Buick Riviera Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (CONCEPT)

Written By: Brittney B. 

                                                  2013 Buick Riviera Plug-in hybrid concept

The auto industry has toyed with plug-in hybrid concepts for more than a decade, but innovation is speeding up, and latecomer Buick seems to realize that. At the 2013 Shanghai Auto Show, Buick debuted the Riviera, a concept car with a plug-in hybrid system. This prototype is particularly remarkable for its mysterious promise of a "sensory recharge panel" that can fuel it both electronically and wirelessly. 

A surprising design for Buick 

Rising gas prices and changing climates continue to push consumers toward more eco-friendly vehicles, and the Riviera marks Buick's biggest effort yet to lower emissions and increase mileage. However, it also marks a transformation in Buick's style and technology. The prototype's sleek exterior has gullwing doors, a waterfall grille with active shutters, a raked windshield and a metallic fiber spoiler, all of which are designed to decrease drag. At the Shanghai unveiling, Buick representatives even teased that the innovative design is a hint of things to come for other cars in its lineup. 

Inside the Riviera, bright blue lights illuminate a combination of aluminum alloy, ebony and suede that mimic the look of Chinese jade. It can even connect to 4G LTE to provide weather and traffic updates, which appear to the driver as a hologram on the windshield. These futuristic details are a drastic change of pace for Buick, which has spent more than a century building a reputation for classic, predictable luxury. But the Riviera isn't a completely new concept. 

Reviving an old model for a new century

If this model sounds familiar, it's because the Riviera already existed in the Buick family. The last Buick Riviera, a luxury sedan with a retractable hardtop, was pulled off the line in 1999 after more than three decades of production. If Buick does launch a plug-in hybrid by the same name, it will be a drastic transformation for that old-fashioned model, which only got between 18 and 27 MPG. 

As Buick was phasing out the Riviera from 1996 to 1999, its parent company was actually breaking ground for low-emission vehicles. The General Motors EV1 was the first-ever passenger car to be produced under the GM label, rather than a division like Buick or Chevrolet. It was also the first mass-produced electric car, but GM dropped the model after only three years to pursue natural gas and hybrid cars instead. Is the Buick Riviera the product of that pursuit, or is it just another experiment that may never become a reality? 

2013 Buick Riviera Plug-in Hybrid Concept

Catching up with other innovators 

If and when Buick unveils its own plug-in hybrid, competition will be stiff. The Toyota Prius is a wildly popular hybrid-only model that regularly tops its class for fuel efficiency, and all-electric cars are steadily gaining ground in every price range. Tesla finally started posting profits in 2013, after spending ten years perfecting the zero-emission sports car, but its electric models cost at least five times more than all-electric cars like the Chevrolet Spark and the Kia Soul EV

Other automakers continue to push the green envelope by offering hybrid versions of existing, mid-range models. The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, for example, has a hybrid battery that's protected by a lifetime warranty. Other modern models with popular hybrid alternatives include the Honda Accord, the Ford Fusion and the Toyota Camry. 
Only time will tell whether Buick's plans come to fruition, but industry insiders aren't placing any bets on Buick, in part because they've broken their plug-in promises before. The Buick Envision, a plug-in hybrid SUV with a solar panel roof, was unveiled in 2011 but never made it to dealerships. If Buick wants to stay relevant in the coming decades, they'll need to choose low emissions over luxury a little more often.