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Hagerty Employee

Avoidable Contact #64: Why LaCrosse beat Lexus, and why it never will

It’s long past time for people to understand that the passion behind one’s beliefs does not make those beliefs any more valid. If you think that thousands of people were killed by sharks last year, and I can demonstrate to you that it was only about 65 people, the fact that you really, really believe the wrong answer doesn’t make it any less false. On the other side of the argument, we have the Buick LaCrosse.


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Pit Crew

"the faults of the Lexus ES (disappointing interior materials, a surprising lack of refinement on rough roads, a face only a blind mother could love)"

And yet the hideous thing still sells because, among other reasons, the dealer washes the car with every service (most appreciated by my mom). Truly lousy cars bought by people like my mom, who don't really give a **bleep** about cars. Blessed with ridiculously heavy steering (and too sensitive lane-keeping) Akio-san even got them to ruin the ride in the name of 'fun-to-drive'. The cost-cutting is so apparent, starting with the leather. Toyota, the most cynical automaker in the world... they take their customers for granted.

Intermediate Driver

The Reality Distortion Field of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk couldn't save GM in this case. GM lost the Lexus ES customer two to three decades ago with the 1-2 punch of GM's craptastic 1980s lineup followed up by the prime of Honda and Toyota, a run comparable to Stevie Wonder in the 1970s. Cars like the 3rd-gen Accord and the XV10 Camry severed the family ties to Chevy and Ford that their parents held until death. Going Japanese gave people the freedom of not having to worry about their new car not starting before work in the morning, or being shaken down by the service advisor. Indeed, one less thing to worry about is something all Americans would like to have these days.


This is why the Lexus ES replaced the Buick Century and the Mercury Grand Marquis in the last 10-15 years as the official Last Car of the well-to-do Floridian retiree. I often wonder how close Lexus is to becoming Buick for today's young people.

Intermediate Driver

I used to call my ES "My Buick".

Advanced Driver

Amen, and well-said! 

New Driver

Marketing is exactly the problem with modern GM. 


Take the TourX, for example, which the author seems to enjoy maligning due to its status as a lot queen. Yet it handles better and is faster than the contemporary Outback, and has more cargo space than it, or indeed *any Jeep*. This was a potential marketing coup for GM, and instead it was left to wither, only advertised as part of a triumvirate with a gussied-up Malibu and a mediocre Stinger competitor.


The TourX should be remembered as a marketing failure on the order of the Chevy SS, and the combination of utility and handling it offered will be missed by those who know. (Full disclosure: I own a TourX, so I have a touch of bias.)


The LaCrosse itself was a great car, deadly reliable, and more importantly did so without having to make owners break the bank for bespoke parts or deal with touchpads. But Lexus had a thirty-year head start on marketing, and so it goes. 

Intermediate Driver

The lack of marketing for the Chevy SS was a feature, not a bug. Its primary purpose was to help keep the lights on at the Holden plant down under. It was never intended to sell in volume like the Pontiac G8 was. The SS was sold fully-loaded with only two options: a stick, and a sunroof. GM would have preferred that you buy a CTS V Sport if you wanted a fast, large sedan. The SS's secondary purpose was to be a special gift for the Chevy diehards who were in the know. Like the second disc of a reissue of a classic album that has all the great B-sides and unreleased demos you had only read about through magazines and forums that you were now finally allowed to experience.
Intermediate Driver

Now if we want to walk about failures in GM marketing, the sixth-gen Camaro is a perfect example. The Camaro today is a world-class sports car, with the range of being able to beat Miatas at SCCA Nationals in 4-cylinder form, to beating McLarens and the new Ford GT in ZL1 1LE form. Chevy marketing failed to communicate this fact where even Cadillac was able to communicate that they had built a better 3-Series than BMW. The Corvette still stole the spotlight, and Chevy didn't follow Ford and Dodge by releasing special editions every year or two that referenced the car's history. Heck, Chevy marketing would've had to work twice as hard to communicate that fact because design failed the sixth-gen Camaro in so many ways. Instead they just gave up. P.S. Hagerty I need line breaks for replies so I don't have to double-post.
Advanced Driver

Buick, founded in 1899, and next, becoming GM’s first marque; it’s hard to imagine Lexus having “a thirty-year head start on marketing.” Buick had a 90-year head-start in its very existence.  Good post, though.


