By on April 16, 2010

On point as always, TTAC commenter ajla called it in today’s Camry review. In the comments after that tale of suburban anonymity and “the Marriot of cars,” he asked:

Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?

I figure Toyota thinks that, in their heart of hearts, many Americans do still want a Buick. Not an actual Buick, mind you, but a big, comfortable sedan that’s somewhat luxurious but not at all flashy. Over a year ago, I made the friendly recommendation that Buick ditch its explicitly youthful marketing message for “something along the lines of Canadian Club’s “damn right your dad drank it,” campaign.” This spot for the new Avalon probably comes closer to what I had in mind for Buick than anything I’ve seen since. The question then, isn’t so much “is Toyota the new Buick?” as where is Buick going to find its own niche? The wreckage of Acura?

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59 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Toyota The New Buick?...”

  • avatar
    Cammy Corrigan

    No. Toyota’s not that popular in China.

  • avatar

    It is an odd ad campaign for the Avalon, almost screaming for older buyers, which is the Avalon’s market. If Buick wanted to keep its older customers, this would have worked. Buick doesn’t want to do that.

    The reason a damn right your dad drank it works in their ad is because it is about alcohol. Although, I think the ad would turn me off to their drink, I do see a bit of humor in it.

    But, Toyota and Lexus could turn into the next Buick as the buyers for those brands are getting older and older.

    • 0 avatar

      Why all this obsession with youth? Youth means inexperienced. Youth often means “financially strapped.”

      There is a huge market for “mature customers,” for “peace and quiet.”

    • 0 avatar

      I think the message is aimed at upgrading Camry owners with the means to the Avalon.

      Young – Yaris (or Scion)
      Parenting years – Camry
      Empty Nesters – Avalon (unless you have the scratch for a Lexus)

    • 0 avatar

      I agree it is an odd ad campaign. Toyota’s average customer is somewhere in their 50s last time I read the stats, so advertising to older clientèle makes a certain amount of sense.

      However, for a product aimed at a certain age group, the traditional strategy has always been to advertise as if it were for the age group the intended audience really wished to be identified with. So, you make a car for mid-life crisis folk look like it’s for up am coming 20 and 30 somethings, and you make a car for those about to sign up for the AARP look like its for someone middle aged.

      Either way, it’s a hell of a lot better than ‘meeting the family in the new Sienna’. I don’t want to know those people. I want a raving group of lunatics to murder those people in their sleep so I never have to see them in another commercial again.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks NulloModo. You knew where I was going with this. People want to believe they are younger than they are. But on the flip side, the vehicles should appeal to younger people.

      I am not saying Buick should advertise to people in their 20s, but the cars need to appeal to people in their 20s. When they get older, they will want to buy something they couldn’t afford earlier but could now. Who really thinks that about an Avalon? People do think that about BMW, Lexus, MB, etc. Avalon will soon be for people with blue hair, if it isn’t there already. If Buick was running an ad like this, I have a feeling many people would say they are targeting blue hair again.

  • avatar

    Has it been three decades since I read one of those non-fiction books that describe the similarities and differences between the masses of commoners, the rich and the SUPER rich?

    It’s been awhile.

    One of the traits I still remember as being common among the SUPER rich was the tendencies towards the preferred auto type, for purchase and use.

    The SUPER rich TENDED to own and operate cars such as Buicks, for various reasons.

    That factoid has stuck in my mind over the years.

    Of course, what may have been true back then may not be valid any more.

    This itty-bitty bit of trivia has been brought to thee by a dandelion-growing dandy huddled in his shanty awaiting the apocalyptic days that may or not be looming over the horizon.

    Encourage your legislators to enact statutes forbidding the adulteration of comestibles tossed into the dumpsters of the USA.

    It may be YOU depending upon that nutrient source some day.

  • avatar

    buick is nothing to nobody. it lost its cool after the ’60s. well, I don’t know. I just don’t relate to generic GMs. The last time I drove a buick, a rental in ’98, I found the handling scary.

    To be serious, there probably are people who would love a decent Buick, and perhaps if Buick could get itself a little serious styling–it wouild have to look really good in an understated way, the automotive equivalent of a ***nice*** men’s suit, or perhaps an elegant woman’s suit, and if it could get itself a consistently good frequency of repair rate, then, you know, maybe… My intellect, which badly wants America to be great, would like that. My gut, which pretty much scoffs at American cars, and which loves my Honda (and was damn disappointed in my old Saturn
    is sort of chuckling at my intellect right now, going, yeah, right.

