In the 20 years since General Motors and its Chinese partner SAIC reintroduced the Buick brand to China, more than 8 million Buicks have been sold in what is now the world's largest car market.

That's because the last Chinese emperor drove a Buick in the 1930s, and the brand retained a huge cachet through the upheavals that followed.

The popularity of Buick in China explains why the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid hatchback will shortly go on sale in that country as the Buick Velite 5.

DON'T MISS: Chevy Volt to become Buick Velite in China? Concept car hints at new style

GM announced the new model last week, in a release from its Chinese arm that didn't mention either Chevrolet or the Volt model name.

But the photo released with the announcement indicates that the Velite 5 is essentially a Volt with a new badge, at least from the rear.

It's likely to have a restyled grille and front bumper, most likely along the lines of a teaser photo released before last November's Guangzhou auto show.

Buick Velite concept, 2016 Guangzhou auto show

Buick Velite concept, 2016 Guangzhou auto show

That front end turned out to belong to a concept car, also called Buick Velite, that was a slightly chunkier five-door hatchback bearing little resemblance to any vehicle currently on sale in the Buick lineup.

The report that the Volt would be turned into the Velite via badges, however, had previously emerged on a Chinese automotive news site.

The Buick Velite plug-in hybrid concept car featured a low, aerodynamic hatchback shape, somewhat similar to that of a Toyota Prius or Hyundai Ioniq.

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The company said at the time that the car's flowing lines and sculpted rippling curves were influenced by flowing water, and reflect a new design language for Buick.

While calling last fall's concept car a plug-in hybrid, GM China released no technical details at all.

The new Buick Velite 5, on the other hand, will use a powertrain that sounds identical to that of the current Volt. Its all-electric range on the Chinese test cycle is estimated at 100 kilometers (62 miles), versus its U.S. EPA rating of 53 miles.

Buick Velite concept, 2016 Guangzhou auto show

Buick Velite concept, 2016 Guangzhou auto show

The Buick Velite name was first used on a concept car that debuted at the 2004 New York Auto Show, a convertible powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 and 6-speed automatic transmission.

Buick's Chinese lineup gets a far more varied array of vehicles than the brand offers in its U.S.—and far more attention from product planners.

The Envision crossover went on sale in China well before last year's U.S. launch.

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China also gets a Buick LaCrosse Hybrid that isn't available here, using a powertrain identical to that of the U.S.-market Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.

While the Volt hasn't previously been sold as a Buick, the first-generation model was turned into the Opel Ampera for continental Europe, and the Vauxhall Ampera in the U.K.

It was also sold as the Holden Volt in Australia and New Zealand.


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