It’s being called the first General Motors vehicle to be developed on three continents, and the vanguard of a product-development process on which the automaker is basing much of its future. The 2010 Buick LaCrosse sedan, which made its world debut at the 2009 NAIAS in Detroit, illustrates GM’s commitment to achieving scale, speed, and flexibility through the use of global vehicle architectures.
The program leveraged the efficiencies of 24/7 collaboration among teams in three regions. Its Global Epsilon (also called Epsilon II and global-midsize) architecture was developed by Opel engineers in Russelsheim. Its flowing exterior form, faithfully inspired by the Buick Invicta concept unveiled at the 2008 Beijing Auto Show, was executed by a partnership of GM’s North American design studio and PATAC, its Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center. PATAC also led interior design and engineering, while the U.S. team in Warren, MI, handled vehicle integration and program management.
When production begins this summer at GM’s Fairfax, KS, assembly plant, about 39 months will have elapsed since clay approval, said David Lyon, Executive Director of North American Design. Lyon noted that PATAC’s deep involvement stemmed from the Buick brand’s enormous status in China’s auto market. There Buick buyers are considered to be leading-edge consumers.
Indeed, Lyon reckons that roughly half of LaCrosse owners will likely spend most of their road time in the back seat, being driven by personal chauffeurs. It’s one reason rear aperture design, sill and rocker geometries, and ingress/egress are top priorities on Buick programs.
For North American buyers, LaCrosse is GM’s first Epsilon II-based offering. The Chevrolet Malibu/Saturn Aura will follow in 2011.
“This program clearly shows GM’s increasingly seamless global design/engineering capability,” observed Jim Federico, Global Vehicle Line Executive for midsize cars. Added Vehicle Line Director Jeanne Merchant: “The designers across the three regions fully understood body engineering and tooling capability. Our ability to share work in progress, in real time, was really critical.”
Underneath the stylish, all-steel exterior sheetmetal with its signature Buick bodyside styling, waterfall grill, and subtle portholes inside the character line on the short hood (rather than on the front fenders), the new D-segment structure is approximately 20% stiffer overall than the best previous Buicks, noted Chief Engineer Jeff Luke.
The greater structural rigidity allowed chassis engineers more tuning latitude to deliver optimum ride and handling. “We spent a lot of time balancing ride quality and vehicle dynamics,” Luke said. Interior noise levels were benchmarked against the Lexus ES350, with NVH attenuation being an “obsessive focus,” said Merchant.
Development focused on a new six-point mounting system for the front cradle, versus previous four-point arrangements. It also incorporates a steering isolator. Careful attention was paid to rear suspension H-arm geometries and mass as well as to bushing design and applications throughout the suspension system (which features GM’s real-time damping with three driver-controlled settings). And the program was properly budgeted for high-quality triple-seal door weatherstripping, liquid-applied sound deadeners (LASDs), and new lightweight acoustic damping mats located on the floorpan and bulkheads.
The cabin of the pre-production LaCrosse examined by AEI prior to NAIAS was exceptionally well executed in terms of design, functionality, and materials. As Luke explained, the IP was pushed as far forward as possible, allowing the center stack to be laid down with all controls clearly accessible. Cool-blue lighting accents the surroundings.
Convenience features include a head-up display, in-dash navigation, rearview camera, adaptive headlamps that swivel up to 15º to illuminate the roadside, and Bluetooth connectivity. The radar-based Side Blind Zone Alert, introduced in 2008, sweeps adjacent lanes of traffic, covering a zone of about one lane over from both sides of the vehicle, or 11 ft (3.5 m). The zone starts at each side mirror and covers an area about 16 ft (5 m) rearward.
For rear-seat passengers, there is a power rear-window sunshade and an optional DVD entertainment system, with two display screens integrated into the seatbacks.
GM is bundling features into three trim levels for the new LaCrosse. The base CX will be powered by a 255 hp (190 kW) version of the new 3.0-L direct-injected LF1 V6, driving the front wheels through a 6T70 six-speed automatic. The CXL gets the same powertrain but offers available all-wheel drive with an electronic limited-slip rear differential (a first for a Buick) among other features. Fuel efficiency is expected to be about 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway for the 3.0 L engine, according to GM.
The range-topping LaCrosse CXS with front-drive only will be powered by the 3.6-L direct-injection V6, with a claimed 280 hp (209 kW) and 261 lb·ft (354 N·m). The CXS also gets active damping, optional 19-in wheels, and other amenities including heated-and-cooled seats. Fuel effficiency is expected to be in the 17 mpg city /26 highway range.