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Buick, oldest surviving U.S. brand, celebrates 110th

General Motors

Buick will be 110 years old on Sunday.  But the brand nearly didn't survive.

In 2009, GM's bankruptcy forced the automaker to cut brands.  The company tried to find buyers for Saturn, Hummer, and Saab, but eventually those sales fell through.

The company also decided it had to choose between Pontiac, and Buick.  Pontiac's customers on average were younger - that's a desirable thing for a brand - and it was outselling Buick.  Yet, GM chose Buick.

"It was entirely due to China," says John Wolkonowicz, an independent auto analyst.  "Buick sales in China are about three times what they are in the U.S."

While in the U.S., Buick had an image as an old person's car, in China, the brand has an image of prestige.

"The first emperor in China who bought a car, bought a Buick, in 1913," says Wolkonowicz, and Chinese royalty and officials have favored the brand ever since.

But, it's not all about China now, says Wolkonowicz.  He's encouraged by new Buick products like the Regal, Verano, Enclave, and Encore.  U.S. Buick sales rose 28% in the first quarter of 2013.  

"I think as we move the clock ahead 5-10 years, I think we're going to see an even more successful Buick in the U.S., and a continued success in China," he says.  "The things that I see them doing are things that are all in the right direction."

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.