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Buick Is GM’s Budget Brand Now, Not Chevy

Your average Chevy buyer is dropping a lot more on their car than the average Buick buyer, and I have the numbers to prove it.
Front 3/4 view of the 2024 Buick Envista Avenir in Ocean Blue Metallic
Buick

Chevrolet: General Motors’ brand for the everyman. The light beer bottle-clinking, blue-collar American who’s working up a sweat to afford the next brand up the ladder: Buick. And if they work hard enough, maybe they’ll follow that up with a Cadillac one day. But the world has changed since GM envisioned this brand progression decades ago. We may still see Chevy as the working-class brand, but that’s a carefully crafted image for marketing’s sake. Instead, some of GM’s most budget-conscious buyers are flipping the script, because they’re not shopping for Chevys. They’re buying Buicks.

That may be a provocative claim to some, but kicking the hornet’s nest isn’t the point here. It’s to observe that Buick’s position is now that of GM’s de facto economy brand. It may posture and even price itself like a premium product at times, but Buick’s offerings aren’t those of an upscale brand—not in the United States in 2023.

Rear 7/8 view of the 2024 Buick Envista Avenir in Ocean Blue Metallic.
Rear 7/8 view of the 2024 Buick Envista Avenir in Ocean Blue Metallic. Buick

Since the 2020 retirement of the Regal, Buick’s lineup has consisted entirely of crossovers, a body style whose sheer popularity makes it the archetypal modern car. Crossovers are for people who want the ability to do as much as possible with a single vehicle; take the kids to school, a Costco shopping run, and be up for a road trip. Anything more than that, from hauling a bed of wood chips to laying down quick quarter-mile times or leaving zero emissions behind are—by virtue of cost—luxuries.

They’re luxuries that Buick doesn’t afford its customers. Not a single vehicle in its lineup is a pickup truck, performance car, or EV. That third option might be on the way, but having an EV in your lineup isn’t enough to make people covet your badge. Just ask Nissan.

Now hold on,” you might be saying. “Buicks are still more expensive than Chevys!” And you’d be right. The Trax-based 2024 Buick Envista starts at a price $2,000 higher, the Trailblazer-related Encore GX is an extra $2,500, and the Enclave is a whole $9,360 dearer than the Traverse. On its surface, Buick still looks like the upscale option. But the way Americans spend their money on new cars indicates otherwise.

Front view of the 2024 Buick Envista Avenir in Ocean Blue Metallic.
Front view of the 2024 Buick Envista Avenir in Ocean Blue Metallic. Buick

For starters, let’s compare the price range of new Buicks to those of Chevys. Chevy undeniably takes the title of cheapest car between the two, with the 2024 Trax starting at $21,495 against the $23,495 Envista. But not a single Buick nameplate starts north of the $48,334 that the average new car in the U.S. cost in July according to Kelley Blue Book. Chevy, meanwhile, has four above that mark: the Blazer EV, Corvette, Tahoe, and Suburban. There’s simply more room to spend big on a Chevy, which people wouldn’t do if they didn’t think a Chevy was worth splashing out for.

There’s also data from Cox Automotive about GM’s Q3 sales, which gives us insight into what people actually spent on each model. Mirroring the relationship above, Buicks sell for more than their Chevy equivalents.

Base 2023 MSRPQ3 Average Transaction Price (ATP)Average Upsell
Chevrolet Trailblazer$23,395$27,880$4,485
Buick Encore GX$27,195$29,725$2,530
Chevrolet Traverse$35,915$44,657$8,472
Buick Enclave$46,195$52,294$6,099
Data not available for 2024 Buick Envista for comparison to Chevrolet Trax
A front 3/4 view of the 2024 Buick Enclave Premium in Emperor Blue Metallic.
A front 3/4 view of the 2024 Buick Enclave Premium in Emperor Blue Metallic. Buick

Take a closer look though, and you’ll notice an interesting trend: The difference between the models’ average transaction prices is markedly less than the difference in MSRPs. That means people are spending more on options for the cheaper Chevys.

Base MSRP DifferentialATP Differential
Trailblazer & Encore GX$3,800$1,945
Traverse & Enclave$10,280$7,637

This tells us people who walk into Buick dealers aren’t spending as much on options or higher trims as Chevy customers are. You could argue Buick’s trim structure discourages this with better standard equipment, but generally speaking, that’s the opposite of what you expect as prices go up. Pricier cars have more and costlier options—Porsche in particular is famous for its nickel-and-diming. But for some reason, Buick bucks the trend.

Front 3/4 view of the 2024 Buick Encore GX Avenir in Ocean Blue Metallic.
Front 3/4 view of the 2024 Buick Encore GX Avenir in Ocean Blue Metallic. Buick

One reason might be that Chevy customers who aren’t after something aspirational like a Silverado HD ZR2 or Corvette might seek a deal that a lower MSRP promises. But because they feel like they’re saving money, they splurge a little more on options than a Buick buyer might. Perhaps the Buick badge is what buyers show up for, not what backs it up.

There’s a more telling piece of data from Cox’s report, though: Average transaction price by brand. Chevy’s Q3 ATP—this is the average price of all new Chevys sold in the U.S. in that time—was $48,074, buoyed by its top seller the Silverado averaging $61,033. Buick meanwhile scored just $36,590, the lowest of all GM brands.

You could argue that number would be higher if Buick buyers had more expensive choices than the Enclave. Or, for that matter a newer one. The Enclave may have been updated for 2022, but the current model dates back to 2017. Maybe that’s why sales are sluggish, totaling 28,483 through Q3 according to Good Car Bad Car. Its higher price than the related GMC Acadia probably doesn’t help either.

But a Buick beyond the Enclave presents a problem for GM because it would risk cannibalizing sales from other brands. Besides, the premium market isn’t Buick’s strength anymore, as GM admits to those it’s accountable to: Shareholders.

Front 3/4 view of the 2024 Buick Envision Avenir in Moonstone Gray Metallic.
Front 3/4 view of the 2024 Buick Envision Avenir in Moonstone Gray Metallic. Buick

In a Q3 results presentation given to investors, GM touted Chevy and Buick together as “the new leader[s] in affordable, small SUVs.” Elsewhere in the slides, it revealed that just 28 percent of Buick customers spring for the Avenir trims, which are positioned at the premium level that formerly defined Buick. (This also implies the average Buick buyer spends even less on options than the ATP indicates.)

That’s not about to change, as the next Buick in the pipeline, the 2024 Envision, is expected to start in the mid-$30,000s, just above the outgoing model. Or as you may remember, right at the price the typical Buick buyer is comfortable at. It’s an embrace of a status quo, and the closest we’ll get to GM admitting Buick is Chevy’s underling. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just where things have ended up—even if it’s at odds with the rest of Buick’s history.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com