By on January 24, 2009

“We haven’t quite figured out exactly between sports cars and entry-level cars, but it’ll be a very narrowed and focused brand.” So pronounceth GM NA Marketing maven Mark LaNeve at a “roundtable interview” attended by Automotive News [AN sub]. Here’s another surprise: GM can’t figure out to do with HUMMER, Saab or Saturn, either. “There’s nothing that can be said today that can calm the nerves of a Saturn, Hummer or Saab dealer,” LaNeve said. Or is there? “The studies of Saab and Hummer are very externally focused,” LaNeve said. Translation from AN (for the drunks and idiots amongst us): “That means GM hopes to sell them or form some type of partnership.” Mark his words. “We have production facilities that could be carved out; we could build the vehicles for somebody.” Any idea who that could be? Me neither. Oh wait; “The Swedish government is involved in the Saab review.” Is that the same Swedish government that declared it would be a cold day in Hell before they combo-nationalized Saab and Volvo? Chrysler and GM, on the other hand… It gets better, Saturn-wise.

“The study of Saturn involves about 20 options, he [LaNeve] said. GM is trying to find a way to make the brand profitable. It has lost money in all but one year since its 1990 debut.

“I would hope by the next three or four weeks we will have a line of sight on what makes sense for this brand,” Jill Lajdziak, general manager of Saturn, said.

Twenty? The mind boggles. Would any of our Best and Brightest like to have a go?

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51 Comments on “GM: “We Still Don’t Know What To Do With Pontiac”...”


  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Sorry, Mr. LaNeve, entry level and sports cars are mutually exclusive. What do a G5 and a Solstice have in common, besides lack of profitability?

    Saturn:
    - Rethink 100% Chinese. (Would consumers notice, or care?)
    - Rethink Mexico-assembled Two-Mode Hybrids.
    - Rethink pricey EU-sourced rebadged Opels.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Lord have mercy. What have they been doing for the last five years? They have to turn their plan in to the Feds in three weeks and they are still trying to figure out what it is. It is enough to make a man weep.

  • avatar
    Deepsouth

    Why…oh…why…don’t I have a job at GM? I would love to work up in the pretty glass tower and build castles in the sand.

  • avatar
    Matt51

    There are a lot more Chevy dealers than Pontiac, Saab or Saturn dealers. Give each of the Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn dealers a Chevy franchise, as this will not dilute Chevy all that much. Then kill the Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn names. Take any profitable Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn products, and rebadge them as Chevys. Kill the unprofitable models now.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    20 options for Saturn? Doesn’t the “never made a profit” speak for itself?

    Option#1 -Kill it quickly.
    Option#2 -Kill it slowly by starving it.
    Option#3 -There is no #3. Or 4,5, or 20.

    Repeat process with Pontiac,Hummer,and GMC.

  • avatar
    mcs

    It’s easy. Just spin off Pontiac and Saturn as a separate company. Then the new company can offer to take 35% of Chrysler in exchange for giving them access to the G3 platform. I know this guy, Bernie Madof, that’s been getting bored sitting at home in his apartment and would be delighted to run the company. Problem solved. Then again, maybe not.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Blend Pontiac into the Chevy SS trim lines. Differentiate by having one with luxo appointments and options, the other more pedestrian.

    Hummer, Jeep, and Dodge Power Wagon need to go to AM General. Let’s get this over with, shall we?

    Saturn, oh Saturn, yee with the beautiful rings, what to do with you? General Motors has never been able to tune to Roger Smith’s frequency. They are on AM and he, FM. Saturn has loyal consumers and broadcasts a signal that resonates well with a large group of potential customers, but dated product and horrid corporate brand management has emptied the showrooms.

    Set it up with some factories, technical staff, and attach it to the underwing of Nissan.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Saturn has lost money for 17 of it’s 18 years?

    WHY are these people still occupying their “management” seats?

  • avatar
    billc83

    RETUNING SATURN FOR ECONOMIC VIABILITY:

    1. Market research has established consumers find Saturn’s lineup boring and stagnant. Begin market campaign setting up Saturn as the cool and aggressive cousin of the GM hierarchy. Think Cody from 90s TV sitcom Step by Step. Hire Sasha Mitchell for ad campaign, if necessary.

    2. Consumers consider GM a “lumbering dinosaur.” Shake up the GM hierarchy, which now goes (from top to bottom): Saturn, Pontiac, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick. Saab and Hummer still under strategic review.

    3. Unveil the Saturn Aviator; badge-engineer the Aveo as a Saturn. The public will swoon for Saturn’s affordable, fuel efficient offering.

    4. At the time, market research indicated Saturn as Americans’ favorite planet in the solar system. After all, it has rings. That’s not going so well, so change the name to ‘Neptune.’ Mercury is taken. Venus is too girly. Mars’ red landscape connects too easily to ‘Red Ink.’ Ditto Jupiter‘s great red spot. Pluto is no longer a planet. Let’s not get started on Uranus…

    5. Change the name of ‘Saturn’ to ‘Simpson,’ reflecting the show’s popularity with our core demographic. First post name change model will be named the Homer, in homage to the show (and probably be a rebadged Opel).