    • 0 avatar

      The LaCrosse is a good looking car as is the Enclave. Add in the upcoming Regal and I think that GM styling has come up with a coherent and identifiable styling language.

      I think that Ed’s right. It’s possible for GM to pitch Buick’s traditional qualities, a smooth, comfortable ride, sufficient power and style without being ostentatious, to a younger demographic than the blue haired set people associate with the brand.

      It wasn’t always an old person’s car. Buick, in its heyday, was a car driven by professionals and small business owners. Many could afford more expensive rides but didn’t think Cadillacs were worth the price difference, or possibly that they were too flashy.

      FWIW, I’m friendly with a few twentysomething blacks and they love Buicks. If you can sell Buicks to the hip hop crowd maybe there’s hope yet for Buick to lower the avg age of their customers.

  • avatar

    No, they’re the new Chevrolet or Ford. Toyota doesn’t have that sheen (however tarnished it might be) of being an upper-tier brand.

    You can tell thusly:
    * Their median age is pretty much where you’d expect it to be: they make an expensive mass-market product that sells without incentives or excessive financing**. Buick piles on the incentives, but it still doesn’t bring the average price down to where young people would buy: you see that kind of demographic with Kia, Saturn (formerly, and Mitsubishi.
    * They make a full line. Buick doesn’t do this: they’re a niche brand*** with only a few models.

    If Buick had a decent large executive car, you could say Lexus is the new Buick. Of course, if Buick had a decent large car, Cadillac would be redundant, or Buick would be. You see the problem, here. Let’s say that Lexus is the new Buick, assuming we’re talking about the Buick of yore, in which case Cadillac ought to be compared to Bentley or Rolls and not barely able to field a competitor to a mid-market Benz.

    Buick’s closest analogue among the Japanese is (and this is really sad for both parties) Acura. A division of slightly tarted-up mainstream cars. Nice enough, but not sufficiently “there” to compete with real luxury cars.

    ** normally
    *** unless GM is hell-bent on being stupid and making Buick into the new Pontiac

    • 0 avatar

      That sounds right to me. Toyota makes a range of cars, small to large, cheap to expensive. Toyota is the new Chevrolet, and the Avalon is the Caprice with all the bells and whistles.

      Much the same question can be asked of Lexus. Is it the new Cadillac? IMO, yes. Big floaty boulevard cruiser – but reliable (until pedalgate).

  • avatar

    What remains of Buick is simply the middle of the GM line. In the 1950’s, GM had THREE middles, Pontiac, Buick, and Oldsmobile. By 2010, GM only needs one middle. Owing solely to the China popularity, Buick won.

    Their market should be the traditional one – too rich for a Chevrolet, not rich enough for a Cadillac.

    Which is precisely where the Camry sits – too rich for a Corolla, too poor for a baby Lexus.

  • avatar

    Yes. Their cars are soft, bloated, and bland. They have zero fun models left. Toyota better get on the ball.

    • 0 avatar

      Fun does not sell. Toyota had several fun cars:
      * The Celica. Remember this? The last one was sub-2500lbs. It was a better Integra than the Integra, and yet it didn’t sell.
      * The MR-2. Again, the poor man’s Boxster. Didn’t sell
      * The last RAV/4: about the only real “fun” trucklet you could buy. Sales exploded when they biggie-sized it
      * The Lexus IS300: a 3-Series with better steering, more focused interior. The current softie handily outsells it

      We could go on (the Supra, the Previa, the small 4Runner, the Scion xB, the stick-shift Camry with a V6, the SC400) but the truth is that the fun-deprived models actually sell better.

      Toyota is not Ferrari, BMW or even Mazda: they don’t and shouldn’t make a “fun” car if they hope to make money. They have problems, but making exactly the car that most people want (eg, one that’s “un-fun” )is not one of them.

    • 0 avatar

      what does that have to do with toyota being the new buick? no fun cars = bland image. fun cars provide a halo.

  • avatar

    GM had the chance with every iteration of the Camry to study it, emulate and better it with their vast resources and extensive model line.
    And yet, they were unable to do so.
    The Camry has had such a long run as a best seller, any car maker would love to field such a winning vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      True. At this point every car maker on the planet has had a chance to buy each others cars and tear them apart to see what makes them tick. And each time GM claims that they’re going to beat “the best in the world” they always either wiff it, or hit a ground rule double, when they needed a home run.

