One of the refrains we've all heard in recent years is how strong Buick is for General Motors in China, where it's not cursed with the stigma of being a grandparent's brand in the States. While most of yesterday's attention was rightly focused on the industry-wide year-end U.S. sales bloodbath, Shanghai Daily reports that 2008 was a bummer for GM's joint venture with SAIC in China.

Shanghai GM ended up down 7% versus 2007, with analysts saying that its new cars, like the freshly-updated Buick Excelle, didn't deliver the goods in terms of styling, price, or fuel economy. Hence, buyers reportedly turned to the VW Jetta and Toyota Corolla instead. Shanghai Daily points out that Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Saab all showed growth in China last year, so the overall Shanghai GM decline essentially gets laid at the feet of Buick. Now, it'll be interesting to see how 2009 plays out. GM is hoping that the Chevy Cruze can help get things back on track in the People's Republic (and everyplace else, for that matter) when it arrives sometime in Q2, joining other key Shanghai GM newcomers like the Buick Regal.

Shanghai GM's disappointing 2008 performance was part of a broader growth slowdown for the General in China. When factoring in the rest of its joint ventures, GM's China sales were actually up 6% overall. But that's a significant dropoff from the double-digit sales gains exhibited in preceding years -- 19% in '07, and at least 27% in the each of the four years prior to that, according to Bloomberg. With so many consecutive years of explosive sales growth, things were probably bound to level off as car shoppers transformed into car owners. Whether GM's influx of new models planned for this year and beyond stokes the sales fires in China again is a story that we'll follow throughout '09.

[Sources: Shanghai Daily, Bloomberg]

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