2013 Buick Encore, a white-space capsule: Motoramic Drives
Last week, while getting ready to drive the new 2013 Buick Encore in Atlanta, I learned a new marketing term: "white space." This refers to a product aimed at a previously untapped vein of customer. In a business where every vehicle gets focus-tested within an inch of its carbon life and yet often still struggles to lure buyers, white space doesn't come easy.
With the Encore, Buick thinks it's not only created a new car, but also an entirely new mini-segment where once merely white space existed. Among luxury sport utilities, Encore is The Littlest Duckling, 168 inches and change long and only about 70 inches wide. Buick has gone small, almost as small as the Mini Countryman, and is aiming straight for the hearts of, well, some very specific people.
In a marketing presentation that was longer than its technical one, Buick representatives explained who they're lusting for. The first target, recent empty-nesters who don't need to drive big SUVs but still want something comfortable, sounded generic but made sense. The annoying car-business term for this phenomenon, which Buick used repeatedly, is "right-sizing."
But their second target seemed a bit mythical. A marketing guy described a meeting he'd had with a 25-year-old female urban professional who'd received a Scion xB from her parents for her 16th birthday. She liked the car's size, but she was a big girl now and wanted a grownup car with grownup amenities. That, the marketing guy said, was the person for whom Buick had built the Encore, a dream customer who's "open-minded," "creative," "active," and "spontaneous." In other words, they're targeting Zooey Deschanel's character in New Girl.
But will Buick pin down its ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Consumer? Let's examine the evidence. The Encore has a lovely and evocative name, one of the best in recent years. Unfortunately, the name comes bolted to a pretty unattractive car, albeit one with some nice accent features, including a flowing waterfall grille, a few bits of headlamp "jewelry," and a cooler version of the traditional Buick hood portholes. But that can't obscure the fact that, in the Encore, Buick has taken the underpinnings of the Chevy Sonic and engineered a vehicle without a face or a rear end, almost entirely wheelbase. Imagine the Buick Enclave with a butt tuck and a nose job, and you're in Encore-land.