Upon its official promotion to a full model line in 1991, the all-new Buick Park Avenue was warmly received for its combination of traditional Buick virtues with contemporary elegance and refinement. Did it steal many BMW buyers?… No, hell no. Yet at the very least, the 1991-1996 Park Avenue restored Buick’s flagship to competitiveness and prominence in the full-size luxury segment.
Its successor, the 1997-2005 Park Avenue, did not achieve the same level of notoriety or praise, and with little fanfare besides these final 3,000 Special Editions, was quietly discontinued after nine long years of production.
While the dignified first generation Park Avenue caused a bit of stimulation, the second generation proved that Buick was put back into its place as a maker of bland, boring, and unexciting automobiles that were sure not to shock the aging hearts of its core demographic of senior citizen buyers.
Developed and released in a period of dark days for cars at GM, the 1997 Park Avenue was a product of Ron Zarrella’s “Brand Management” initiative, by which each GM brand was assigned a specific category of consumers. With targeted demographics in mind, new vehicles were to be better tailored to suit their respective brand’s target consumer, with target-specific marketing. In theory, it didn’t sound like a half-bad idea, considering how many years of virtually identical badge-engineered cars GM was selling.
Yet in practice, it was more of the same old ways, with too many levels of management dictating the development of new cars, and of course, more badge-engineering. The newly assigned “brand managers” of each brand had little creative control over the development of their vehicles, as a laundry list of required attributes of every new vehicle were predetermined by higher-ups and various other departments and committees.
The result was that new cars, like this 1997-2005 Park Avenue, were very much designed-by-committee products, still very much like their siblings sold under other GM brands. While they may have appealed to their intended target buyer, there was little else beyond a few unique styling elements and advertising campaigns that distinguished, say, a Buick from an Oldsmobile from a Pontiac. In the end, GM was simply trying to sell too many similar flavors of the same basic product.
Despite its given name, the second generation Park Avenue by no means needed to be a stop in one’s tracks, overwhelming update. There’s nothing wrong with a car, especially one targeted towards a more conservative, understated audience, being very evolutionary in its progression. However, the milquetoast second generation Buick Park Avenue seemed more like a regression than progression with blander and more bloated looks, cheaper looking and feeling interiors, and a lack of meaningful advancements.
With its 1991-1996 Park Avenue predecessor and 2006-2011 Lucerne successor, Buick showed us that they could design a flagship that offered all the important big Buick virtues while at least being visually interesting, as well as a car that improved on its predecessor to some extent. The 1997-2005 Park Avenue was not one of those cars.
Featured 2005 Buick Park Avenue photographed: July 2017 – Hanover, MA
Supplementary 1996 Buick Avenue photographed: February 2017 – Cambridge, MA