- GM will reportedly drop two former hot-selling SUVs.
- The success of the Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax was unexpected.
- When replacements arrived, the original models remained available, but sales have sagged.
Automotive News reports that General Motors will discontinue the Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax after the 2022 model year. These subcompact crossovers, now dwindling in popularity, were initially quite successful, arriving in the U.S. from the South Korean factory that built them just as Americans began buying tiny SUVs in droves.
Today, however, GM offers another set of small crossovers called the Buick Encore GX and Chevrolet Trailblazer, which are marginally more expensive but significantly more satisfying than the Encore and Trax, respectively. The automaker has not officially confirmed the reported plans to discontinue the production of the models.
Buick did not see the original Encore's popularity coming. Ron Sessions, manager of Vehicle Analysis for GM at the time, told us that company insiders thought the Encore was a huge risk because it was so different from anything Buick had sold before.
"Many people thought the proportions were odd, almost twerpy-looking," said Sessions. "It resembled an athletic shoe."
Sessions explained that the Encore was a direct result of the federal government's 2009 bailout during the Great Recession. "Part of the deal was that GM would make fuel-efficient cars," recalled Sessions. The Encore was one of them, sourced from GM's operations in South Korea as a quick way to meet the bailout requirements.
Beyond that, Buick needed to attract new blood. "Buick was in a tailspin for years," explained Sessions. "The Encore was a chance to be first in a new segment, and it brought in customers that Buick might not have otherwise attracted."
Indeed, the original Encore found an audience of consumers eager to drive an upscale alternative to a typical car that was relatively affordable, easy to drive and park, and provided the all-wheel drive and utility that make SUVs so appealing. Stunningly, from 2015 to 2020, the Encore was Buick's best-selling vehicle, according to Automotive News.
Two years after the Encore debuted for 2013, Chevrolet began to sell the Trax in the U.S. Under its chunkier skin, the Trax was mechanically and structurally identical to the Encore but sold at a lower price point. Like the Encore, the Trax also capitalized on the consumer shift away from cars and into crossover SUVs.
"Chevy never really got behind [the Trax] like Buick did [the Encore]," said Sessions. "But buyers were leaving hatchback cars, and the Trax offered a taller ride height and better visibility than a Cruze."
The reason Chevrolet was less enthusiastic, according to Sessions, was that, unlike Buick dealers, Chevy stores had an appealing and more profitable alternative to the Trax. "Dealers would advertise the Trax and its low price and move people up into the Equinox, if possible," Sessions claims.
Nevertheless, the consumer shift away from cars and into SUVs continued to accelerate. By the end of 2019, GM had started moving 100,000 Trax and Encore units each year, and Chevrolet decided to discontinue its Cruze compact car.
Understandably, Buick didn't wish to ruin a good thing. So, when the Encore's presumed replacement was ready for prime time, it debuted as the 2020 Encore GX, a new model selling alongside the continuing original Encore. The Encore GX is slightly larger and offers more rear seat room and cargo space coupled with a better-balanced design and proportions than its forebearer.
Soon after the Encore GX arrived in 2020, Chevy introduced the 2021 Trailblazer. As the Trax had, the Chevrolet Trailblazer shared its underlying engineering with its corporate cousin from Buick, the Encore GX. However, the Chevy looked different inside and out. Like the Encore GX, we found the Trailblazer to be far superior to the vehicle it replaced. Nevertheless, despite the Trailblazer's superiority, Chevrolet continued selling the Trax well past its expiration date.
Though the outgoing Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax proved surprisingly popular, few people will miss them. Awkwardly proportioned and arguably overpriced, these two cute-utes can't match the appeal of their slightly larger and more technologically advanced siblings, let alone most of their rivals in the small SUV segment.