Automotive Histories: When The Old Names Died (Part II)


(first posted 1/26/2016)     Lucerne. Cobalt. G6. Pleasant, inoffensive names that have one thing in common: they all replaced decades-old nameplates, and they each lasted only a single generation. Let’s take a look at the names that came before and investigate why they were dumped.


Buick LeSabre

Final year? 2005

1959 buick range

How old was the name?

It first premiered in 1959, replacing the Special nameplate. Unlike the much cooler Invicta and Electra nameplates also introduced that year, the LeSabre name survived into the 21st century.

2005 buick lesabre interior

How was it looking?

You could criticize the LeSabre for its soft handling, fuddy-duddy image and mediocre interior fittings, but Buick’s full-size, front-wheel-drive sedan was immensely popular – regularly America’s best-selling full-size sedan – and was reliable, safe, fuel-efficient, spacious and comfortable. It had no illusions of being anything more than what it was; while its G-Body platform-mates were offering V8s and supercharged V6s, the LeSabre stuck with a lone Buick 3.8 V6. The last “European-inspired” LeSabre was the T-Type of 1987-89, although a Gran Touring suspension package remained an option long after. Import-intenders could shop at Oldsmobile, Saturn or Pontiac: the LeSabre was all-American.


What replaced it?

The 2006 Lucerne took the same platform and base engine, added an optional Northstar V8, and featured inoffensive styling and a more attractive interior. In theory, it retained the LeSabre’s core strengths and added a fresher wrapper. This new appearance was hardly polarizing and had subtle European touches to appeal to buyers new to the brand. The base price was even the same.

2000 2005 buick lesabre

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

Something has to explain why Lucerne sales were such a disappointment. Could the name have been to blame? Consider this: the Lucerne replaced both the LeSabre and Park Avenue and sold 96,515 units in its debut year, 2006. In 2004, though, the LeSabre had sold 18k more units and the aging Park Avenue mustered another 17k on its own. The LeSabre was consistently a 100k-plus seller, while the Lucerne saw volumes drop each year. Was the Lucerne’s poor performance due to a segment on the decline? Were the LeSabre’s loyal buyers skeptical of the new name, or were they simply not buying new cars anymore due to their advancing ages?

2003 chevy cavalier sedan

Chevrolet Cavalier

Final year? 2005

Chevrolet Cavalier 1982 ad 2

How old was the name?

The Cavalier name first appeared in America in 1982, although it first appeared on a Vauxhall in 1975. For 1982, both the Vauxhall and Chevrolet Cavalier shared the same, ubiquitous J-Body platform. While the European Cavalier (and Opel Ascona/Vectra) evolved, shifting to a new platform for 1988, the American Cavalier retained the same basic platform although it received an extensive redesign in 1995.

2003 chevrolet cavalier interior

How was it looking?

Given the age of the car, not so well. What started off as GM’s attempt to hit the Honda Accord head-on eventually became Chevy’s blue-light special compact. Sure, it was more reliable than a Vega or a Citation had been but it never aspired to be the best compact and sold predominantly on price. By its final season, it had received a dubious facelift and even lost the standard ABS that GM had trumpeted so loudly 13 years prior. Tired and cheap both inside and out, it still sold strongly because of the extensive Chevrolet dealer network and a base MSRP $3k below that of the Toyota Corolla.

2004 chevrolet cobalt

What replaced it?

The J-Body platform was finally cast off in favor of GM’s global Delta architecture, shared with the Opel Astra. The Cavalier’s replacement was the much more substantial Cobalt which retained almost nothing from its replacement other than its base engine. It wasn’t the Civic beater GM was hoping for but it was safer and more refined. Most importantly, it didn’t outstay its welcome: the Cobalt’s final year was 2010, and in 2011 the even more competitive Cruze replaced it.

2003 chevy cavalier coupe

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

There were plenty of loyal Cavalier buyers who were perfectly happy with their compact Chevy. But with the Aveo catering to more price-conscious consumers and the new Cobalt making more of a concerted effort to rival the Corolla and Honda Civic, the Cavalier nameplate – long associated with heavy incentives and mediocre build quality – needed to go.

1999 pontiac grand am coupe

Pontiac Grand Am

Final year? 2005

1973 pontiac grand am

How old was the name?

The Grand Am name first appeared in 1973 on a luxury touring sedan and coupe based on the mid-size LeMans; the name suggested Grand Prix luxury and Trans Am performance. It had a short run, disappearing after 1975. The name then reappeared on a LeMans derivative with a similar mission in 1978, again disappearing after just three model years. It returned in 1986 on Pontiac’s version of the new, compact N-Body. Although the ’86 N-Bodies were purportedly developed as successors to the mid-size, RWD G-Body, they assumed the role previously occupied by the GM X-Body and the Grand Am thereafter became Pontiac’s large compact (small intermediate?) offering. 

1999 pontiac grand am interior

How was it looking?

