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GM tries to make Buick cool again

Redesigns some models to appeal to under-40 set

The 2014 Buick Regal has a more modern exterior look and gets some interior changes that make it look sportier.

Richard Drew/Associated Press

The 2014 Buick Regal has a more modern exterior look and gets some interior changes that make it look sportier.

NEW YORK — Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: There’s this famous car brand whose average driver is more familiar with Social Security than social media.

General Motors Co. will make another attempt to get Buick to appeal to younger buyers with freshened up versions of the Regal midsize sports sedan and the LaCrosse large luxury car. GM unveiled the pair Tuesday ahead of the New York auto show.

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Youth has been the theme of several of Buick marketing campaigns during the past three decades, with pitchmen from Tiger Woods to Shaquille O’Neal. Sales have risen recently after a dramatic and lengthy decline. But even with that recent success, odds are against GM making Buick a go-to option for large numbers of drivers below the age of 40.

Buick used to be a dominant brand. In 1984, GM sold 942,000 Buicks in the United States, according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank. But many Buick buyers died, and younger people opted for SUVs and cooler European cars. Sales bottomed out at just over 102,000 in 2009. GM kept the brand alive because it became a huge seller in China.

The company doesn’t expect Buick sales to approach 900,000 per year again. But executives say they can still make a lot of money selling higher-priced luxury vehicles with lower sales numbers.

GM is giving the LaCrosse a more sculpted, modern look. It gets updated LED daytime running lamps and tail lights and a larger front grille. On the inside, it gets new, more supportive seats and a modernized center stack with fewer buttons. The interior will have more of a luxury feeling to differentiate it from the sportier Regal.

The Regal gets similar cosmetic changes on the outside. Inside, more supportive seats and a simpler dashboard and center console give it a sportier look. A new version of GM’s 2-Liter turbocharged engine, with 259 horsepower, becomes its standard motor. GM says the Regal will be more responsive, refined, and efficient.

The LaCrosse goes on sale late this summer, and the Regal comes out in the fall. Prices and gas mileage weren’t released. The current Regal starts at $29,015, while the LaCrosse starts at $31,660.

Buick sales rose the past three years, and reached 180,000 in 2012. The catalysts were the new Verano, a compact based on the Chevrolet Cruze, and the Enclave, a big crossover SUV that got a face lift last year. Also, Buick’s new Encore small SUV is just starting to hit showrooms.

The new products have helped to change Buick’s demographics. In 2006, Buick buyers on average had celebrated 66 birthdays. Last year that fell to 57, according to GM. But Buick buyers are still older, and the automaker would like to catch more people in their 40s.

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