By on May 23, 2007

65_gto.jpgGrand Prix, GTO, Firebird, LeMans, Catalina 2+2, Bonneville. The names evoke automotive magic— provided you were an enthusiast between six and sixty during the ‘60’s. For today’s pistonheads, these storied names; indeed, the entire Pontiac brand has lost its adrenal association. Even the drop-dead gorgeous Solstice can’t rescue a marque now known for budget-priced, badge-engineered mediocrity. Pontiac’s fall from grace may not be the worst (best?) example of GM’s branding cataclysm, but it’s one of the most emotive.

GM created Pontiac in 1926, naming it after a local Indian chief who led a failed rebellion against the British. The company’s first car was an inexpensive six-cylinder “companion” to the Oakland brand’s pricier machine. Pontiac waxed while Oakland waned. The Depression killed Oakland; Pontiac barely survived.

To reduce production costs, GM President Alfred P. Sloan and Executive Vice President William S. Knudsen decreed that Pontiacs should share major components with Chevrolet. In 1933, a last minute “big car” restyle and a new engine helped Pontiac’s “Economy Straight Eight” revive the brand’s fortunes.

In Sloan’s “a car for every pocketbook” dictum, Pontiac’s prices slotted in exactly between the most expensive Chevy and the cheapest Oldsmobile. The positioning defined the brand; a Pontiac was a realistic step up the ownership ladder for the Chevy driver of the thirties. Ironically, Pontiacs were aimed at customers who cared more about economy and comfort than performance and handling.

As the Depression eased, Pontiac stayed in the sweet spot, introducing its resolutely conservative, middle class customers to industry-firsts like the column-mounted gear shift and engine options. In the last years before WWII, Frank Hershey led Pontiac’s design studio to new heights.

Pontiac’s post-War years were profitable, but the pricing and styling demarcations that protected Pontiac from cannibalism were under attack from below (Chevrolet) and above (Oldsmobile). By ’56, the division was once again in trouble, struggling to distinguish itself from its more successful brother brands.

The division had been feeding their V8 a high-oats diet. By ’59, Pontiac’s tri-power (three two-barrel carburetors) 389 was churning out 345 horsepower. That same year, out of the blue, Pontiac introduced “wide track” styling.

Although the marque had gone racing several years earlier, the new models’ purposeful stance and stylish sheetmetal instantly redefined Pontiac as a performance brand.

Their timing couldn’t have been better. Increasingly affluent and unflaggingly optimistic Americans were ready to fully embrace a car brand offering youthfulness, style, and most of all, excitement. From ‘62 to ‘70, Pontiac was America’s third most popular automotive brand.

The first of Pontiac’s high-water marks: the 1963 Grand Prix coupe. A Bill Mitchell styling masterpiece, the GP conveyed the exclusiveness and formal elegance of the Buick Riviera coupe, at about three-fourths the price. AND it was sportier and more youthful; the killer date car of the times.

The 1964 GTO was THE seminal performance car of the era. By dropping the big 389 engine into the light, mid-size Tempest (along with suspension, tire, appearance and interior upgrades), the American enthusiast car reached its zenith. As did Pontiac.

In this pre-German/Japanese invasion era of fossilized British roadsters, the GTO (and its many imitators) offered the best overall bang-for-the-buck equation. Pontiac was BMW before BMW was cool (or available).

Except for the Firebird, the seventies were not kind to Pontiac. Performance was (mostly) out, styling become blobby and quality problems were notorious. Pontiac tumbled out of the coveted number three spot. It returned to its pre-sixties roots: a mostly boring, lost-in-the-shuffle GM division, saddled with an endless curse of badge-engineered small Chevys: Phoenix, Astre, Sunbird, J-2000, T-1000, etc.

Having lost its authentic performance and styling “cool,” Pontiac began an endless series of self-conscious attempts to capture BMW-like cachet (e.g. the original 1973 Grand Am).

The mid-late eighties witnessed a brief sales resurgence. These were smallish cars, like the later front wheel-drive Grand Am. But these sales came straight out of ailing Olds’ and Buick’s hide, not the booming imports.

The more avidly Pontiac tried to “Build Excitement” in the eighties and nineties, the more pathetic the results: GM clones sporting way too many spoilers and garish body cladding. Pontiac had become the Wal-Mart BMW.

Could Pontiac have become a legitimate American BMW? Perhaps. A return to the brand’s original re-positioning would have required an unwavering commitment to performance. The resources were certainly there. GM continued building formidable rear wheel-drive sedans in Europe and Australia. These should have been Pontiac’s specialty decades ago, long before the recent GTO and future G8.

