General Motors and its brand strategies have been through a lot of turmoil in recent years.

Now, GM is down to just four brands in North America--Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac--and is rapidly taking Chevrolet global, including its Malibu midsize model.

Buick survived only because of its strong appeal in China, and is being repositioned in North America as a near-luxury competitor to Lexus.

Chevy to Opel to Buick

Now comes word that Buick may get what can only be described as a badge-engineered version of the Chevrolet Volt, via its Opel Ampera clone sold in Europe.

2012 Opel Ampera, first pre-production vehicle, April 2010

2012 Opel Ampera, first pre-production vehicle, April 2010

[UPDATE: GM spokesman Rob Peterson later contacted GreenCarReports to note that no final product decisions have been made on a Buick model with Voltec powertrain.]

The Ampera was originally destined to be the sole Volt version sold in Europe, under the lightning-bolt logo of Opel, its longtime German brand.

Aside from front-end styling, there are few differences between the Ampera and Volt, mostly in interior colors and the Ampera's inclusion of a "charge-holding button" to allow drivers to save their electric range for certain parts of their trip.

Volt visits Europe too

Then Chevy decided to offer the Volt in Europe as well, leading to some gyrations as it attempted to explain why Chevrolet--a bare-bones economy brand in Europe--would offer a costly, technologically sophisticated electric car alongside its Korean-designed econoboxes.



Similarly, the Chinese market was originally going to get a Buick version of the Ampera. Then GM changed its mind and said the Volt would go to China instead.

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that a Buick version of the Ampera may be underway for the 2013 model year. Changes would likely be limited to a Buick grille and perhaps some interior features to boost the luxury quotient.

But the basic shape of the Volt would likely remain identical, which is what the industry calls "badge-engineering": changing the badges, a grille, and maybe adding some trim to make one brand's car into another.

Badge-engineering blunders

Does this sound familiar?

It should. It's what General Motors did routinely throughout the 1980s and 1990s, devastating the distinctions among its brands in the process.

opel ampera geneva live 004

opel ampera geneva live 004

A famous magazine cover shot showed four silver sedans lined up next to each other. Shot from above and showing the sides of each car, it was impossible to determine which was the Buick, the Pontiac, the Oldsmobile, and the Cadillac.

Now two of those four brands are gone, and GM has painfully spent a decade repositioning its brands and giving them instantly distinctive cars. While the upcoming 2012 Buick Verano compact sedan uses the same understructure as the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, for instance, every panel on the two cars is different.

Risky strategy?

In light of comments by GM CEO Dan Akerson that he didn't understand why cars from the various brands had to be so different, numerous industry analysts worry that GM is being steered right back into practices that will damage the individuality of its brands and lead to cars mindlessly cloned from one brand to another.

The Bloomberg report says GM is pushing to get the Buick version out the door quickly, meaning there will be no time to give it a new shape or a different look.

We think that's a risky endeavor. Perhaps a Buick Ampera would sell well for the first couple of years, but we devoutly hope Buick would get its very own, far more distinct, version of the next Volt, sometimes known internally as "Volt 2.0."

What do you think? How should GM extend Voltec drive technology into the Buick brand?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

[Bloomberg via MotorAuthority]


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