    6. Saturn’s dealerships, with friendly salespersons, would make excellent day-care centers. Children could use in-house internet to look at pictures of GM cars; this would help program brand loyal customers in the future.

    7. Being inherently quirky, Saturn would make a great brand of cars for Shriners, a market GM has yet to expand into.

    8. Begin ad campaign showing Osama Bin Laden driving Toyotas, Hondas, et al; “When You Drive Import, You Roll With Terrorists.”

    9. Begin ad campaign showing Saturn’s sex appeal. Young, attractive women ask ‘suggestive’ questions to hip, young Saturn owner (e.g. “Is that Saturn hard to park in tight spaces?”)

    10. Begin ad campaign featuring Tiger Woods. It didn’t work for Buick. Saturn represents a different demographic than Buick. Therefore, it will work for Saturn.

    11. Auction Saturn off at the next Barrett-Jackson event.

    12. Hire Chuck Norris as spokesman for Saturn. If potential owner doesn’t purchase, the Texas Ranger can roundhouse them in the face.

    13. Hire an expert team of computer hackers to steal identities of thousands of people, and then use the stolen information to purchase a Saturn or two (depending on consumers‘ credit, of course). Synchronize “No Payments for Six Months” ad campaign so victims won’t discover their new car purchase for some time!

    14. Apparently the ‘soft sell,’ Saturn’s no-pressure salesmanship, isn’t working. Begin pressured sales and customer intimidation. Hired Goons should suffice.

    15. Saturn employees will now grow produce in their spare time. Come harvest, Saturn dealerships will become a ‘destination’ shopping experience. Sold produce can help recoup Saturn’s losses. Promotions such as “Buy a car, get a free bushel or corn” will be encouraged.

    16. Gullwing doors are considered cool by almost everyone. Every Saturn will be redesigned to reflect this.

    17. Begin Saturn product placement for Transformers 2. Bumblebee will now be a yellow Sky. Optimus Prime will now be an Vue.

    18. Kill the brand.

    19. Unveil a concept car underpinned by the Chevrolet Volt‘s technology. The Volt will save us all. In 2010.

    20. Continued federal bailouts.

  • avatar
    Spacecamel23

    “The dog ate our homework.”

  • avatar

    Close them, that’s all that can honestly be done. The new car market is shrinking and with it any last hope (and how many of those have we gone through?) that GM’s extraneous brands have any chance at being anything.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Saturn should have been euthanized ages ago. Just let the poor dog die, please. It was the wrong answer to the right question from day 1.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    GM has neither the money nor the management capacity to save Saturn. Either they sell it off or kill it.

    My hope is that GM finds a buyer. And why not? Saturn has one of the most modern dealer networks around and enviable buyer experience street cred. Yet Saturn’s branding — and current lineup of vehicles — is so anonymous that you could replace it with pretty much anything in the popular price classes and the public wouldn’t protest. Pontiac, Saab, Chrysler and Volvo aren’t anywhere near as adaptable brands.

    This would make Saturn the perfect base from which a foreign automaker could gain a foothold in the US — as long as it brought its own product. I’m a little surprised that Fiat went with Chrysler — with its unwieldy and aging dealer network — instead of picking off Saturn. The latter would have cost more (at least up front) but would have been lots less long-term grief. GM likely would have thrown an unwanted assembly plant into the deal. That’s all Fiat would have needed to get started. Indeed, given current market conditions, a go-slow approach would make the most sense.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Saturn and Hummer need to be killed off ASAP. Fire all the management that keeps wasting money trying to figure out what to do with these lame duck divisions and asinine decisions. Make Pontiac back into what it’s supposed to be. THE EXCITEMENT DIVISION!!!! That means the dumb Toyota Vibe, the G5 Cobalt clone, the Torrent Equinox clone and the bland looking un-memorably named G8 Holden must all go the way of the Edsel. Instead bring back the Grand Am name on the slightly modified 2009 1/2 G6 with an entry level 2 door coupe and sedan with 2.4 Ecotec and 5 speed standard for around $17995. Then have the upper end models such as GT and GTP. Next up the food chain should be a Grand Prix mid size on the stretched Epsilon II platform with Pontiac styling and flair and better performance and handling compared to the 2010 Lacrosse which would share this platform. Next up would be the G8′s wonderful rear drive Holden underpinnings with Pontiac sheetmetal and the Bonneville name as the flagship with DI 3.6 and 304 HP from the Camaro and the 6.0 liter V8 as the mid level engine choice and the top dog 6.2 liter V8 and 415-425 HP in a GTP trim level. Last would be the Solstice coupe and convertible with improved DI 2.4 engine, revamped better thought out interior and tweaked styling cues. Last thought on this matter would be to advertise the hell out of these cars and really stress there performance, excitement, quality and differentiation from other GM models. Now was that so hard GM?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “I’m a little surprised that Fiat went with Chrysler — with its unwieldy and aging dealer network — instead of picking off Saturn.”

    Fiat get back into bed with GM, even for long enough to sign papers? Kind of like having a fling with the ex after a particularly long and nasty divorce.

    “Fire all the management that keeps wasting money trying to figure out what to do with these lame duck divisions and asinine decisions.”