Instead, GM positioned Pontiac as a “full-line” automaker, forcing it to compete with its GM siblings with idiotic versions of identical products.

Pontiac is a dead brand. Lacking any presence outside of North America, it has no relevance to GM’s global future. Excitement is a fleeting phenomenon, as was Pontiac’s heyday.

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54 Comments on “General Motors’ Branding Fiasco Part Three – Pontiac Only Lived Twice...”


  • avatar
    AGR

    For years in Canada Pontiac was just a rebodied Chevrolet, and it was rare to see “American Pontiacs” (Catalina-Venture-Bonneville).

    Pontiac was the entry level car for the Pontiac / Buick / GMC dealer. A Pontiac Parisienne was the Canadian Bonneville. A Beaumont was the Chevelle, few GTO’s but more Beaumont SD396.

    There were no Wide Track Pontiacs in Canada.

    Interesting that folks would pay an extra 100 to get a Strato Chief instead of a Biscayne, same car different body.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Just to show how different pontiac was from chevy, my father bought a new 1950 pontiac, for his extra money he got (not available at chevy) A straight 8, hydromatic, a tastefully more chromed up exterior and interior. In other words a car that didn’t look like or perform like a chevy. The last gasp of this difference was Deloreans 1960’s wide bodies power house pontiacs. They also didn’t look like or perform like chevys and they sold. What is more as a teen, I desired a grand prix or bonneville more than anything. As a 60 something, I don’t desire any of GM’s wares.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Ahhh. Pontiac in the 80’s. Wood-panel Family Truckster war wagons. Velour single bench seating. Foam-like dash padding. 3 foot gauge clusters with three gauges. 3 speed automatics. Steering wheels with more buttons on it than the space shuttle’s cockpit. The total destruction of the LeMans name. Door mounted belts that oculd actually eject you from the car. Family cars that were to compete with the Taurua, except they were coupes only (really smart one GM…)
    Any shocker that the Accord and Camry took over the market?
    I still want to get a solid answer from Car and Driver (is those three words a no-go on this site?) on how and why they just raved about the 6000STE. Man that 2.8L engine sounded like a blender full of nails and the outdated transmission had to be responsible for a few thousand extra Honda and Toyota sales.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    For years I’ve been rooting for Pontiac to become the affordable BMW, but Mazda seems to be taking that place, with Hyundai close behind, perhaps.

    My prescription for Pontiac would be to follow Saturn’s example as the American Opel by becoming the American Holden. G8 will be a step in the right direction, if they price it reasonably.

    I think the preoccupation with GTO muscle car glory days is the automotive equivalent of a 55 year old bald man in bellbottems rockin out to the Mamas and the Papas. The world has moved on.

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    Within my automotive memory, I think the lowest of the low point for Pontiac was the horrible badge engineering that has taken place in the late nineties and early 2000’s. Examples such as the Torrent SUV, Wave, and the Transport vans. I could excuse these awful vehicles if they were from a Chevrolet brand, a brand aimed at being a full-line manufacturer, but the fact that GM touted Pontiac as the performance division, then placed a terrible SUV, Korean econobox, and a minivan in the line-up damaged the brand worse than the products themselves. If they (GM marketing) had at least projected the brand image appropriately, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but don’t tell the public you’re “Building Excitment” then offer these products. Tell it like it is, then at least the customers will know you’re honest.
    Don’t tell the customer to believe you, make them believe with honesty.

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    And can someone tell me why GM doesn’t brand products as GM’s? All other Parent Companies offer products under the Top level brand name. Lincoln, Mercury, and Ford. Lexus, Toyota, Scion. Infiniti, Nissan. Not GM. What’s the point? the name GM doesn’t stand for anything nowadays. It’s just some obscure parent company name they attach to the front fenders as if that means something. Just an observation.

  • avatar
    DarkOneForce

    Somehow I doubt the idea of an american BMW.

    The Pontiacs were never cars that could be succesfull at the 24H of Spa/Nurburgring/LeMans like the New Class/2002 and CSL.

    Pontiacs in their glory says were american muscle cars, wereas BMW were and are terrific handlers.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    Dead Brand Walking. Pontiac has no reason to exist anymore, no reason the G8 and the Solstice could not be sold as Chevy’s.

    Could it be made into a performance brand? Absolutely. G8 and Solstice are a start. add a Solstice coupe, AWD turbo 4 compact in sedan and hatch, a good looking GTO, AWD G6 in sedan, coupe and convertible. Lastly an AWD sportback/wagon based on the compact or G6.

  • avatar

    One word.

