Imagine a luxury car that could out-Cadillac a Cadillac back in the day.
No, we’re not talking about a BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Volvo, Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, a Chrysler 300M or a Toyota Avalon. We’re talking Buick. The great American roadcar that would soon be the envy of all upwardly mobile car buyers… in China.
Back in 2001, a Buick Park Avenue Ultra would sell for close to $38,000 once you factored in the GM discount and tossed back the ensuing taxes and bogus fees. For that you got all-American luxury along with a 240 horsepower supercharged 3.8 liter engine that put Cadillac’s Northstar to shame. At least when it came to repairs down the road.
There were a lot of other big plusses as well. Big cushy seats for the exceedingly rotund. Thin vinyl covering the thick plastics on the door panels. A ride that turned any straight road into an easy listening experience.
The Park Avenue Ultra was a gold standard for American luxury at a time when the value of the dollar was declining and gold was on it’s way back up. This particularly one I bought for $685. A steal for those strictly seeking comfort and convenience from A to B. The anti-enthusiast car if you will.
Rent: I have a torrid love affair with full-sized GM models with the 3800 engine. The powertrains on these vehicles are always good for over 200k with proper care, and with 137k on this one I should have a long and healthy future for it as a rental. A rate of $20 to $25 a day should yield about $140 to $175 a week. It looks like a quick and easy decision.
But not just yet. This is a supercharged version which requires a bit more maintenance. I would also have to scuff and paint the vehicle which would add about $300 to the price. Yes, the price is still low. So adding it to the rental fleet is still a prime consideration.
Lease: $500 down and $55 a week for 24 months. Again, a nice profit if everything works out. Most of the vehicles I finance these days have around $2500 to $3500 tied up in them. This Park Avenue would be a very nice departure from waiting anywhere between eight months to a year to get my money back on a typical finance deal.
Sell: With a good paint job, I’m probably looking at about $2995 plus, tax, tag and title costs.
A near $2000 lick for a low end vehicle is a rarity these days. It hasn’t always been that way. Before the financial crisis you could get $500 to $700 cars that would retail for around $1995, and $1000 to $1500 cars that could go as high as $3500. Then again, you could also get a $25,000 luxury car and sell it for an even higher profit than a low end car.
I still hit both of these price points on a regular basis. But the profits just aren’t anywhere near what they used to be. The very same cheap car of four years ago now cost me nearly double what it did back when beaters were not used as finance fodder for financially strapped Americans.
Keep: I have always been in love with the idea of the free car. A vehicle that you perhaps rent for a while and then just drive on a regular once you retrieve your costs. My problem with the Park Avenue is that my gas costs would more than double vs. driving a first generation Honda Insight. That margin would be reduced by the $4000 spread in value between the two vehicles. But I’m not forecasting a deep decline in the value of the Insight. Besides I’m knee-deep in all the innovations coming from Insight Central these days.
I love those big cushy Buick seats. Should I rent those seats, and the rest of the car, to a long contingent of rental car customers? Finance it to one customer who will hopefully pay off on the note? Sell it for the quick buck and let the future determine the car’s course without my involvement? Or keep it with the knowledge that the great American road may belong to Buick, but is financed and underwritten by China.
What says you?