What strange times we live in. I say that because this year marks the sixth year General Motors has been doing business in China, and in that short time, has successfully raised the automotive consciousness of 1.3 billion Chinese. Make no mistake, virtually nobody in China can afford a new car, least of all a new Buick, but as the old saying goes, if you're one-in-a-million in China, there are another 1,300 just like you.
Buick, ever the intransigent brand in the U.S., is turning over a new leaf in China, offering a range of products that would make any U.S. Buick dealer green with envy. That product range will soon include a rear-wheel drive LS2-powered hot rod with all the performance goodies copped from the Pontiac GTO.
If you're going to build a hot rod for the Chinese, the first thing you need to do is completely ignore the fact that the average household income is just $362 per year. (And you thought your grandma's Social Security check was small.) Once you throw out all those poverty-level peasants (rhetorically speaking of course), that leaves only a few-hundred-thousand filthy-rich capitalist Communist Party apparatchiks. (Cut to Karl Marx rolling over in his grave...) These high rollers need serious whips to get around in, and Buick is answering the call with a brand-new hoopty called the Royaum.
The Royaum is an interesting car, its name notwithstanding. Basically, the Royaum is a Holden Caprice with a Buick badge. As a V-series Holden, it's more than related to the Pontiac GTO: It has the same architecture, chassis, and suspension, and soon, the same hot engine. The primary difference between the Caprice (and thus the Royaum) and the GTO is the wheelbase and the number of doors. In Australia, there is only one large car architecture, the V series, and that comes in two-door short wheelbase versions (aka the GTO and Monaro), and long wheelbase variants like the Caprice and Statesman.
Here's where things get interesting. After the standard V-6 Royaum was introduced in China (and in South Korea as the Daewoo Statesman), a performance version was shown at the Shanghai Auto Show this year. That car was none other than a Buick-badged Holden HSV Grange. HSV, or Holden Special Vehicles, is Holden's performance arm, much like SVT is for Ford in the States. HSV takes the ordinary Holden Caprice and stuffs a 400hp LS2 under the hood. HSV also adds 19-inch wheels with 245/35R19 tires,13-inch dual-piston PBR front brakes, revised quick-ratio steering, progressive-rate springs, stiffer shocks, and a ride-leveling system. Voila! Now you have an HSV Grange. Other than the Buick ornament in the grille, the Royaum HSV and the HSV Grange are identical.
It's also pretty much mechanically identical to the '08 Buick GNX concept car we designed for you in the September issue of PHR-only with two extra doors. Why four doors instead of two? According to Holden Chairman and Managing Director Denny Mooney, the Buick luxury car will strike a chord in a market in which rear-seat passengers, rather than the drivers, are the target audience. (Which begs the question, does the Chinese Politburo take chauffeur applications from American drivers with heavy right feet?)
In fairness to GM Shanghai, Buick has yet to announce the Royaum HSV as a production piece, but it's only a formality. With a population of over 1.3 billion, you'd only need one in a million people to buy one. By default, it will be the only hot rod on the Asian continent, so you do the math. And how much will it cost? The V-6 Royaum has a $46,000 base price (in U.S. dollars), so tack another $10K or $20K to that.
To support the new Buick, the Communists even held a Stock Car race. GM Shanghai, the Chinese government, and the Australian V-8 Supercar series booked an exhibition Supercar race (similar to our NASCAR Nextel Cup) in Shanghai last June. In that race, Holden driver Rick Kelly drove a Buick-liveried Holden in support of the Royaum introduction. That's how serious Buick is.
If you're left with a bad taste in your mouth about all this, you are not alone. Simply put, there will be no Buick Grand National or GNX for us Yanks on this side of the pond. Kinda makes you wonder what Buick thinks of us ordinary regular-rich Americans. (To help put things into perspective, in the U.S., Buick sold just under 310,000 units in 2004-its 101st year. By contrast, in its sixth year of operation, Buick sold 253,000 cars in China. Still, it irks me that Buick won't take my money, and I make marginally more than $362 a year.)
If there's an upside, it's the idea that real Yankee performance (i.e. the small-block Chevy) will finally be introduced to the Chinese public. Who knows? Maybe the Chinese will take a little more pride in stamping out all those knock-off cranks, connecting rods, and cast wheels. Hell, the Chinese might even use a few of those parts on their own cars and come up with a few ideas on their own. That ought to be interesting!