    Aztec.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Niedermeyer- As usual, professional writing. As to content- It’s interesting that today GM is a punch-drunk fighter to most 18-35’s, with no memory of the awful first attempts by BMW to import to America. I had a ’73 2002- absolute junk. I do not understand the cache they carry. Now, a 64 GTO? That was the fastest car in my town from stoplight to stoplight. Great article.

  • avatar
    durailer

    I’m wondering where the Fiero fits into this picture. It stemmed from the same logic as the Corvair… small, efficient commuter car. Granted, the car had its share of problems and bad press, but under Pontiac, the platform had street creed: mid engine handling, full-independent suspension, and slippery styling, all for a reasonable price. It’s a prime example of where Pontiac should be in today’s lineup. The Solstice helps, but a more practical (ie: trunkspace) hardtop equivalent might help Pontiac claim a stake in the broader performance-commuter market.

  • avatar

    Crazily enough, in the eastern European ethnic, Catholic, coal and steel town I came from (Johnstown, PA), and my father was the Chevy dealer, there was a definite ethnic and religious preference for Pontiac. Dad always complained that he couldn’t sell to either the members of the Russian Orthodox or Polish Catholic parishoners. They liked the extra trim (bling?) of the Pontiac and would pay for it.

    I noticed at a young age that the sanctuaries of said churches were a lot fancier, too. Always wondered about that correlation.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    GM seems to be taking a half hearted if we can’t kill ’em straight up, then starve them approach to thining the dealer network. At this point Pontiac might as well just skinny down to the Solstice and let the Pontiac dealer network fade to black.

    I don’t see any reason to continue the G-spot lineup.

  • avatar

    Let’s not lapse overly rhapsodic into the “virtues” of the original GTO. It WAS fast, but had brakes that still belonged on a Tempest 4-cylinder. I have a vivid memory of rocketing down the freeway in a friend’s ’64 GTO and needing to slow for upcoming traffic. Standing on the brakes finally yielded the requisite speed, but there were virtually no brakes left after a slow-down from 90 to 60. This ain’t performance when GM had disc brakes already in their arsenal.

    The original GTO was just another bean in the perennial GM shell game; the illusion of something it was not.

    and “dead brand walking” – priceless…

  • avatar
    durailer

    to jthorner – the G8 seems to be a good reason, but I too won’t morn the loss of the rest of the Gs.

    People get “Performance” and “Value” so Pontiac and Chevy are good candidates to revamp and pare down to their core values. I’m looking forward to what Mr. Niedermeyer has to say about Buick, Saturn (nee Oldsmobile) and Cadillac.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the good article! I love the mini-history lessons.
    As for the appeal to certain groups, Pontiac has its roots in the urban environment and that it continues to sell there far better than in rural/suburban settings. This is a key to understanding the brand and its customers.
    That said, I wonder where this brand will end up. “Wal-Mart BMW” may be gracious.

  • avatar
    geeber

    The brand will end up dead, most likely. I look for Pontiac to join Oldsmobile within five years. The brand just doesn’t have any relevance in today’s market.

  • avatar

    Looking back on it now, I consider myself damned lucky. Hot out of high school in the early ‘70s, a used 1967 GTO was my first car. Wow, what a special automobile. In particular, one feature is equally as memorable as that of its dominating muscle-car physical presence.

    Sure, the massive 400-cubic-inch engine is a treat and the 4-speed manual transmission shifts crisply. But combine a 16-gallon gas tank with the lead foot of young man, and a tank of Sunoco 260 comes to an end quicker than a blind date gone horribly wrong.

    One the up side, and as unique as many a great 60’s rock song, is sound of the beast. Combined with the large engine, the sound track of the 4-barrel carburetor is amazing. The air cleaner plays a vital role: Consisting of a round, chrome-topped housing, with the folds of its paper element visible around its outside circumference, the air cleaner offers precious little resistance to the inrushing atmosphere feeding the eight, hungry, air- and gas-sucking cylinders.

    Normal driving employs the two front barrels of the 4-barrel carb, which are smaller by half (in diameter) than the two temporarily sleeping rear barrels. Not much excitement there. But when you floor it, the butterfly valves sitting over the two humongous rear barrels swing open, the rear jets awake from their slumber, and all hell breaks loose!

    All these years later, vivid memories of the amazing sound of great volumes of air being sucked through that low-resistance air cleaner and into the now wide-open 4-barrel are archived on a sound track in my mind. Equally as impressive as the sound of the baritone exhaust, the absolute roar of intake air rushing in is an aural feast.

    If you want to know what the grand old days of Pontiac were like, this describes the raw essence of pure Pontiac exhilaration. Four decades later, “excitement” and “Pontiac” uttered in the same breath evokes feelings akin to those reserved for a long-lost lover…

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    Pontiac is dead without even knowing it (or maybe they do and won’t admit it). I don’t have the figures in front of me, but I’d guess Toyota and Honda each sells more Camrys and Accords than GM sells of the entire Pontiac range.