Call the TourX a station wagon, which it is, and more people would buy it. Station wagons are now cool, and crossovers are totally not. Yes, marketing is all about appealing to the emotions. 

Chinese and Korean Buicks and x cars and other nonsense have diluted the brand to meaninglessness. 

And that last line, about LaCrosse week, gave me my best laugh of the week so far. 


Another great column, Jack!


I remember reading once that some journalist asked Dr. Porsche why his Engineers were so much better than GM's. Dr. Porsche thought for a few seconds and replied that "GM has many excellent Engineers. The main difference is that we ask our Engineers to do different things".


Maybe GM Management should start telling their Engineers to "Do different things".


The pinnacle of arrogant hubris has been the GM belief in customer loyalty.

The ES vs LaCrosse argument was lost long before the LaCrosse hit dealers.  First of all, there was a name change, second a major styling change, both resulted in what was presented as and considered all-new, even though it was based on a long running platform and except for the CXS trim, still had the reliable 3800 V6. As good as the LaCrosse was in testing and on paper, it felt less refined than the LeSabre.  Combined with the name change, it was setup for mediocrity.  

GM can engineer exceptional products, but they have consistently struggled with matching products with consumer taste.  Add in a dealer network that is outdated, poorly serves the customer, and over buys production of premium models, leaving consumers that want a mid-level model to compromise, or go elsewhere.   Exceptional marketing is only a part of the puzzle.  It won’t make up for mismatched products, or low consumer demand.   Conversely, a good product is destined to fail if the rest of the experience is lousy.    
When we are shopping for a replacement vehicle, we always check out GM, but they consistently offer products we don’t want, don’t fit our needs, or are sold at dealers who treat their customers poorly.   

Intermediate Driver

As an owner of a '02 Buick Regal GS I recently took a friend and owner or a two year old ES for a ride. His comments were "Gee this rides better than my ES". When I told him my mileage, repair record and cost he was shocked. As a auto part seller I can tell you we sell more parts for older Lexus than Buick (even figuring there were more sold) and prices are far higher. The car has more than 100K and as the last check up compression was near perfect and mileage on the highway exceeds 34 mpg. Love that 3800 super charged engine. You are right GM manages to screw up most of their marketing. It seems like the people who do it don't even have a drivers license.

Intermediate Driver

Jack’s story brings to mind a long ago family trip to Maui where the nice lady at the rental desk assigns us a brand new Buick LeSabre. Not the most exciting choice for a car nut like me but plenty of room for our two gangly tweenage sons in the back and a huge trunk for our ridiculous pile of luggage in the trunk, so OK. We weren’t planning on doing a lot of driving anyway.

When we get out to the car in the lot though, my usually goofy, happy go lucky older son goes ballistic. “I’m not going to be seen riding in that,” he declares with the classic crossed arms stance of defiance. “You’re not going to be seen period,” I respond, “ no-one you know is here in Hawaii.”  But I’m thinking “Yes the LeSabre looks like a big brown turd on wheels, but how does an 11 year old growing up in the Bay Area surrounded by nothing but Honda’s and BMW’s even know that Buicks are lethally uncool?”


My better half and I watch the tantrum proceed with some amusement, and since I wasn’t exactly thrilled with Avis’ car selection anyway, ultimately junior gets his way. The family crisis ending replacement? A big brown turd on wheels Toyota Solara (topic for another day: what’s with all the brown rental cars in Hawaii?)


Bottom line: Brand may not be everything but it’s close.





GM should ask Jack Baruth and Scotty Kilmer: "What is wrong with the Buick? What needs to be fixed?" Or, even better, maybe they should just reverse-engineer a Lexus.

Advanced Driver

GM's problem is its arrogance.They think they can treat you like dirt,and you will take it.If they can save 1 dollar on a part that results in you needing a 1500 dollar repair....thats what they sell.You KNOW your Lexus will go 200K miles and still run like new,with GM you hope you can keep it 100K miles without major expensive failures.Add in next to nothing GM resale value....yep,I love my Lexus.

Intermediate Driver

Sorry but I have driven a Lexus and it drove like crap. Repairs are very expensiveand the cost of one far exceeds a Most Gm cars. I have had Five straight Buick Regal Grand Sports. Four have had well over 100K on them, current one 106K and still runs like a scalded Cat and last trip got 36 mpg. My total non-maintenance bill for all 5 less than $1000 over the last 29 years. After 200K you don't know what a new cars runs like cuz you have gotten use to worn out parts. JMHO