    No kidding. What fools went with G-spot naming for Pontiacs and three letter acronyms for Cadillac? Bonneville, Grand Prix, Firebird, Eldorado, Sedan deVille, Seville, Fleetwood! Those names had huge brand equity … and the idiots flushed them down the toilet.

  • avatar
    Orangutan

    “We still doesn’t”?

    ;)

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    John Horner:

    If the ex happened to have something you REALLY wanted, wouldn’t you play nice for a few eternal minutes until the paperwork was signed?

    This is business. Everyone can keep their pants on.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Saturn, Saab, and Hummer should be sold or killed. In Saab’s and Hummer’s cases, this should be done immediately. There’s no way they are anywhere close to breaking even on the microscopic sales volumes of those two brands-they are losing money hand over fist. Shut them down ASAP.

    As for Saturn, kill it in about two years (of course, I’m assuming GM will still be around in two years). In two years, all of their product will be due for a redesign-kill it instead. Of course, that also means that work on said redesigned models should be starting about now if they weren’t going to kill it, so a decision needs to be made immediately on this one as well.

    Keep Pontiac-don’t change a thing. Pontiac-Buick-GMC mostly sells clones of Chevys through another dealer channel. This helps keep those factories humming at something resembling a profitable production level. Now, many Saturns also qualify, but it’s a smaller dealer network (easier to shut down), with fewer sales-which means less profitable (or greater losses, which is probably the case at this point). You could also shut down some plants, but keep the Chevy/Pontiac/Buick/GMC versions. That is, shut down either Spring Hill or Delta Township, and continue to build the Traverse, Enclave, and Arcadia but not the Outlook; shut down either Kansas City or Lake Orion and continue to build the G6, Malibu, and LaCrosse but not the Aura. In both cases, you are going from two plants and four models to one plant and three models, allowing each model to sell less and still keep the plant running. As for the Sky, it, along with the Solstice, should probably both be killed and the Wilmington plant shut down. The Astra’s sales were so small (in comparison to sales of the Opel Astra in Europe) that the loss of those sales doesn’t affect that plant that much.

    Yes, this means Pontiac is fairly stupid from a car lover’s point of view, but I’m looking at things with a set of green eyeshades now, which is what GM has to do at this point. Pontiac-Buick-GMC should have a full line up of vehicles, and the only affordable way to do that is to make almost all of it slightly upscale clones of existing Chevy models.

    Saab and Hummer are even easier to kill. The H2 is built on a dedicated line that isn’t even owned by GM-kill it. The H3 is built on the same line as the Canyon and Colorado, but all three vehicles aren’t exactly best sellers-they all probably can be killed and the plant shut down. The plant that made the 9-7X has already been shut down, and the 9-3 and 9-5 are built at Saab’s Swedish plant, which only non-Saab product is the horrible selling European-only Cadillac BLS-kill them all.

    Now, after all that killing, stop. That’s as little as GM can make and still survive, IMHO. They need Chevy, Caddy, and, yes, Pontiac-Buick-GMC to continue to survive.

  • avatar
    twonius

    “Keep Pontiac-don’t change a thing. Pontiac-Buick-GMC mostly sells clones of Chevys through another dealer channel. This helps keep those factories humming at something resembling a profitable production level.”

    Isn’t that the thinking that got GM into this mess? All the money developing G5s or 6s is pretty much wasted. These cars are just competing with Chevy models. I bet if you killed them off tomorrow those customers would just go buy a Chevy or a Saturn. Which would probably be made in the exact same factory.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Yes, the days of someone buying a more expensive Pontiac or Buick version of a Chevy to ‘differentiate’ themselves from the Jonses is over, as the other platforms offer no more performance or reliability than the Chevy. These customers have migrated to the transplants, anyway.

    Make Saturn the rebadged Opel division (that’s where they’re at anyway) for “euro” lovers- offer diesel powertrains.

    Pontiac: RWD Performance – G8 (Bonneville) GTO/Firebird – incorporate into Chevy dealers in small markets.

    Buick? Roll into Cadillac – two models as “entry level pricing” Caddys – an alternative to the chiseled “art & science” models. Cut Buick models as demo dies off.

    Chevy and Chevy Trucks – no imports – all domestic, new small car and small hybrid pickup.

    Who knows what they’ll do – It’s difficult surgery, and the insurance company could drop coverage at any moment…

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I havn’t seen the ’08 sales figures by division yet, so I’m working from the ’07 rankings.

    Killing Pontiac would be killing the #3 division (After Chevy and GMC). It might be wiser to find out why 358K customers prefered to buy a rebadged Chevy instead of an actual Chevy.

    Does Pontiac sell because it’s sexier? Sportier? Something-er? I don’t know why people buy Pontiacs, but they do. My guess is that Ponchos are seen as being sportier, and I think the old Sloan ladder is still working it’s magic. There is a tiny bit of differentiation. So work with that. Differentiate pontiac more.

    Sharing platforms is inevitable. GM hasn’t got the bucks to build Ponchos on separate platforms. Differentiate with better/sportier interiors, performance tuned suspensions, more powerful engines.

