There’s a lot that’s interesting about General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) new Buick Riviera concept car, and I’m mostly not talking about the way it looks.
Of course, there’s no doubt that it’s visually very striking. The Riviera Concept, which made its debut at an auto show in Shanghai on Friday night, is a coupe that combines sleek lines with an elegant evolution of the front grille that has become a Buick trademark in recent years.
It’ll almost certainly never be put into production – at least not with all of its fanciful show-car details like the huge gull-wing doors. But there are (at least) three things that should make this Riviera quite interesting to those who follow General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)’s efforts closely.
First, it’s not just a fanciful concept
Automakers have presented “concept cars” at auto shows for decades. Often, these have been just flights of fancy, an opportunity for designers to stretch, to play a little.
But as I wrote when GM showed its Cadillac Ciel concept car in 2011, “in the new cost-conscious GM, nothing, not even a fanciful show car, happens without a business case.”
I think that’s true here, too. The decision to call this car “Riviera” — a badge worn by famous Buick coupes in the past — wasn’t an accident. While the Riviera (or at least, this Riviera) might not be destined for mass production, General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) executives said that it “offers a preview of Buick’s future design language.”
That’s what Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) said about its Evos concept car in 2012, and already we’ve seen its striking front-end design and other cues show up in cars like Ford’s new Fusion.
It’s also what the Cadillac folks said about the Ciel two years ago. Elements of the Ciel’s striking look are clearly reflected in the new CTS that GM showed last month, and we’re likely to see more of those cues if the much-rumored big new Cadillac sedan is revealed.
More to the point, I thought (and still think) that the Ciel was a sort of sanity check for General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) management on the idea of taking Cadillac back in the direction of large, opulent cars. I think the Riviera might be another sanity check for GM’s management, this time for what they want to do with the Buick brand.
And what’s that? Well, I think it has a lot to do with China.
Second, it was unveiled — and designed — in Shanghai
While the Buick brand doesn’t get a lot of attention here in the U.S. anymore, it’s big in China. There are many for that, not least of which is that the last Chinese emperor famously owned two Buicks.
Buicks are regularly among China’s top-selling cars, and as GM looks to build on its already-big Chinese presence, it’s natural that the Buick brand would have a big role in the company’s plans.
But that’s not why the Riviera was unveiled in Shanghai. It was unveiled in Shanghai because it was designed there — by folks at the Shanghai GM joint venture and at General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center in Shanghai.