Buick's heritage is clearly not lost on the Chinese market. The General Motors division has actually been more successful in the People's Republic than it has in the domestic US market in recent years. And now this heritage is being exploited, evidenced by the Riviera Coupe concept unveiled at this year's Auto Shanghai.
The Riviera has been absent from the Buick line up for over eight years, but the new concept has suitably resurrected the illustrious nameplate. Developed by the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Centre (PATAC) in China (a joint venture between GM and SAIC), the new Riviera Coupe concept is an impressive modern interpretation of the classic luxury coupe, employing the latest technology and claimed to communicate the "global design vocabulary" of future Buick models.
Visually, the Riviera concept looks more like a well-executed concept from Lexus. The bodyshell is made from carbon-fibre, allowing for a combination of positive and negative curves and enabling lightweight construction. Its flowing lines and slim glasshouse evoke the powerful stance of the Y-Job concept of 1938 and Rivieras from the late 1960s and early 1970s, while bulging front wheel arches, broad rear haunches and pronounced side sills further accentuate the concept's elegant demeanour.
Included among the thoroughly modern styling details are elongated LED head lamps that blend into the front wings (incorporating Buick's signature 'port holes' just ahead of the A-pillar), slender side mirrors affixed to large gull-wing doors and a glass roof, which wraps around the rear of the car and emphasises the wide rear track. Buick badges - which adorn the large 'waterfall' grille and dominate the rear fascia - along with the bonnet strip and side mirrors, are illuminated in a jade green colour, giving the car a dynamic presence in the dark.
According to Buick, PATAC designed the Riviera concept to accommodate a new hybrid system that will go into production at Shanghai GM, GM's flagship joint venture with SAIC, in 2008. GM touts the Riviera concept as a "fuel-efficient car, which will feature several technological and manufacturing advances", and if the classic 'port-holes' on the flanks are any indication, the hybrid powertrain will likely employ a six-cylinder engine coupled to several lithium-ion battery packs.
Large gull-wing doors provide access to the modern interior, subdivided into four sections by a console flowing through the cockpit. Reflecting the 'organic' earth and water theme, the steering wheel and centre console are swathed in blue suede and are contrasted by a neutral cream colour, while the bucket-style seats are trimmed in cream-coloured leather. Behind the two-tone steering wheel is a three-dimensional speedometer, protruding from a wraparound dashboard that integrates a centre-mounted LCD display screen.
The interior controls are modern and simple, highlighted by electronic shifter pads replacing a traditional transmission gear lever. Common to many recent concepts, the Riviera coupe is fitted with ambient light strips running across the console and into the door panel.
If Buick's latest concept is an indication of the future products we can look forward to from the company, it seems the Chinese may have injected some much needed desirability into the troubled GM division; an element that has been sorely lacking in recent times. From a European perspective, it's another concept car we're unlikely to ever drive, though an Opel or Vauxhall designed in China doesn't look too far-fetched, does it?
Eric Gallina - 25 Apr 2007