DETROIT (AP) -- With only four brands selling far fewer models than in the past, every new car or truck that General Motors Corp. rolls out is paramount, and none is more important than the 2010 Buick LaCrosse.
The midsize luxury sedan, designed to compete with Acura, Lexus and Toyota models, is key to attracting younger people to Buick, which now seems to be the official car of gated Florida retirement communities.
With a median buyer age of 68 last year, Buick's marketing executives know that time is running out for them to pull young baby boomers, Generation X, and even Generation Y into the fold, or the brand is in serious trouble.
"It's absolutely critical," said Craig Bierley, Buick's product marketing director. "We're looking at something that's drastically different than what you think of as a Buick."
Enter a sculpted, aerodynamic car with iPod connections, blue interior gauge lights, navigation system, video, Bluetooth and other gadgets that appeal to younger people. But the biggest promise that Bierley makes is that the LaCrosse will drive much more like a BMW than the cushy Buicks of old. Its chassis is designed by engineers from GM's Opel unit.
"The German engineers that we leveraged in the development of the chassis tuning in this car, their influence is definitely felt the minute you get behind the wheel," he said.
The car comes with a choice of two V-6 engines or a four-cylinder one that gets up to 30 mpg on the highway. The larger 3.6-liter engine puts out 280 horsepower and should go from zero to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds, according to Buick.
GM, which has received billions in government loans and entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month, hopes to duplicate the success of the Enclave crossover vehicle when the LaCrosse arrives in showrooms in the next few weeks.
The Enclave, a crossover vehicle that seats eight, has a median buyer age that's 12 years younger than the Buick brand's, according to Susan Docherty, GM's vice president for Buick Pontiac and GMC.
"We expect LaCrosse to continue that trend," she said Monday in a webcast with reporters to roll out the LaCrosse.
But that means the buyers of other Buick vehicles -- the current LaCrosse and the Lucerne larger sedan -- are getting even older. The median age rose to 68 from 67 in 2006, according to GM. That compares with 53 for Toyota last year and 55 for Chevrolet.
Age is especially troubling for GM, whose buyers are generally older than those of foreign competitors, said Rebecca Lindland, an industry analyst for the consulting firm IHS-Global Insight.
As increased government fuel economy regulations and higher gasoline prices skew the U.S. auto market more toward cars, GM, Chrysler Group LLC and Ford Motor Co. have to figure out ways to catch the next generation of car buyers, mainly Generation Y, the children of baby boomers, she said.
Seventy-five million members of Generation Y, which Lindland defines as people born from 1978 to 1994, are aging into the car-buying years, about the same number as baby boomers, who brought profound change to the U.S. auto market.
"Buick definitely has a significant challenge," she said. "It is a brand that for over 100 million Americans, a combination of Generation X and Generation Y, it's a tainted brand."
GM, though, isn't going for the next generation just yet. Its target market for the LaCrosse, according to Bierley, is people in their mid-40s and 50s. Those are people likely to have the money to buy it, with a base price of $27,835.
Its marketing campaign, called "Take a Look at Me Now," will feature television spots, ads that run in cinemas, and a lot of digital media. The company also will emphasize Buick's reliability. Earlier this year, the brand tied Jaguar at the top of J.D. Power and Associates' rankings of quality after three years.
Lindland said social media is key to reaching younger buyers, creating talk on Internet sites that turns into consideration in showrooms.
Lindland, who has seen the LaCrosse at a preview, described it as beautiful, but says she's waiting "to confirm that it doesn't drive like a boat."
GM, she said, has a difficult task ahead of it to convince baby boomers that Buick is worthy of consideration because many have left the brand already for foreign competitors. Younger buyers also are unlikely to consider Buick because of its stodgy old image, she said.
"That being said, we've seen them turn Cadillac around," Lindland said. "It just requires a length of time and patience."