    Sure, a ‘performance’ rear wheel drive brand sounds nice. But 20,000 Solstice and 30,000 to 50,000 G8’s do not justify the investment. They would have been better off using the money to develop these products for Chevrolet to 1) better match up with the quality and technology of the Toyota brand 2) expand the range of Chevrolet models.

    The only hope is that once GM gets all the Pontiac, Buick and GMC dealers merged into single store outlets, killing off Pontiac will be much easier and less costly than when they shut down Olds (think Chrysler closing Plymouth or Eagle which were in almost all cases shared stores with Chrylser and Jeep, respectively).

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    My neighbor has an 88 Fiero GT for sale on his front lawn. The darn thing looks as good or better than anything on the road now.
    They got the problems fixed just in time to kill it off. (Of course it shouldn’t take 5 model years to fix the problems.)
    One of those with a 260 hp DI turbo Ecotec would be a fun ride.

  • avatar

    Lichtronamo:
    I don’t have the figures in front of me, but I’d guess Toyota and Honda each sells more Camrys and Accords than GM sells of the entire Pontiac range.

    I do have the figures in front of me. In calendar year 2006, GM sold 410,229 Pontiacs (all models), Toyota sold 448,445 Camrys, and Honda sold 354,441 Accords.

    During the first four months of 2007, GM sold 105,417 Pontiacs, Toyota sold 143,774 Camrys, and Honda sold 121,516 Accords.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I still have fond memories of my ‘69 Grand Prix, with the long hood, short tail and jet-cockpit driver’s accomodations. The 400cid with a Rochester 4bbl and turbo 400 tranny would make the car fly — I could hang with Corvettes (until the first curve…)
    I dunno, it’s a little late to the party, but the G6 coupe is one Schweet Looking Ride. A fellow that I work with just got a 4cyl sedan for a song (after rebates), and it runs surprisingly strong, even with the last-gen autobox. (I wonder — how much of Pontiac’s sales were G6’s?)

  • avatar
    geeber

    Don’t forget that over 1/3 of those Pontiacs went to fleet customers, which further shows just how far the (once) mighty have fallen.

  • avatar
    omnivore

    @ neilberg: I’m not sure why you say that Pontiac is primarily an urban brand. When I was an adolescent in the mid-1990s in small town America, Grand Ams and Grand Prix were EVERYWHERE. Those Wal-Mart Grand Ams were definitely the official car of my high school’s parking lot. In fact, in my experience, rural America is much more friendly to domestic cars than urban America. The mix on the road where I grew up (upstate NY) is much heavier on the Big 2.5 cars than where I live now (Philly). I suspect it has to do with all of the small-town Big 2.5 dealerships … people aren’t willing to drive 40 miles to go to Honda or Toyota dealership, even if their cars are better.

  • avatar
    jolo

    A bit off subject, but this is the latest and greatest TTAC article and it looks like others are jumping on the death watch band wagon:

    http://www.forbes.com/2007/05/23/detroit-gm-ford-pf-ii-in_jb_0523soapbox_inl.html?partner=yahootix

  • avatar
    jthorner

    “the G8 seems to be a good reason, but I too won’t morn the loss of the rest of the Gs.”

    I predict that the G8 will be another Holden GTO flop. It may be a great rear wheel drive performance sedan, but how are enough customers to be attracted to the Pontiac showroom to take it for a test drive, and how are they expect to fall in love with it?

    The record books are filled with US branded captive imports which flopped. Catera, GTO, Merkur, Pantera, Opel by Isuzu, the Austalia Mercury Capri of the 90s and more. Most are forgotten already. Odds are high that the G8 will join this list.

  • avatar
    GMrefugee

    Let me put it this way about Pontiac. A few years back, I was in a brand marketing class (Zarrella style) at GM, taught by then brand manager for the Chevy Malibu. In an example of the new branding resolve, he told us that Chevy dealers often asked when he was going to make an SS version of the Malibu. His reply was they weren’t going to build a Malibu SS because it would overlap with the rightful holder of that market position, the Pontiac Grand AM GT. Despite more recent reports from GM stating the SS moniker should have not been place on the Malibu, “WHOOP, THERE IT IS.” Corvette, Impala SS, Malibu SS, Cobalt SS. Who’s your performance division?

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Pontiac isn’t going anywhere.

    Pontiac (and Buick) exist today for one reason only: To give GMC truck dealers some cars to sell on the side.

    But that one reason is strong enough for it to not be killed. With Pontiac (and Buick), a PBG dealer has a full offering of product-a slightly (very slightly) more upscale Chevy Part Deux.