    Above all, do not give in to the Chevy dealers when they whine about not having a GTO/Grand Am competitor – You wanted to sell Chevies, so sell basic trasportation. Secondly, do not give in to the Ponitac dealers when they complain they don’t have an Aveo/Cobalt competitor. You wanted to sell excitement, so sell excitement, not basic transport.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    As an aside – though the question hasn’t been asked what should GM do with GMC, many of the B&B seem to favor killing it. I question the wisdom of that. A half million trucks/SUVs per year – and these are the kind of vehicles GM makes money on. As with Poncho, I don’t know why people buy rebadged Chevy trucks, but they do. The market wants something that GMC delivers. GMC is the number two division in sales. Don’t kill it, figure out what appeals, and accentuate it.

  • avatar
    scartooth

    General Motors corp. is keeping their options open. I believe that is a very smart move.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    Pay $80M to the Saturn dealers to go away ($200K for each of the 400 dealers). Done.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Hummer never should have been a brand in the first place, it is more suited as an option for their trucks. So it should be dumped immediately. There is no long legacy of Hummer today.

    Saturn lost it’s way years ago when they tore up the spring hill agreement and started really badge engineering the line. The only original thing left is the sky and that shares a platform with pontiac.

    Kill both and have the smart looking convertible be a mini corvette of some type. Think if it as an affordable small version of the best thing GM makes

    Saab can go back to being another socialist government corporation. In this country, I mean after all we are heading that way now.

    Pontiac doesn’t build much excitement anymore. They are hemmed in by Corvette on the high end and Chevy on the low. Good luck with that brand.

    Buick is a real shame, they have a following here and even though it’s geriatric in demographics there are still people who like their cars and can’t get a grand marquis or crown vic any longer. Caddys are too expensive for this crowd and the other GM brands don’t offer the luxury they desire.

  • avatar
    mel23

    Let’s just impose a news blackout on the GM boys. All they spew is bullshit. As PeteMoran said, losing money for 17 of 18 is ALL the information that any rational person needs. All this bullshit about selling Hummer or Saab or Saturn; get real. I’ve got a lot of junk around my place that I’d like to sell, but it’ll go when I put it out with the weekly trash. I feel for all the white and blue collar people who have shown up and worked for years, but the company is worth nothing until we get a thorough clean-out at the top. After drifting steadily downward in share and assets during Wagoner’s tenure, any plan he could produce will be worthless. To prove my clairvoyance, I predict his plan will be more of the same. “Hey, it’s worked fine so far; I’m still here getting chauffeured to and from, eating in the exec dining room and worth millions more than I was a few years ago. What’s all the fuss?” Just keep the blackout in place until his ‘plan’ is on the table, fire his worthless ass and go to Chapter 7. Wipe out the stock holders who deserve nothing more, and impose some logic on this thing.

    Option B: Combine GM, Chrysler and AIG into a single entity and continue bailing. When the Chinese cut us off, at least they’ll know where to look for some of what they’re owed.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    It might be wiser to find out why 358K customers prefered to buy a rebadged Chevy instead of an actual Chevy.

    Avis is largely indifferent about which one they buy. The most “popular” Pontiac, the G6, sells what it does because half of the sales go to rental.

    Pontiac is a dead brand. Americans buy more Accords than they buy Pontiacs of any kind. There is nothing much to defend here.

    Pay $80M to the Saturn dealers to go away ($200K for each of the 400 dealers). Done.

    Offer to pay $80 million to Saturn dealers to go away. Receive a certain finger on one hand in response, followed by lawsuit. Not done by a long shot.

    GM has a substantial problem with dead brands, yet now it can’t afford to kill them. It would make the most sense to focus on building a couple of the brands (in this case, Chevrolet and Cadillac), while giving just enough product to the others that the organization can avoid lawsuits.

    Keep Pontiac for what it does best — rental cars — and the Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealer situation will sort itself out soon enough, without litigation, because dealers that made the mistake of buying these franchises will fail on their own. Neglect Saturn in a similar fashion, with a primary goal of avoiding litigation, should yield similar results.

  • avatar
    Happy_Endings

    GM has a substantial problem with dead brands, yet now it can’t afford to kill them. It would make the most sense to focus on building a couple of the brands (in this case, Chevrolet and Cadillac), while giving just enough product to the others that the organization can avoid lawsuits.

    Do you think GM has the discipline and patience to accomplish that? I think there’s a difference between what GM *should* do and what they can be reasonably expected to do. Killing the brands now is certainly more expensive, but it’s also a final decision. If GM had the discipline to do what you suggest, it should because it’s the best way. But you know that if it was implemented, some upper-manager would just have the “bright idea” to re-start the Pontiac/Buick brand in a few years. And the cycle starts anew.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Do you think GM has the discipline and patience to accomplish that?

    At this moment, no. The current management team needs to be replaced by a team of people who understand manufacturing and business turnarounds. A turnaround team would understand the importance of setting priorities, clearly a skill that GM doesn’t currently have.

  • avatar
    menno

    Do “a South Bend” and simply let the unwanted dealer networks fade away from lack of new product and support, as Studebaker did from Christmas 1963 through early 1966 when they finally, mercifully, pulled the life support.

