3 Reasons GM's New Buick Riviera Matters

The Buick Riviera concept car was unveiled in Shanghai on Friday night. Photo credit: General Motors Co.

There's a lot that's interesting about General Motors (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 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, GM executives said that it "offers a preview of Buick's future design language."

That's what Ford (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.

2011's Cadillac Ciel concept hinted at the styling of future Cadillacs like the all-new CTS sedan. Photo credit: General Motors.

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 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 reasons 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 GM's Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center in Shanghai.

GM's press release describing the Riviera draws on some very Chinese images, noting that the car's shape "has the vibrant nature of a moving river." Clearly, it was designed with Chinese consumers' tastes in mind.

And I think that's what GM is really saying here: Upcoming new Buicks will draw on the Riviera's design language -- and they will have those Chinese consumers in mind as well.

Third, it's a cool new kind of high-tech hybrid
It's entirely possible that GM will produce a coupe called Riviera in coming years. It's even possible that it will look quite a bit like this show car, though I'd be a little skeptical on that front.

But I'm not skeptical of the possibility that the Riviera's drivetrain technology will find its way into mass production, and not necessarily just in Buicks. If you have any interest in green cars, this is pretty cool: GM has come up with a plug-in hybrid -- a hybrid that can be charged up like an electric car and driven for a while without using any gas -- that doesn't need to be plugged in, though it can be.

Instead, the car recharges via a "sensory recharge panel" on the bottom: You drive it on to a special mat, and the car's batteries recharge wirelessly. Keep the mat in your garage, and you don't even have to think about recharging every night -- it just happens.

That's cool. That should play well in China, where high-tech car features draw lots of attention. And I bet that GM hopes to roll that idea out widely if the company can perfect it -- and not just in China, and not just in Buicks.

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Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2013, at 4:33 PM, ponchoman49 wrote:

    It's hideous and looks nothing like a Buick and instead something you would find on Star Wars. No thanks!

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2013, at 5:43 PM, cbabb36 wrote:

    What a piece of krap. Go back to the '69 Riv and start all over again. It's very had to shake GM loose from their "Boy Racer" concept of life in the fast lane.

    I have a '96 Roadmaster wagon and would like to buy a new one but not if it was designed by these dippy dognuts.

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2013, at 5:55 PM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    I bet you guys would change your tunes in a hurry if they built it on Alpha and dropped a smallblock in it.

    But it doesn't matter, because y'all aren't the intended audience anyway.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2013, at 6:45 PM, abadumsquagg wrote:

    I think it's a great looking car except for the Elmer Fudd looking front air dam. With a high profile such as the Chevrolet Camaro, I would like to think the GM would do a more "retro" look for a new Rivera.

    I personally likes the '63 - 66 look. The clamshell headlights were really cool. Bucket seats and floor mounted shifter with minimal digital stuff. Rear wheel drive with the LS-5 engine, maybe supercharged.

    It's GOTTA be rear wheel drive. The latter day Riv's were crap. 3.8 Supercharged and FWD was a loser combo.

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2013, at 11:39 PM, imDanielle2 wrote:

    Some of you people are idiots.. The Buick 3.8 that was out for years would go for 300k and then the timing chain would go..Easy/cheap fix and then right back on the road again for another couple hundred thousand ... This thing is freaking awesome and the new batteries/charging concepts are off the hook .. Everyone is always waiting to see what GM does so they can try to play catch up and leach off their ideas!

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2013, at 3:12 AM, chrisausten wrote:

    It's nice to see that GM is keeping a connection to the past while moving forward.....It's also interesting to compare what GM is doing with Buick and Cadillac, and what Ford is doing with Lincoln....If you look at the Ciel and the Riviera, you see two ultra modern cars with strong visual cues to the past, which is as it should be.....but over at Lincoln, they just plain lost fact, the concept Riviera shown above is very close to what the current Lincolns should be looking like...I said "should" be....but instead,all the current Lincolns look like flattened out PT Cruisers....For several years now I've been saying that Buick looks more like Lincoln, than Lincoln does.

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2013, at 8:26 AM, Kizashi wrote:

    '96 Roadmaster wagon...yes, a stunning, stuning piece of GM style that everyone covets.

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