    GMC is highly profitable-duh, they sell Chevy trucks for a grand more each, of course it’s profitable. But even with the profitable truck business, a GMC dealer will want to sell cars as well. So, as long as GMC dealers exist, Pontiac will exist.

  • avatar

    Interesting history back to the 1920s but I think you miss your mark in the here and now.
    You also completely forget something called the Trans Am which a few people might remember fondly.

    Regardless, today I think Pontiac believe it or not is one of the smarter turn arounds. Once the G line is complete and the G6 gets the new Opel update (we’d assume) there should be plenty to like with the G8, G6 and Solstice. The G5 is a joke as is the Cobalt but those are old guard GM vehicles and would be addressed in the next redesign with an Astra perhaps. I also don’t expect a new Torrent with GMC probably getting a version of the new Saturn Vue instead.

    Besides the GXP trims poor naming and style I think the current lineup is fine.

    Plus you’re really forgetting the pains GM is going through to combine the Buick, Pontiac and GMC channels. Once that’s done I think all three brands will be better off.

    Oh, and as someone who has sat in a G8 it’s going to do very well as long as the prices are right. The pre-production version I sat in was as nice as any domestic sedan on the market including Cadillac. Is it as nice as a BMW? no. But it won’t be as much as a base 3 series and it’ll have a V-8 engine and considerably more room.

  • avatar
    Jeffer

    Excellent article!this new series has me visiting the site twice as much as before.It is a sad situation when I can remember Pontiac ads from circa 1969/70 “We build excitement” and “Pontiac strikes again!” but couldn’t name a single model from the current line up, save for the Solstice.
    Personally I think the Saturn version is the better looker.It is high time that Pontiac gave up on that split grille schtick, they have only been doing it since about 1959 or so.As another arm chair quarterback, I wonder if it isn’t time for General Motors to become the “make” and Buick, Pontiac and Saturn to become the models.

  • avatar

    Geotpf: "Pontiac isn’t going anywhere." I couldn't agree more. David Thomas:  "Plus you’re really forgetting the pains GM is going through to combine the Buick, Pontiac and GMC channels. Once that’s done I think all three brands will be better off." Sure, three brands [supposedly] appealing to different market segments with numerous overlapping models sold through the same dealership. Makes sense to me. 

  • avatar

    David Thomas: Interesting history back to the 1920s but I think you miss your mark in the here and now.

    Not to pick nits, but I sense a fair amount of futuristic prognosis:

    “Once the G line is complete…and…the new Opel update…there should be…would be addressed in the next redesign…perhaps…with GMC probably getting…Once that’s done…as long as the prices are right…pre-production version…won’t be as much…and it’ll have…”

    Maybe it’s just me, though.

  • avatar
    FunkyD

    Other than Cadillac, Pontiac is the place where GM has the most *potential* to restore its pizzazz. Most folk don’t know (or probably care) about anything it made before the split-grille (1959+) era, so Pontiac’s main legacy is fire-breathing performance.

    Pontiac could build some *real* excitement. Unfortunately, GM has gone to great efforts to squander it. As much as I want Pontiac to become great again (I’d rather have any GM car I buy have the Pontiac nameplate, save a Caddy or ‘Vette), I fear for the future of the division.

    The GTO, albeit a Holden, was the perfect candidate to wave the Pontiac flag. But GM managed to bungle the whole effort with hasty planning and poor execution. The car itself is killer, and was a couple interior refinements away from being a TBAG. But failure to appeal to its intended target audience resulted in poor sales and a wasted opportunity.

    The Solstice is a great concept, albeit not one for tall people. Obscene initial dealer markups ruined this one.

    The G6 should have been competition for the Mazda Speed3 and VW GTI. That’s all I have to say about that.

    If Lutz and co. would invest in this division, it has the potential for a big payoff. But I’m not holding my breath.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    Ah yes, there was no sweeter sound than the V8 burble coming out of the dual exhaust of an idling Pontiac 455. Back in the day when I had a ’72 Grand Ville coupe, I could make the car rock side-to-side by gunning the engine and letting its massive torque work its magic. I swear that car was a rolling seismic event.

  • avatar
    86er

    Robert Farago

    Sure, three brands [supposedly] appealing to different market segments with numerous overlapping models sold through the same dealership. Makes sense to me.