    Pontiac: Discontinue everything except the contract-built Vibe. EVERYTHING else is gone. Push Buick, using the ex-Pontiac, GMC and Saturn advertising monies for this purpose. Reason? The Vibe is built on contract and it costs money to redo the badges and grill. This way, Pontiac dealers cannot sue – they DO have a product to sell. Once the next generation Matrix comes along, consider whether the “profits” from the sales of the “Pontiac” Vibe make a good business proposition to develop a new Vibe, or whether to notify the (very few remaining dealers) that Pontiac is going the way of the Corvair…. but a small Opel Meriva from Brazil is to be offered by selected Buick-GMC dealers, as a side-line (such as is used by Toyota dealers when selling Scions); would they be interested?

    GMC: It’s cheap to differentiate between a Chevy and GMC truck, and a lot of folks DO prefer the GMC brand for whatever reason (I suspect it’s a case of NOT having to deal with Chevrolet stealerships, which I have always found the worst of the worst), so keep GMC going.

    Saturn: Discontinue everything except the GM Europe built Astra, and add a badged Daewoo Magnus (2.5 litre inline six designed by Porsche, a tad smaller than the Aura, low cost). EVERYTHING else is gone. Use the ex-Saab advertising budget (29 cents?) here. Then try to off-load the Saturn “sales” division, since that’d be all it is.

    Saab: Kill it off entirely. Write it off. It’s dead and smells bad. Or do a Cerberus and “gift” it to anybody stupid enough to take the whole enchelada (sp?).

  • avatar
    ERJR

    I second trishield’s remarks. Find a way to close them. GM needs to be focused on as few brands as possible with clear brand strategy. They need to send a message to the public that they know how to run a company correctly and CONSISTENTLY.

    Obviously this isn’t happening any time soon. How could there be 20 options for Saturn? How is a brand with 2 vehicles a viable brand and who would this appeal to? Oh wait these are the questions GM should be discussing but never do which is why their brands continue to decline.

  • avatar
    50merc

    You guys are so critical of GM for conducting studies of their options for the various brands. Don’t you know these studies take time? Like months .. years .. decades. And what the hell else are the guys in RenCen going to do?

    billc83: “7. Being inherently quirky, Saturn would make a great brand of cars for Shriners, a market GM has yet to expand into.”

    My favorite suggestion. There’s also a huge untapped market for circus clown cars.

  • avatar
    ca36gtp

    Pontiac should be solely lower-volume hot models, it’s just that simple.

    One part of it should be the RWD Holden cars, the budget BMW angle that GM has going with the G8 but needs to stick with to build some brand equity. A G6 replacement that is slightly smaller and RWD (think older 3-series) would be perfect to complement a second generation G8 full-size sport sedan.

    On the other hand should be a few focused versions of hot Chevy models, kind of the Acura-Honda relationship but WITHOUT jacking the prices to stupid highs like Acura is now. For example, just give Pontiac the Firebird back. Use the Camaro platform, but differentiate it and make it more single-mindedly sport oriented as opposed to the Camaro’s something-for-everyone retro feel. No V6 trim, only V8. Give it the ZR1 suspension, price it a LITTLE higher than the Camaro SS, and kick it out the door.

    The Pontiac small car doesn’t necessarily need to go away either. Use the basic mechanics from the Cobalt SS, but don’t just rebadge it like the G5, and ONLY use the 2.0L turbo. No lower trims. Again, firm up the suspension, maybe tune it up a little bit, tack $1,000 on and there you go.

    In essence, you could almost treat Pontiac like a Chevy tuning house, in addition to having some of its own models from Holden.

    I may be crazy, but I think something like this could work.

  • avatar
    lowinor

    Ok, here we go.

    1) Kill HUMMER. Do it amusingly. Hire Billy Mays to do a commercial advertising close-out prices on the remaining stock.

    2) Restrict Buick to the Chinese market (as far as I know, it’s still strong there), and domestically the fleet sales market. Give all existing Buick dealers a Chevrolet or Cadillac franchise, encourage them (especially Caddy dealers) to continue selling used post-fleet-use Buicks.

    3) Restrict Saturn to the fleet sales market. Rebadge the Sky as a Chevy (it already looks like a junior Corvette anyway, and drop the Redline version), nothing else in the lineup would be missed from a Chevy-Saturn showroom anyway. Give all Saturn dealers a Chevrolet franchise and encourage them to continue selling used post-fleet-use Saturns.

    4) Let Saab die slowly and quietly.

    5) Kill off (or rebadge as Chevy) any Pontiac model that does 0-60 in more than 7 seconds NOW. Deny they ever existed.

    6) Rebadge any Chevy car that is not a Corvette or Camaro that does 0-60 in under 7 seconds a Pontiac.

    7) Slightly upgrade the base interior on all Pontiacs: Minimal leather trim (front headrests and armrests, and especially a leather wrapped steering wheel). Still primarily cloth (and noticeably not full leather, to differentiate from a base Caddy), but if you drive a Pontiac, you feel more leather than cloth. *Especially* the steering wheel.

    8) Bring back a mid-engined American car. Name it something other than “Fiero”.