    • 0 avatar

      It seems like everytime GM’s engineers benchmark a segment-leading competitor, any potential benefit is lost to subsequent cost-cutting. For example, the Cobalt was benchmarked after the contemporary Civic and Jetta. By the time the Cobalt went on sale the cost cutters had worked their magic, and Honda and VW had introduced all-new versions of the Civic and Jetta. The Cobalt is better than the Cavalier, but it still trails the competition it was intended to match.

  • avatar

    I’ve been driving a Buick Regal for 4 years now. Latley I’ve become attracted to the toyota avalon (05 and up) and camry v6 to replace the Regal when it bites the dust (if that ever happens).

    So yes toyota is what Buick was, a high value balance between luxury and performance without the smug image of a lexus/cadillac. Older people tend to recognize these factors better than young buyers which is why toyota’s age group is growing.

  • avatar
    Rusted Source

    Reclining rear seats; making it easier than even to join the elite ranks of the mile high.. err, mile long club.

  • avatar

    In 1983 a friend purchased a new Camry. After a drive around the area, my first reaction was, though on the small size, this is a Japanese Buick.

  • avatar

    Give the increasing number of times that I’ve had to do a right lane pass around a doting Camry or Avalon with a gray-haired driver behind the wheel, I would say yes. I see more younger folk driving the older Buicks around here anymore, probably because they bought it off grandma after she bought a Camry.

  • avatar

    In the 15 years that I have lived across the street from my now 84 y/o neighbors they have owned a 1992 Olds 98, a 2000 Buick Park Avenue, and now a 2010 Lexus ES 350. It sure seems like they think that Lexus is the new Buick.

  • avatar

    Not only did Toyota replace Buick but the entire General Motors line of cars.

    The only difference is Toyota doesn’t make refrigerators or locomotives.

  • avatar

    “Their cars are soft, bloated, and bland.”

    That describes me!!!!!

    I’m a car!!!


  • avatar


  • avatar

    I’m 26 and I drive an Avalon (first gen). I like it EXACTLY because it is a “comfortable sedan that’s somewhat luxurious but not at all flashy”. I drive in traffic, park on the street in SF, and don’t give a damn what people think of my car.

    I think this is a great ad campaign. Anyone seen the billboards? They’re good as well.

  • avatar

    The I4 Camry is a W-body Lacrosse with 20% better fuel economy but 20% more ugly. The Avalon and ES350 match up close with the new Lacrosse.

    I agree with Ed that GM should use Buick as the maker of comfortable cars for the more mature among us. The Regal is just asking for low sales.

    That leaves Cadillac to be more extroverted and exciting. The XTS and new snoozer SRX should have gone to Buick.

    So Cadillac lineup: Regal (ATS), CTS sedan/wagon/coupe, Zeta-based sedan, and Escalade

    Buick lineup: Lacrosse, XTS (Lucerne/ParkAvenue), SRX (Rendezvous), and Enclave
    Cadillac and Buick can exist with price overlap as long as there isn’t any mission overlap.

  • avatar

    When I was in college in the early 70’s and doing roofing and siding summers, we would ask to store our stuff inside the homeowner’s garage. One homeowner was a truly dotty lady who would drive cars for 10-15 years and them park them – with, as we saw, about 40-50k miles on them. The last car she had parked was a 1954 Ford, but the prize was her 16th birthday car – a 1940 Buick Special Convertible Sedan (I think). White top, deep burgundy body, but basically all dust colored.
    No way any Toyota, any one at all, could compete with that car. Buick has descended into blandness, but right now, mainline Toyotas own dowdiness, with an extra helping of frumpiness.
    That Special is how I want to remember Buick.

  • avatar

    Not exactly. The Yaris and Corolla don’t fit with Buick. They, like Scion, are what Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Saturn were supposed to be: Young, exciting, reliable small cars.

    However, Toyota isn’t exactly at Buick level yet. Sure, young people won’t touch the Avalon. But the LS is cool. They also have the benefit of having “ageless” cars. By that, I mean cars that appeal to both young and old. All of their SUVs (except for the out of reach Land Cruiser/LX) are “ageless,” ideal for young parents who don’t want a minivan and older ones who like the comfort and ride height.

  • avatar

    As a private pilot, a big fan of the DC-3, and the owner of a floaty Toyota luxobarge (1998 LS400, and yes I do call it my Japanese Buick) I can only say one thing about this ad: awesome. I watched it over and over.

    Btw I have a co-worker who bought an Avalon for his middle age luxury car indulgence but not for the reason you would suspect. He’s a strict vegetarian and the Avalon was the only luxury car he could get without leather.

