When is a hybrid not a hybrid? How about now, as American consumers remain decidedly lukewarm to the automotive-propulsion technology despite a continued proliferation of new models that use it.
Buick is hoping to get around this obstacle by positioning its latest hybrid, a version of the LaCrosse sedan, as a non-hybrid. Instead, GM is touting the "light electrification" system it uses for the car and has come up with a unique brand name for it: "eAssist." GM is aiming eAssist at what it considers a sweet spot in the so-far-disappointing hybrid market, because it costs only about a quarter of the price premium for a typical hybrid, which can range up to several thousand dollars, while delivering about half the added fuel savings.
"When you say 'hybrid,' many times that comes with baggage both positive and negative," Roger McCormack, Buick's director of product marketing, told brandchannel. "So for us, the focus was to put an emphasis on the car itself and what this car delivers and how technology enhances the ownership experience. So we're selling a LaCrosse that happens to have this great [eAssist] technology."
For example, Buick and its dealers are emphasizing the quiet ride of the LaCrosse; with eAssist, it's even quieter. They're also touting the car's "start-stop" capability which halts operation of the engine at stoplights, saving fuel, and then starts it up again when the driver punches the accelerator. "For people who want a full deep dive into the [hybrid] technology, they can go to Buick.com and we give it to them there," said Nick Richards, a Buick spokesman.
Yet LaCrosse with eAssist retains a feature that has proven popular with most hybrid purchasers: a screen on the instrument panel that helps them track the flow of energy among components of the hybrid powertrain; energy generated by braking, for instance, actually helps recharge hybrid batteries. Richards explained that "it underscores that you've got a unique technology at play that helps you get 25-percent better fuel economy."
And one more thing: The eAssist gauge "is a way for people to show they've got something unique, and they can show their friends and families."
Its' not exactly a Hemi under the hood. But in this day of less-is-more locomotion, it'll have to do.