    Result: No more HUMMER and Saab. Marginal brands moved to fleet sales (with the added bonus that the typical minimally optioned cheap rentacar is not as strongly linked to your main brands…), main car brands refocused to Chevrolet (cheap and classic nameplates), Pontiac (performance-oriented), and Cadillac (luxury).

    Excuse the rant, but I’m a software engineer with a heavy specialty in user interface. It amazes me how common it is to see cheap plastic steering wheels with bad hand feel on cars — the actual cost of the leather and padding is fairly minimal in comparison to the increase in tactile feel of the single most prominent user interface point on a vehicle. If a car is supposed to be engaging to drive (as in, a brand like Pontiac that’s supposed to be built around vehicles with good performance characteristics), why is the part of the car I touch constantly made out of the same hard plastic the dash is?

  • avatar
    lowinor

    For example, just give Pontiac the Firebird back.

    And for God’s sake, when it gets inevitably retro-ized, think Bandit, not KITT.

  • avatar
    picard234

    If they haven’t figured out whether Pontiac should be sports cars or entry-level cars, how do they know it will be “narrowed and focused”?

    After 18 years, they’re just now trying to figure out how to make Saturn profitable? And we’re expected to believe they will do it in 3 weeks?

    Who are these people?!

    Based on the comments here, everyone seems to have their own suggestions. I wonder if the management team has similar discussions and can’t come to agreement. This is a situation begging for an effective leader. Rick needs to look at the 20 options and make a damn decision.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    When I heard that Bible quote in the Inaguration Speech concerning putting aside childish things, an image of Hummer sprang up in my mind.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Pontiac is a dead brand. Americans buy more Accords than they buy Pontiacs of any kind. There is nothing much to defend here.

    I’m not defending it so much as I’m questioning the groupthink about killing brands. I don’t think GM can afford to loose 358K sales – OK, 179K, assuming the rental companies will substitute Chevies. Of course, that’s assuming they are making any money on Pontiacs.

    GM has a substantial problem with dead brands, yet now it can’t afford to kill them. It would make the most sense to focus on building a couple of the brands (in this case, Chevrolet and Cadillac), while giving just enough product to the others that the organization can avoid lawsuits.

    Given that we’re agreed it’s cheaper to keep supplying dealers than to kill brands, then why not actually try to make something of the brand ?

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record – A GM composed of Chevy/Caddy makes little sense. Either GM can keep brands separate, distinct, and differentiate them in meaningful ways, or they can’t. If they can, they can do it with more than two brands. If they can’t, they should pare down to just Chevy.

    Caddy sells fewer cars than Pontiac, yet everyone wants to keep Caddy. GMC sells double what Caddy sells, (and very little of it fleet sales, I suspect) yet everyone wants to kill GMC. If GM kills Pontiac and Buick, fast or slow, then the GMC dealers won’t be able to stand on their own. GMC will have to be rolled into Caddy, or be killed, taking with it a half million profitable sales. Makes no sense to me.

    GM may as well make an honest effort at brand identity. (What am I saying? This is GM we’re talking about).

  • avatar

    I see all these posts saying that Pontiac is selling 385k vehicles. Not so, in 2009 the figure is 280-290k. A large proportion of these are fleet sales.

    And what four models does Lutz want Pontiac to continue with?

    The Vibe, G5, G8 and Solstice.

    So what do these four products share in brand identity? Excitement? Does the tax payer want to throw money at Pontiac to build a new performance brand with a new model line up? In these times?

    I suspect that these products are still being continued because they still make financial sense. Thereafter, unless Congress if feeling very generous, there is no money to keep this brand going.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    we’re agreed it’s cheaper to keep supplying dealers than to kill brands

    It’s only cheaper if the cars are badge engineered or based upon outdated technology. Otherwise, it’s more expensive.

    A GM composed of Chevy/Caddy makes little sense.

    It makes perfect sense. The goal should be to put enough R&D and marketing muscle into the two tiers so that both can develop strong identities and generate more sales. Instead of fighting a two-front war, which is challenging enough, GM is waging a six or seven-front war that is sure to end badly.

    The Sloan model is archaic for modern times. Back in Sloan’s day, each brand had a couple of models, each of which had several body styles. The total number of models in the GM lineup then was lower then what Chevy alone has today.

    The concept of automotive branding has changed in ways that now make the Sloan model irrelevant. The Sloan system made sense for the 20′s and 30′s, when GM used it to surround and conquer Ford’s dominance, and it continued to work in the 50′s when US automakers had little competition and GM owned half the market. Back then, by adding a few features and a lot of marketing, a brand could be differentiated with relative ease.

    But today, it makes no sense at all, and some variation of two-tier mainstream/luxury branding (Toyota/ Lexus, VW/ Audi, Honda/ Acura, Nissan/ Infiniti, etc.) is more logical and cost effective for today’s world. Sloan’s system was designed for a time when competing lineups had just a few models, but that is no longer the case.

    Today, there isn’t enough benefit to be gained from a fruitless effort to distinguish Pontiac from Chevy from Buick, when there is no substantive difference in the minds of the consumer and when it is impossible to give each of them a comprehensive competitive lineup without necessarily overlapping.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Another random thought which I think I’ve asked before….