    • 0 avatar

      The LS400’s designers would commit seppuku if they heard you call it a Buick. It’s LEAUGES above Buick. The LS400 was competing on equal (Or better, depending on who you ask) terms with the S class Benz. We may forget about it now, but when the LS came out, it bested the Benz in just about every category, including performance, and it did it for thousands less. In 1989, the LS was even bordering on sport sedan territory.

      It was a real game changer, not just a stretched Chevy with soft springs.

    • 0 avatar

      I eat a strictly kosher diet, but pigskin Hush Puppies are very comfortable shoes.

  • avatar


    • 0 avatar

      Buickman- A little off-topic here, but what are you selling to your Lesabre/Park Ave drivers these days, and what are Lucerne drivers going to buy after 2011? I assume you’ve have thousands of past customers that desire a “real” Buick.

      Seems to me that Buick should be building something that appeals to the customers they already have, instead of chasing the mid-size market that EVERY other brand is chasing. It wasn’t long ago that Buick dominated the full-size segment.

    • 0 avatar

      yes, I have thousands of customers. many are simply keeping their current vehicle far beyond past practice.

  • avatar

    I don’t really understand the Avalon market. But someone must. And it’s not like they’re giving them away, either–plan on spending the mid to high side of 30 for a car that exudes plain-Janeness like almost no other. Lately, out in the real world, I’ve seen a few with vinyl roofs. Must be enough of an aftermarket to support this sort of thing. But, then again, modern day Japanese Buick types are certainly anachronisms, I’ll give them that much.

  • avatar

    I guess the Avalon is a good rolling couch, but in a world where the Hyundai Genesis exists (Let alone the Azera) and even the V8 Buicks, it’s a little outclassed.

    The new Avalon did shake things up when it came out. Comfortable, nearly Lexus quality inside, surprisingly quick (6.1 0-60 is not slow by any measure) and worlds ahead of the Buick Buicks.

    However, I’m an insane, totally irrational man who daily drives a 450HP turbocharged, methanol injected Subaru with a Cosworth motor, so I was never interested.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s OK. Everyone has to stretch out now and then. Besides, when you come down and resume your real identity as mild mannered Bruce, you can always throw a tank full of E85 in your Avalon.

  • avatar
    George B

    Not quite. When I think of Buick, I think lots and lots of chrome and other style over substance. The large Toyotas may have similar driving dynamics, but they lack any echos of Harley Earl. Toyotas emphasize the function of reliably transporting people and their stuff over form.

  • avatar

    The Avalon is a Japanese Buick. No problem with that. Too bad that nobody really sees what is going on at Buick. Today’s Buicks are very nice cars. Not my cup of tea, but they seem well made, are roomy, quiet, and reasonably attractive. If an owner of a mid 2000’s Avalon were to try a new Buick I think they would come away quite surprised and impressed. If you tagged it with Toyota nameplates, they would probably buy it.

  • avatar

    Japanese manufacturers have been fielding their own interpretations of American cars since the 1970’s. And often they’ve done better American-style cars than the Americans, hence the Accord and Camry.

    The Avalon has one more traditional Buick quality. Have you seen the acceleration times? Since the original Century, Buicks always had the reputation of being a good businessman’s express car, able to get up and go when you wanted. Caddies had big engines but were heavy and overburdened with accessories. If you wanted a little extra go with your luxury, you wanted a Buick. Or an Olds Rocket.

  • avatar

    27 year old engineer here. Bought a 2010 4Runner 2 weeks ago (have a tidy garage now w/ the Mini Cooper S, 07 VW GTI, and 2 proper Cannondales). 600 miles on it, 22mpg observed on the first tank (the 2nd tank is at 23mpg), and I’m absolutely in love w/ it. I can’t say that I’d ever consider a Buick. Generally irrelevant, but I guess the point remains that as a 27 year old, I will consider a Toyota, but I won’t consider a Buick.

    Hell, I’d probably buy the new Sienna before an Enclave because it is at least a proper minivan instead of a minivan parading as an SUV. I kept telling my wife how many bikes I could fit in the Sienna, but she wasn’t interested.

    • 0 avatar

      As the owner of an older Cannondale road bike, what do you mean by a “proper” Cannondale? Are they now made in China? I’ve crossed K2 skis off my list because of that fact…

    • 0 avatar

      Mine are both mountain bikes. A proper Cannondale is slightly quirky (both have the Lefty fork, the Scalpel has the “living hinge”), an aluminum frame (since that is where they made their name), and the “Handmade in USA” sticker (both of mine are).

