THE future of Buick’s gorgeous Avista concept – and a Holdenbadged version – lies in two extra doors, according to General Motors insiders Wheels spoke to following the car’s Detroit motor show debut.
Sources confirmed that a model of a four-door version exists in the GM styling studio and is under serious consideration following its overwhelmingly positive reaction as the star of the show.
GM has started work on making a business case for building the car, and a Holden-badged version – including a higher-output HSV model – could be in the mix.
GM sources hint the production Avista would likely end up being a four-door coupe designed as
a more affordable rival to the Mercedes-Benz CLS, BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe and Audi A7 Sportback.
While Buick last year showed off a four-door concept – the Australian-designed Avenir – the four-door Avista coupe would be smaller and sleeker, with more emphasis on proportions and design than rear seat space.
The challenge for securing an Avista business case is ensuring enough global demand, and once again right-hand drive production is the big question mark.
In the global automotive game, Buick (which sells only in China and North America) tends to fly under the radar. But with sales of 1.25 million vehicles last year – the highest in Buick’s 112 years – it is GM’s second best-selling brand worldwide after Chevrolet.
Put that down to China, where it’s the country’s number two brand. China accounts for about 80 percent of total Buick sales, and therefore holds the key to any decision to produce Avista.
Although Chinese consumers do not currently buy coupes in significant numbers, Buick and GMC vice-president Duncan Aldred doesn’t necessarily see that as a roadblock to Avista getting the green light for production.
“I think we’ve earned the right to have the halo car in the Buick range,” Aldred says. “We’re the premium mainstream brand in China, and there’s great value in us continuing to stretch the brand upwards, even though it may not be massive volume.”
“China is important to any Buick,” admits GM design chief Ed Welburn, who says GM’s Chinese product planners have seen the car. While China is now a massive SUV market, Welburn makes the point that Chinese consumers suddenly switched from buying sedans three years ago. “A coupe might be the next big thing.”
The Avista concept is based on a mash-up of GM Alpha and Omega components, sharing the Alpha-based Chevrolet Camaro coupe’s 2811mm wheelbase and with nearly identical front and rear tracks. Under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre V6 driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s the same engine used in the Cadillac CT6.
“It’s buildable,” says Cadillac chief engineer Dave Leone. “The business case is the issue.”
What helps the business case is that the production version would be built using GM’s Alpha architecture, which underpins Cadillac’s ATS and CTS as well as Camaro. Alpha means the car would not only share components that are already produced in volume, but a number of different variants of the car could also easily be configured.
The Avista’s engine bay, for example, will accept GM’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four, and while the 6.2-litre V8 can also be fitted into Alpha, sources say the Avista’s underbonnet layout has not been protected for the larger engine. The eight-speed auto can be swapped for a six-speed manual, and it can be built with all-wheel drive as well as rear-drive. Importantly, it can be built in right-hand drive.
That means GM could easily build Opel, Vauxhall and Holden versions of the car, offering powertrains that suit each market, along with different equipment levels and different chassis set-ups.
“Think of all the performance hardware in the parts bin,” teases Welburn. An HSV Avista with all-wheel drive and the 346kW, twin-turbo 3.6-litre V6 from the Cadillac ATS-V? It’s possible.
“That’s just a good business model,” says Aldred of selling Avista as an Opel. “If you can build a vehicle that’s competing in Europe, North America and China, you’ve pretty much got it covered.”
And what about Holden?
“Holden’s in the mix,” confirms Aldred, a Brit who was managing director of Vauxhall before taking on the Buick/GMC job, so knows GM’s Australian subsidiary well.
“We could do right-hand drive. That investment’s done, though there is an additional expense. I guess you’ve gotta see if there is enough volume in the UK with Vauxhall.”
Avista has a lot of enthusiastic supporters inside GM. “It’s gorgeous,” gushed GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “I said to Mark [Reuss], ‘We have to find a way of doing this one’.”
Lower sales expectations and premium margins mean a fourdoor coupe is perhaps a safer choice as a Buick halo car than a large sedan like the Avenir, which would have had to compete with everything from an S-Class Benz to Hyundai’s new Genesis G90.
Even so, GM product planners are wary of committing investment dollars to this notoriously fickle segment. And that’s why there’s a strong faction inside GM that wants to stretch Avista’s wheelbase slightly and add a couple of doors.
While the Avista isn’t set for Australian sale yet, components of it could be.
Peer under the bonnet and the 298kW twin-turbo V6, codenamed LGW and also used in the Cadillac CT6, is one of the engine options that may effectively replace the V8 under the bonnet of imported Commodores from 2018.
In both the Avista and Cadillac, it’s mated to an eight-speed automatic.
Of course, expect more power than that if HSV gets to work its magic.
Fuel economy is also expected to be strong, courtesy of cylinder deactivation and idle-stop.