    Sensical or not, this will be (is as we speak) the model employed, as has existed in Canada for some time already. I couldn’t believe it when I first heard that there are still standalone Buick stores in the United States. They must survive on their Optimum business.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    I remember a couple of indian summers ago , being barely legal I set out for a quest of a new vehicle. a new one for me, a second hand for the seller. I was obsessed with sporty coupes ,with their sexy hips, wide paws, lion like baritone purrs from quattro exhaust nozzles. I set my eyes on a flashy pontiac firebird. By then i didn`t now that the firebird probably refered more to fire in engine block. I took a test drive and my childhood images were gone and i quickly regained consciousness and became sober. the engine sounded antique and underpowerd ( it had a 3.4 liter throwback), the interior cried and yelled cheapest supplier possible on this mother earth, and what the heck are those paled grey a/c and radio controls for?the gaskets and insulation rubbers were so thick as if they were engineered for submerging in Mariana trench. when i tried to throw a tail a bit around the car showed any lack of composure or anything that would deal with high g numbers . I slammed the doors. And my heart too. I was upset, blushed from humiliation and felt betrayed . So this is the best way to lose customers. Today , i don`t know if pontiac has bad branding,. maybe branding is everything left they have. Because at least there are no real models that would stand behind this name. will g8 be a good handler? don`t know. And don`t care. For it has nothing to do with pontiac. If this car is great, i will thank aussies. not gm. soooo- saturn folded in as opel. pontiac – as holden. probably you know where is this leading to…….pontiac – an american bimmer. not bad, for a joke.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    I don’t see where Chevy/Pontiac/Buick/Cadillac couldn’t be made to work. It might be too late but here’s how I’d see them, if they were all preserved…

    Chevy – value – just like of old. Kill all SS variants to leave room for Pontiac and restrict luxury appointments to leave room for Buick. Chevy should offer a decent minivan (Venture-sized).

    Pontiac – the performance brand. I don’t see why they couldn’t get away with using cars similar to, based on, etc, the Chevys, as long as they have some legitimate claim to performance that Chevy doesn’t have. It would be better to have RWD, of course, but FWD horsepower does sell to Americans. Spice cars like the Fiero and Solstice will help, of course. They do need a Firebird.

    Buick – the movin’ on up brand. Nicer than a Chevy, not a performance vehicle like a Pontiac but better than a Chevy but not all out luxury like Cadillac. Buick could maybe risk a very nice minivan as long as it doesn’t look like a clone of whatever Saturn or Chevy sells.

    Cadillac – back to The Standard of the World in both luxury and performance. My grandaddy’s Sedan de Ville hardtop had something ungodly under the hood, like a 472. I drove that bad boy a few times. Uff-dah! If Grandpa only knew! Plus it had state-of-the-art gizmos for 1968 (cruise, seeking stereo radio, auto headlamps). It’s probably difficult to afford to develop it but the Cadillac Allante’ always struck me as being a good thing for Cadillac to have. Done well, the Allante’ would be the standard of the world but in the performance dimension, rather than just the luxury dimension. For God’s sake, don’t rebadge the Solstice and Sky (again)! And stop building trucks for gangstas!

    But then I’m left with the question of what to do with Saturn. If I look at what sold well for Saturn, that would probably be the Vue and their practical little cars of the ’90’s. OK. Go with that… a smallish minivan, a Vue-like vehicle, introduce the hybrids here, some practical little cars. GM should not think of Saturn as their import-fighter, they should think of it as their small-car specialist and the division for the eclectic and nerdy. Many of the people I know whou bought Saturns were or are engineers, chemists, etc. They want a good small car, will spend for good quality, safety and durability but really think in terms of transportation problems to solve. I can’t imagine the people who bought the practical little cars of the old Saturn flocking to dealerships for an Aura XR (so far, none of these friends have done so) and I can’t imagine Camry SE-V6 owners doing that, either. I’m not sure if Chevy should sell a small car or not but, if they do, Saturns’s should be a little nicer. If Pontiac also sells a small car, it should be readily identifiable as primarily a sports car that happens to work well for commuting.

  • avatar
    chamar

    I have been in north america for 7 years now, and since my early years, i have had a thing for cars, yet I don’t have a clue to what Pontiac selles. Obviously, i know that they sell a midsize G6, a full size Grand Prix, a Torrent CUV. But what is it that they really sell, especially, with the exception of the Solstice that you already can’t buy from Chevrolet? No really? Its not like they sell the same cars with more HP or better braking or better handling…

  • avatar

    Thats exactly the problem chamar

  • avatar
    IronWolf

    I remember the GTO “phenomenon” a bit differently. Went for a ride in my neighbor’s ’64 4speed “goat’. He was shifting via pliers as the shifter “broke”

    I drove my buddy’s ’65 tri-power , 4 speed goat ‘vert home for him , as I could drive stick. What a DOG !!