      My brother has a C’dale road bike from 92, I think. It, too, is a proper Cannondale.

      Cannondale stops frame production in Bedford, PA sometime this spring/summer. They will no longer be my “go to” brand. I’ll certainly shop other brands when it is time for a new bike.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m a roadie and my Litespeed Catalyst is one of the most satisfied purchases I’ve ever made. At this point it probably has 40,000 miles on it. Titanium rides silky smooth, lively like steel and more forgiving than aluminum. Years ago I did a barter deal with a bike shop for a Rock Shox Ruby road bike suspension fork that Rock Shox originally designed for the Paris-Roubaix classic road race over the cobblestones. It adds weight but I think it handles better than a fixed fork and it really makes it easier on the shoulders on long rides.

      As far as I know, all Litespeed bikes are made in the USA.

      There is a car angle, since the Litespeed racing team is sponsored by BMW.

    • 0 avatar

      OMG! RUN! Its an engineer!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar

    Yes, I would really rather have a Buick. But sadly, Buick no longer makes Buicks. They haven’t since the Park Avenue. The Chinese understand the concept better. And I’ll give Toyota credit for this: they know Avalon customers don’t want a two door coupe masquerading as a four door sedan.

    One quibble, msquare: back in the early 50’s, Caddies were among the quickest cars on the market.

  • avatar

    I loved the commercial. The baby boomer nostalgia was obvious with the ‘Summer Place’ song heard by every kid that ever squashed into the family wheels and headed out on vacation in the early 60s. Toyota you’ve taken a lot of heat lately, but you build a hell of a commercial. Keep on catering to the old guys.

  • avatar

    Stewardess who came tripping down the cloud notes and hopped-into the pasenger seat at the end kind freaked me out; maybe it is that she looked like a dude in drag?

    Otherwise a nice high-concept retro-themed commercial.

  • avatar

    The Lexus ES350 is the modern day Buick Electra and Olds 98. The new LaCrosse is the perfect premium Buick sedan for today. There really is no market for sedans any bigger than the LaCrosse anymore.

  • avatar


    Can someone tell me where is the driving characteristics of a Camry / ES in this Avalon?

    Looks like no one is going anywhere with any point in that clip..

  • avatar

    Gosh, it just couldn’t be clearer than the nose on your face:



    Yes, Virginia, there are lots of people who want quiet and comfortable cars. Instead of noisy, rough-riding, manual-transmission “performance” cars.

    Even at the lower end of the spectrum, Toyota has always led the pack in terms of these two values: Quiet and comfort.

    We now return to our 24/7 coverage of Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers.

  • avatar

    …as where is Buick going to find its own niche?

    Back to your question – I don’t know. I don’t know why Buick is still around. I don’t know why Mercury is still around. Chrysler is dead, but these other two brands no longer fit.

    Ford needs Lincoln or Mercury. GM needs Cadillac or Buick. But not both brands. Why? Because having more than two brands is logistically easier to support, buyers understand the difference between everyday work cars and otherday cars, and you don’t end up with buyers making a “middle-child” statement.

    Toyota with Lexus, and Honda with Acura have established a two-tier branding system. Buyers are now comfortable with an “either/or” car buying decision within a make. It has been twenty years, folks! So, after twenty years, the auto market has shifted from a many brand approach to a simplier two brand approach – because the two major Japanese auto manufacturers that have succeeded have made this work. It is now engrained into the market.

    When US buyers bought US cars, there were enough for the Big Three to have five-brands apiece. When they got undercut over the past thirty years, the game changed, but they didn’t. It was too tough to decide which brands had to go. Bankruptsy called the shots instead.

    So Buick has no future, as I can see – unless it takes it parasites off off Cadillac. Mercury is pretty much a goner now, and the only way I can see either GM or Ford keeping three brands is if they returned to their original roots. That would mean making their current lineups of Cadillacs and Lincolns, Buicks and Mercurys – and offering a fully loaded luxury supersized car under the Cadillac and Lincoln names.

    Why do I see this? Because take a look at that Avalon ad. It mimics the biggest, most luxurious, most powerful transportation offered Americans during the Golden Age of American Autos – the TRAIN. What were the luxury lineups like during this Golden Age? You got it – fully loaded luxury supersized cars that were Cadillacs and Lincoln Zephyrs, (the name of a train, folks!).

    So – if GM or Ford don’t return Cadillac and Lincoln to their roots, it looks like Toyota will go after it with their Avalons.

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