    What is to stop GM saying; During 2009 we will only produce 100,000 BRAND XYZ and make them available to dealers for $100,000 each?

    Franchise laws wouldn’t have anything to say about that would they? Those prices might even reflect the financial reality of sustaining manufacturing for such brands.

    Anyway you dice it, it’s gonna’ be rough love.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    It’s only cheaper if the cars are badge engineered or based upon outdated technology. Otherwise, it’s more expensive.

    Is it really? In the long run, what is more expensive – to let a brand die and probably loose most of the customers, or to make fairly cheap tweaks to differentiate a car? GM already goes to the bother of making split grills for Chevies so they can become Pontiacs. How much can it really cost to make the interior a little sportier and sport tune the suspension – and most of all, not let the Chevy dealer have an SS version of the same platform so they have to compete against each other?

    As an aside, this is where GM always falls down – they can differentiate cars, but then they always cave to dealer demands to have a car in X segment. They have to tell some of their dealers no – you can’t have this sort of car.

    A GM composed of Chevy/Caddy makes little sense.

    It makes perfect sense. The goal should be to put enough R&D and marketing muscle into the two tiers so that both can develop strong identities and generate more sales. Instead of fighting a two-front war, which is challenging enough, GM is waging a six or seven-front war that is sure to end badly.

    It makes no sense at all to give up on GMC – A half million profitable sales in ’07. Not unless you’re sure that a large majority of those buyers go to other GM divisions for their needs. And if you think they will you must answer why they have not already.

    The idea that GM can develop two car brands with strong identities, and then keep them distinct, is either a reality or a pipe dream. If it’s reality, they can do it with more than two. If it’s not, they better trim back to just Chevrolet.

    You can say what you like about Sloan, but you still have to explain why people are buying GMCs.
    And Pontiacs, and Buicks. That’s a lot of sales to flush for the sake of being more like the transplants.

    I agree GM needs to trim brands, maybe even Pontiac. But there is a cost to trimming brands. You may never get these people back.

    If we think GM is in such bad shape that it needs to marshall all it’s resources to fight the good fight, then just go with Chevrolet – that segment is where most of the sales are anyway. The idea that Caddy should be kept around -and it’s only marginally healthier than Buick- suggests GM has extra money for development. If so, they can develop an “excitement” brand, relatively cheaply.
    They can also keep doing whatever the hell it is that makes people buy a half million Chevy truck clones.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    The 2005 data I have is a bit old now, but the logistics alone of procurement and part supply costs for GM’s multiplicity of badge engineered brands were huge.

    I doubt that GM have been able to attend to that in any meaningful way, placing them at further disadvantage to their competitors.

    Competing with yourself while the brand differentiation (or desirability) approaches irrelevance is seriously bad business.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    How about this. To prevent problems with the dealers, DON’T KILL BRANDS. What you say? How about pinning a brand to a niche.

    HUMMER should build 1 vehicle. A Real Off-Road 4×4. The one Jeep quit making. Have it come with different but similar bodies such as a pickup, SUV and the Ambulance body similar to the military. Yes it’s ugly but people will buy it. The people who would buy these vehicles would do so for 1) a real off road vehicle and 2) to look like a real off roader – you know, those folks who buy Rubicons.

    SAAB should build one car. It should have real luxuries, leather, heated seats, wheel, superb climate control. Offered in hard and rag top.

    PONTIAC should build excitement. Maybe 2 cars. A 2 seat (or 2+2) sports car, and a muscle car. The muscle car cold have a separate GT trim. All could come in hard and soft top.

    GMC could be all truck based truck platforms. Pickups and SUV’s. They would build and rebadge the Escalade as a Cadillac.

    CHEVY would be cars. (Emphasis on the PERIOD). Non-truck pinned CUV’s and SUV’s remain Chevy.

    SATURN would be the GM import division. Opel, Daewoo, Holden, Vauxhall (I know, it’s just an Opel) and whatever other GM has for foreign holdings.

    CADILLAC. Caddy would be a real luxury car again. Built to compete directly with the MB S-class and like vehicles. They would be priced to make a profit no matter what the cost. Expect the $100,000 range. It would be worth it.

    Obviously slim the lines in the Chevy/Cadillac/GMC department of overlap vehicles.

    Dealers would live an d die by selling these cars, not on manufacturer/gov’t subsidies. When the number of car sales drop to where the number of dealers drop to a level determined by the economists – then KILL the brand since it is no longer wanted by anyone.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    In the long run, what is more expensive – to let a brand die and probably lose most of the customers, or to make fairly cheap tweaks to differentiate a car?

    The options are not limited to those two choices. The smart option that has been proven to work is to make one vehicle per class, and then figure out how to sell more of them.

    Instead of making a Malibu, G6 and Aura, and not making money with two or three of them, make one car and figure out how to make it a household word (Accord.)

    Instead of making four intermediate sized mainstream SUV’s (Outlook, Enclave, Acadia and Traverse), with mixed results, build just one (Highlander) and churn as much margin out of it as possible.

    GM already goes to the bother of making split grills for Chevies so they can become Pontiacs.

