Brand on the brink: A look at Buick in the 2000s
It's safe to say that Buick hasn't had a lot of ups and downs over the past few decades so much as it has consistently and without fail been one of the most boring nameplates on the market. Unlike other companies that have been pumping out cars for over a century like Ford, Buick has for a long time felt like the grumpy old man in the auto industry. Although Buicks have been boats on wheels for more than half a century, by the '00s, dealers were practically giving the lifeless and bloated Buicks on their lots away for free. A huge portion of the cars ended up being sold at ultra-steep discounts in fleets to rental car companies, greatly diminishing any resale value.
One of the only things that kept the brand alive during the '00s was customer loyalty, as the dads who would only drive Buicks in the '60s and '70s were now the grandfathers who were too stubborn to try any other kind of car at the turn of the century.
Now, this loyal customer base is no longer buying new cars, and the kids who hated being picked up and dropped off in their grandfathers giant LeSabre probably wouldn't even dream of visiting the lot of a Buick dealer.
What plagued Buick in the '00s wasn't one specific thing but a whole myriad of mistakes. First off, the entire line was almost completely identical and in the worst kind of way. Where Pontiacs of the era were known for being overclad and plasticy, Buicks were bulging and rounded to a fault.
The Century and Regal were, in essence, the same car where the only distinction was extra chrome in the grill and rear tail lights. You could say that the Regal was the luxury trim level of the Century, but that's hard to justify given the fact that the Century itself was supposed to be a luxury car. As well, there was literally no difference in upgrades or performance for either of these cars as they both had the same available options, though the Regal, for some reason, cost a bit more.
The LeSabre, arguably the flagship model of the line, looked like a cartoon compared to other cars on the road. I will admit that there was something kind of attractive in its smooth lines, but it suffered from being too fat in all of the wrong places. To begin with, there was no reason for the taillights on these things to be as wide as they were, stretching the entire length of the rear gate. In the Century and Regal, this worked better because the tail lights were more like ovals, and their rear ends tapered off a bit. The LeSabre's rear was huge, a signal of class-leading trunk space, but a fatal design flaw when all was said and done.
One of the biggest crimes was the Park Avenue, which looked like GM took the seventh-generation LeSabre sold in the late '90s but puffed up with hot-air as if it were a balloon. Buick tried taking a style that they themselves, not fans or buyers, had deemed classic and emphasize the worst aspects of it. The long flat body, half moon headlights and chrome-laden grill made the car look like a silly, grinning alligator instead of the most expensive car in the brand's lineup.
What spared Buick from GM's bankruptcy reshuffling, of which Pontiac and Saturn were both casualties, was arguably the Rendezvous. Based off of the infamous Pontiac Aztek, the Rendezvous was actually an attractive mid-sized SUV that had proportions fitting of a Buick but streamlined for a modern market. This model seems to have taken off by mistake, but it worked, at one point even being the best-selling car in its class. While the cars Buick was pumping out on the street were aging and getting less popular, the lone SUV was carrying the company on its back.
Today, Buick seems to be undergoing the kind of renaissance that Cadillac went through after it introduced the Escalade. That truck brought an aging brand back from the brink and triggered an avalanche of new cars that were actually competitive in the larger market. This year, Buick is selling a whole new line of cars in all categories that actually seem to be competitive. At least from a looks perspective, Buicks are no longer emphasizing what huge boats they are but downplaying that aspect with taut lines and economical accents.
Do you think Buick's transformation will take hold or that the new lineup is just the last nail in the coffin? Leave your thoughts below: