Devereux is guarded about committing to such technology.

On the safety side, the Encore has 10 airbags, 60 per cent high steel in the chassis, lane departure warning and forward collision alert.

It arrives in US showrooms this time next year. When and if it arrives in Australia is yet to be seen.

Buick is a little-known brand in Australia. But it's big business in China. Last year, GM sold about one million vehicles in China and half of them were Buicks.

While Buick was sold in Australia several decades ago, it is mainly known among car collectors and movie fans who would have seen large-bodied sedans such as the Riviera wallowing around in film and TV chase scenes.

It's America's oldest active marque with "horseless-carriage" origins back to 1899. It was known as a big, luxury brand for mature people, sitting slightly under the Cadillac in status.

Holden boss Mike Devereux says the brand has evolved over the years. "It used to be for older buyers but now it's got relevance to younger people," he says.

Mark Hinchliffe
Contributing Journalist
Mark Hinchliffe is a former CarsGuide contributor and News Limited journalist, where he used his automotive expertise to specialise in motorcycle news and reviews.
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