    And that’s a horrible idea that explains a lot of their problems. The damage to the brands is far more costly than the money saved with cheap fixes.

    Ultimately, it’s a measure of laziness. As an organization, they should be figuring out how to build the reputations of individual products, with the goal of making them standouts in their respective classes, instead of creating clones that blur together and confuse the customer. Less is more.

    You can say what you like about Sloan, but you still have to explain why people are buying GMCs. And Pontiacs, and Buicks.

    They aren’t. Their sales are miserable. The better question is why they can’t figure out how to sell one or two models of a given vehicle type in larger quantities, instead of selling a few of many and not making money with any of them.

    The idea that GM can develop two car brands with strong identities, and then keep them distinct, is either a reality or a pipe dream. If it’s reality, they can do it with more than two.

    Two or three are about the maximum. Once you get above that, differentiation either becomes much more difficult or much less meaningful. Today, it’s a pointless, costly exercise that should obviously be avoided. The numbers demonstrate that it doesn’t work.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    twonius :
    January 25th, 2009 at 6:09 am

    “Keep Pontiac-don’t change a thing. Pontiac-Buick-GMC mostly sells clones of Chevys through another dealer channel. This helps keep those factories humming at something resembling a profitable production level.”

    Isn’t that the thinking that got GM into this mess? All the money developing G5s or 6s is pretty much wasted. These cars are just competing with Chevy models. I bet if you killed them off tomorrow those customers would just go buy a Chevy or a Saturn. Which would probably be made in the exact same factory.

    In theory, that’s how it would work. In theory, all those Oldsmobile buyers would have bought Buicks after Olds was killed off. In the real world, those sales mostly disappear to the competition.

    Pontiac-Buick-GMC is too large a dealer network and has too many sales to kill-and probably is profitable or close to it (especially the GMC portion-and GMC dealers need cars to sell on the side). Saturn is smaller and extremely unprofitable.

    However, PBG is too small to give it much unique product. So, it has to get Chevy clones. That’s just how it works, unfortuantly.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Dynamic88 :
    January 25th, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I havn’t seen the ‘08 sales figures by division yet, so I’m working from the ‘07 rankings.

    http://media.gm.com/servlet/GatewayServlet?target=http://image.emerald.gm.com/gmnews/viewmonthlyreleasedetail.do?domain=3&docid=51161

    Buick: 137k
    Pontiac: 267k
    GMC: 377k
    Buick-Pontiac-GMC: 782k

    Chevy: 1,801k
    Caddy: 161k

    Saturn: 188k
    Hummer: 27k
    Saab: 21k

    Total: 2,981k

    I consider BPG one dealer network-either keep it all, or kill it all. It’s way too big to kill. Chevy and Caddy have to stick around. Everything else is too small and shrinking fast (well, everything is shrinking fast).

  • avatar
    GrandCharles

    Call me a dreamer but a still have soft spot for saturn. That mellow nice non arguing car company with plasticky car…and those bbq with all the other cult follower….:) Seriously, i own one of them for 8 years (a 2000 LS) and it was a decent car (200 000 kilometers before i sold it). It is still a solid, decent looking car with good fuel economy as my friend now owns it). So i think that brand is still a valuable name. Just stick to the original idea of a japanese fighter with no tie to GM, no euro, japanese. Who really thinks that a Volkswagen afficionados would jump in a Saturn? Seriously that doesn’t match…and bring back the plastic panel!!!! No rust, no ding and screw the panel gap crap, i don’t care!!! Back to basic Saturn

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    PeteMoran and Pch101 consistently nail both the problem and the solution.

    I am having a hard time understanding why the General Motors Board of Directors, President, and Operating Officers and Executives are so totally blind to where the road they are on leads the company.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    We probably won’t have to worry about this one for long.

    Close Sadturn, Dummer, not-really-a-chevy-truck, Geezer Buggy, and Chevy-mit-beak?

    Why bother?

    GMNA is terminal.

    Bunter

  • avatar
    njdave

    Bunter,
    You are correct that GM is terminal in its current form. They have lost all brand focus and differentiation.

    Every consumer knows that a Buick is just a more expensive Chevy with different badges and trim on it. What they should do for a real long term fix is to make the different brands really different and specialized. Have Pontiac for example build only sports cars. Sports cars are a niche product, but it can be a good niche.

    People will pay a LOT of money for a good sports car. The key is that it has be a really good sports car. Have Chevy build reliable family cars. Make sure that they are the best family cars on the market. Have Buick make minivans. Make sure that they are the best minivans you can buy. Have Caddy make true luxury cars. Again, the best you can buy. GMC would build pickups and SUVs. Again make them the best trucks and SUVs you can buy.

    Keep each companies design department separate from all the others. Make sure that each is laser-focused on their particular niche product. Make sure they are free to design their product to be the best without interference from corporate.

    GM as a corporation makes large scale purchases such as media buys and raw materials to take advantage on the economy of scale. Niche’s aren’t bad things. They can be enormously profitable if you compete successfully in that niche. Stop trying to have all brands have all types of vehicles.

    Stop having the only difference between brands be a badge. Just really focus on your product at each brand and compete like hell. Then you can be successful.


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