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GM Marketers Looking Forward to Addition of Regal Turbo

“We expect (the turbo model) to be a big part of the mix,” Buick marketing executive Roger McCormack tells Ward’s during a sneak peak of the division’s plans for next month’s Los Angeles auto show.

WARREN, MI – Marketers with General Motors Co.’s Buick division, one of the fastest-growing brands in the U.S., anticipate a boost in sales of the Regal sports sedan when a turbocharged model arrives later this year and full production of the car line shifts to North America from Europe.

Roger McCormack, director-product marketing at Buick, says the auto maker expects Regal models outfitted with the 2.0L turbo 4-cyl. arriving at the end of November to comprise 40% of the nameplate’s annual sales.

“We expect it will be a big part of the mix,” McCormack tells Ward’s during a sneak peak here of the division’s plans for next month’s Los Angeles auto show.

A vehicle tasked with grabbing younger, more-affluent customers to the brand, Regal sales could use the turbo boost.

Last month, it accounted for 1,776 sales, up just a tick over the 1,704 units delivered in August, according to Ward’s data. Since units began arriving at U.S. dealers in limited numbers in June from Russelsheim, Germany, the Regal has accounted for 5,654 sales.

However, those have all been models featuring a base 2.4L direct-injection 4-cyl. engine making 182 hp and 172 lb.-ft. (233 Nm) of torque.

The motor won a Ward’s 10 Best Engines nod earlier this year in the Chevy Equinox cross/utility vehicle, but the turbo due next month ups performance to 220 hp and 260 lb.-ft. (349 Nm) of torque and would put Regal on firmer competitive ground against other sports sedans in its class.

Ward’s data shows Regal inventories at 6,201 units, good for an 87 days’ supply at the close of September, but at a relatively meager daily sales rate of 71 units. For perspective, the much older and decidedly less-hip Lucerne has a DSR of 78 units.

McCormack also expects sales to benefit once production shifts fully to GM’s Oshawa, ON, Canada, assembly plant in first-quarter 2011. “Logistically, it will make things easier,” he says. “It makes things more predictable, and we can react more quickly to market conditions.”

The arrival of the turbo also would richen Regal’s mix, with additional features such as rear-park assist in its option package, pushing transaction prices higher.

Few direct competitors to the Regal offer a similarly sized turbo engine alongside a naturally aspirated one. However, the Mini Cooper has both options, and the boosted motor grabs more than 50% of sales.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Subaru Impreza turbo accounts for just 20% of its sales mix.

GM also plans to offer an even higher-performance Regal GS, widely expected late next year.

The 2.4L DIG also has found it difficult swimming in the Buick LaCrosse. Added alongside the 3.6L DIG when GM dropped the 3.0L DIG from the car, its monthly sales penetration runs between 5% and 10% of deliveries. In September, the LaCrosse sold 4,741 total vehicles.

John Schwegman, vice president-U.S. marketing for Buick-GMC, says the 4-cyl. has suffered from a lack of awareness within the sales channel. But last month, U.S. Buick dealers participated in a ride-and-drive at GM’s proving grounds in Milford, MI, and the focus was on the LaCrosse with the smaller, more fuel-efficient engine.

“They were on their cell phones afterwards, asking how many they had back on their lots,” Schwegman says.

In the Chevrolet Equinox, the 2.4L engine commands upwards of 80% of its engine mix, and in the GMC Terrain it is the preferred choice over the 3.0L DIG by a margin of 65-35.

Schwegman says Buick continues to build momentum behind the LaCrosse and Enclave large CUV. The brand has posted 12 consecutive months of retail sales gains and now outsells Acura. About 42% of buyers are new to the Buick brand.

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