As the formerly compact Camry and Accord grew, domestic cars like the Grand Am occupied a curious market space as they were sized and priced between the Corolla/Civic and Camry/Accord duos. The Grand Am, like many Pontiacs, had also become more and more garishly styled culminating in an extensive 1999 redesign that added even more dramatic cladding, spoilers, fog lights and an adventurous interior. Although the Grand Am was no more powerful than the related Oldsmobile Alero, the look struck a chord with buyers and the Grand Am remained far and away Pontiac’s biggest seller and one of the best-selling cars in North America. As the 1999 generation continued its run, though, sales started to tick downwards for both the Grand Am and the entire Pontiac division.

2005 pontiac g6

What replaced it?

Pontiac commenced the rollout of the G6 range in 2005, starting with V6 sedans that year and continuing with a 4-cylinder engine, larger V6 engines, and coupe and convertible variants over the next couple of years. Riding a 5.3 inch-longer wheelbase, the G6 was positioned and sized much closer to the Accord and Camry and was cleanly detailed albeit still striking with its wedgy profile. 

1999 pontiac grand am sedan

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

While sales of the G6 didn’t crack the 200k barrier like the Grand Am had accomplished throughout the 1990s and most recently in 2000, volumes stayed steady at late Grand Am levels. The loss of another actual name, in favor of an alphanumeric designation, was something many bemoaned but the G6 was so thoroughly different in appearance a name change made sense. The G6 had also become Pontiac’s core mid-size offering as the larger Grand Prix was de-emphasized somewhat. Retaining a compact’s name for an intermediate would perhaps have been unwise.

2001 chevrolet s10

Chevrolet S10

Final year? 2005, with only the crew-cab remaining as the S10’s replacement had arrived in 2004.

1982 chevrolet s10

How old was the name?

The S10 nameplate debuted in 1982 on GM’s first American-developed compact pickup since the Corvair 95, which was axed after 1964; the compact Chevy truck role had been, for many of the intervening years, filled by the captive import LUV from Isuzu.

2001 chevrolet s10 2

How was it looking?

Redesigned for 1994, the S10 was little changed in subsequent years. Inexpensive, durable and reliable, the S10 was no class-leader but it sold well.


Did it make sense to scrap the name?

The 2004 Colorado replaced the S10 and was a little larger and had a more powerful base engine and a higher price. The Toyota Tacoma left it in the weeds, sales-wise, and Chevrolet eventually exited the compact pickup market entirely in North America only to return in 2014. Arguably, the new name was not the downfall of Chevrolet’s compact pickup, with much of the blame attributable to higher prices and heavy competition.

2003 buick park avenue

Buick Park Avenue

Final year? 2005

cadillac park avenue

How old was the name?

“Park Avenue” first appeared on a short-deck Cadillac sedan from 1962-63. An elegant, upscale name, GM eventually dusted it off in 1975 for use on an option package on their prestigious Electra line. It eventually became a permanent trim level before Buick dropped the Electra nameplate after 1990. For 1991, Park Avenue became the official name of Buick’s largest front-wheel-drive and most expensive sedan.

2003 buick park avenue 3

How was it looking?

Both the 1991-96 and 1997-2005 generations of Park Avenue were handsomely-styled sedans. But the latter generation, especially, lived in the shadow of the LeSabre which outsold it by a considerable margin. The Park Avenue was dimensionally larger and offered an available supercharged version of the Buick 3.8 V6, but the LeSabre had been redesigned for 2000 and thus was a fresher design; the smaller sedan also offered many of the luxury features of the Park Avenue. Between 2000 and 2004, sales decreased 64%. This was despite a light facelift in 2003 that brought back the old Buick VentiPorts and some more chrome.

2007 Buick Lucerne CXS

What replaced it?

Buick consolidated its lineup over the 2005-07 period: the Enclave replaced the Rendezvous, Terraza and Rainier; the LaCrosse replaced the Century and Regal; and the Lucerne took care of the LeSabre and Park Avenue. While the rather fuel-efficient supercharged V6 in the Ultra was discontinued, the Lucerne offered V8 power – the formerly Cadillac-exclusive Northstar – and was the first V8-powered Buick sedan since the Roadmaster of ’96. The range-topping CXS V8 was priced a considerable $6k below the base ’05 Park Avenue, but added GM’s trick Magnetic Ride Control, a nicer interior and a 2-inch longer wheelbase.

china buick park avenue

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

Lucerne is a beautiful city in Switzerland and Buick was becoming more of a European division, as evidenced by half of their current lineup being sold as Opels in Europe. But the Lucerne was still very much a luxury sedan in the American vein and Park Avenue was an evocative name connoting American style and prestige. After the name was discontinued in North America, Buick China used it on their rebadged Holden WM Caprice from 2007 until 2012 which even received an attractive, unique-to-China interior. 

Lucerne. Colorado. G6. Cobalt. None of these cars sold better than their predecessors that had much more established nameplates. The G6 and the Cobalt sold acceptably, the Lucerne and Colorado trailed off disappointingly. Would GM have been best to retain the heritage nameplates? Which nameplate is most missed?

Related Reading:

Automotive Histories: When The Old Names Died (Part I)

Curbside Classic: 1963 Cadillac Park Avenue

Car Show Classic: 1960 Buick LeSabre Convertible

Curbside Classic: 1982 Chevrolet Cavalier

Cohort Sighting: The Elusive Grand Am Caught In Traffic