GM has high hopes for its new Buick Verano model

Carmaker General Motors is planning to rejuvenate its Buick brand to rival German and Japanese luxury brands.

"It has to be at least a flanking brand," GM's chief executive Dan Akerson told BBC News in an interview ahead of the Detroit motor show.

GM also wants to modernise its Cadillac luxury brand by adding smaller and more fuel-efficient models.

The efforts should help the automotive giant compete globally in the fast-growing market for luxury cars.

'Understated elegance'
US luxury cars are currently struggling to compete outside their home market, whereas foreign rivals such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus are growing fast both in their home markets as well as in the US and in Asia.

Mr Akerson said he was confident its latest Buick Verano, which has just been unveiled, would do much to change that.

"We just want to have a bit of understated elegance," he said, insisting the car "looks like a really cool BMW".

Buick is currently the fastest growing brand in its US home market, having seen sales rise 52% in 2010.

"We do think Buick has a different position than it has had in the past," Mr Akerson said, pointing out that Buck customers are now a full 10 years younger than they were in the past.

Smaller Cadillacs
The all-American luxury brand Cadillac could also do with some refinement, he acknowledged.

"We're not happy with the position internationally," he said, though in the US market, he insisted, the marque is outperforming all its rivals in terms of sales growth.

"I think we need one or two more models for Cadillac."

By 2012 Cadillac will have two new models, one of which will be smaller than the marque's current offering, Mr Akerson revealed.

Aiming high
American luxury cars often struggle in foreign markets, partly for design reasons, but also because their rivals tend to deliver much better fuel economy.

Mercedes, for instance, is introducing a 4-cylinder version of its top of the range S-Class limousine.

Mr Akerson acknowledged that more frugal luxury models would be required for GM to attract foreign buyers.

But he rejected any suggestion that Buick and Cadillac were merely trying to keep up with their rivals, insisting the goal would be to get ahead.

"Ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky used to say he kept an eye on where the puck was going to be, not where it had been. We're doing the same," he said.