    My ’64 Dodge 383, 4 speed , 3.91 sure grip could run rings around these GTO’s

    I thought the Firebird 400s were kind of cool, and the latter 70’s TransAm were OK (there was nothing else), but the Pontiac as a performance marque was pure hype, IMHO.

  • avatar
    mrdweeb

    I had a ’55 Pontiac–nicely styled, but with a few weird touches. For example, the heater was under the driver’s front seat. Hot water from the engine compartment was piped under the car and back up to the heater radiator. This was not a good idea in frigid climes, but it kept your feet toasty. The 3-on-the-tree standard transmission was unique for this car, even in the ’50s. I was planning on installing a floor shifter, but the aforementioned heater rusted out creating a huge hole, so I sold the whole thing for $50.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Ah, the good old days! My uncle’s ’64 long, low Grand Prix…
    the neighbor’s highly styled ’68 Bonneville…..the mysterious “soft touch” nose of the ’73 Can Am…
    and of course, the pure legend of my youth, the ’77-’80 Trans Am, or for you snobby folks, the Formula.

    After driving a msrp $32k Grand Prix NASTY rental last summer, Pontiac has become pure crap. There is not a thing in their line up that doesn’t need fixing.

    All things must pass.

  • avatar
    AGR

    FYI in Canada, these figures are from Automotive News, includes all vehicles and models under the name.

    ………April 2007……….YTD 2007

    Pontiac….13,115………….32,011
    Honda……13,447………….39,599
    Mazda……10,341………….28,091

    Pontiacs in Canada are sold by Pontiac / Buick / GMC dealers.

  • avatar
    mikey

    A beautifull Sat. evening I pull my base model white /black top 2000 Firebird into a tavern parking lot top down and she is spotless.A blue BMW rag, clean with brake dust on the wheels [looks like an auto car wash job to me] pulls beside us.
    I figure at used car prices the Bimmer is worth twice what the Pontiac is.
    Two people say, nice car to the Firebird owner,barely a glance at the BMW
    In the winter I drive a Grand Am GT coupe usually when its clean I get the same admiring glances.I think its the shiny blackwalls against the Pontiac 5 spokes that do the trick.
    Yes indeed to this day Pontiac still builds excitement!

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Will they say the same thing about pontiac as they did for olds? I read the article in a trade publication that the last olds alero went down the assembly line destines for a rental fleet. There was nothing distiguishing about it, style, color, performance. It just melded into an avis fleet somewhere and there went the 100 year old company name of Ransom E. Olds. As for indian chief Pontiac, can he be far behind? Will the same article be written as the last pontiac heads for some non-descript end? You can’t make Gm the size of ford or chrysler was and still keep all those lines. This was a lineup for 40-50% of the US market, It can’t remain with the present GM. Nor can ford justify mercury and chrysler dodge cars. When you get smaller everything has to get smaller.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    All of the justifications offered for keeping Pontiac alive are internal arguments, not arguments which make sense to the customers. I have read them all and still conclude that a GM which only offered Chevrolet and Cadillac branded cars and trucks in the US market would be a larger, more successful, more profitable company than the one which continues to do a half baked job of fielding a half dozen or more brands.

    Try as you might, there is not really a good way to make the status quo look like the ideal brand structure. There are only so many design and marketing dollars to spread around, and they are spread far too thin to be effective. At any given time one segment of the GMNA empire is in the operating room getting fixed while the others are left to flap in the breeze. Meanwhile Toyota and Honda crank out highly competitive redesigns in every segment every five years or so while also selectively adding strong competitors in new segments regularly as well.

    Doing more and better of what it has done for the past 20 years is not going to save GM’s bacon.

  • avatar

    Why not keep Pontiac just for fleet cars? I’ve been getting 4-door FWD Pontiacs from rental companies since I could rent. I have vivid memories of the Grand Am, the Grand Prix, the G5, the G6 and so on. Seems like the perfect niche!

    And how does it make sense that the new Zeta is going to be a Chevy? It should be a damn Firebird / Trans Am, if Chevy is the value brand and Pontiac is the performance brand. Make all that stuff Pontiacs, and then put the Pontiac Logo on the Nascar cars.

    I’ve always thought it sent conflicting messages to call Pontiac the performance brand while Chevrolet gets the Camaro, the Corvette, the Impala SS, and so on.

    Sometimes it seems like conventional wisdom isn’t so conventional.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    jthorner:

    Sure, Pontiac survives for business (and political) reasons, not because they exist in a special place in the marketplace.

    GM decided that if they can’t close down Buick and Pontiac (because it would cost several billion dollars in dealer bribes to do so), they might as well combine them with GMC and make a second Chevy out of the three.

    Of course, they also have a third Chevy in Saturn-but Saturn doesn’t have any expensive pickups to help keep it alive, so it stuggles even worse than PBG.

    American car dealers are very strong politically at the state level. This political strength is the only reason Buick, Saturn, and Pontiac still exist.

    It also means that they aren’t going anywhere until GM is bankrupt or nearly so, no matter how poor thier sales are, and no matter how many retarded clones of Chevys they get to sell.

    Hmm…lets see how many Pontiacs are clones of other cars…

    The G5 is a purely badge engineered Chevy Cobalt.
    The Vibe is an almost purely badge engineered Toyota Matrix (the body is different, but the engine, chassis, and transmission are identical, and I think the interior is too).
    The G6 share a platform with the Chevy Malibu/Malbu Maxx, Saturn Aura, and several European-only cars, but is otherwise unique (different engines, different body styles, different interiors, etc.).
    The Grand Prix shares a platform with the Buick LaCrosse/Allure, Chevy Impala, and Chevy Monte Carlo, but is also fairly unique.
    The upcoming G8 is a rebadged Holden Commodore.
    The Torrent is a rebadged Chevy Equinox (and why does Pontiac have an SUV anyways?).
    The Solstice is rebadged as the Sky (the Solstice came first), as well as models for Opel and Daewoo, sold overseas.

    So, other than the two models which only share a platform (but from the outside look different and have different engines, etc.), every Pontiac is a rebadge of something.

    Totals:

    2 shared platforms.
    4 rebadges of other cars sold domestically.
    1 rebadge of a car only sold overseas (the G8).

    But the rebadges don’t bother GM too much-the point is merely to give Pontiac/Buick/GMC dealers stuff to sell. If they happen to be clones of Chevys or other stuff, so be it-a PBG dealer is a clone of Chevy dealer, why shouldn’t thier vehicles be clones as well?

  • avatar
    msmiles

    the trans am name was sullied by the dustbuster shaped minivan of the 90s.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    every car company is about…
    PPPPP RRRRRR OOOOO DDDD U U CCCC TTTTTT
    P P R R O O D D U U C T
    PPPP RRRRR O O D D U U C T
    P R R OOOOO DDDD UUUU CCCC T

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    “The G5 is a purely badge engineered Chevy Cobalt.”

    IF the Cobalt were the class leading compact, the G5 would be selling in droves. The Grand Am name should be used for this vehicle.

    “The Vibe is an almost purely badge engineered Toyota Matrix (the body is different, but the engine, chassis, and transmission are identical, and I think the interior is too).”

    The Vibe has done well over the years and represents a lot of the traits that Pontiac owners want for their vehicles. I see no problem with selling another generation of it… if it’s possible.

    “The G6 share a platform with the Chevy Malibu/Malbu Maxx, Saturn Aura, and several European-only cars, but is otherwise unique (different engines, different body styles, different interiors, etc.).”

    The G6 should have been the Grand Prix. However the bland exterior styling and haphazard quality of the interior have really penalized Pontiac’s image.

    “The Grand Prix shares a platform with the Buick LaCrosse/Allure, Chevy Impala, and Chevy Monte Carlo, but is also fairly unique.”

    They still sell a Grand Prix???

    “The upcoming G8 is a rebadged Holden Commodore.”

    No one in the USA will care about that. If it’s an excellent vehicle, it will sell. The ‘G8’ should be renamed the ‘Hootie’.

    “The Torrent is a rebadged Chevy Equinox (and why does Pontiac have an SUV anyways?).”

    The Torrent should be renamed the ‘Tootie’.

    The Solstice is rebadged as the Sky (the Solstice came first), as well as models for Opel and Daewoo, sold overseas.

    The Solstice is excellent. The MX-5 may be a bit easier to drive but the Solstice has a much better look. I would have made the warranty 10 years / 100k to make it a bit more commercially appealing than the MX-5.

  • avatar
    fallout11

    Pontiac’s miserable mid-80’s comeback car, the 6000STE, was lampooned well in the Paul Verhoven sci-fi classic “Robocop”, where it was (properly) badged the 6000 SUX.

  • avatar
    nino

    indi500fan:
    May 23rd, 2007 at 11:57 am

    My neighbor has an 88 Fiero GT for sale on his front lawn. The darn thing looks as good or better than anything on the road now.
    They got the problems fixed just in time to kill it off. (Of course it shouldn’t take 5 model years to fix the problems.)
    One of those with a 260 hp DI turbo Ecotec would be a fun ride.

    My kind of post!

    I still have a soft spot for the Fiero even though the ’85 GT I had broke a clutch and flywheel at 7300 miles ( just broke into bits and which the dealer refused to pay for). I still look around if any are for sale and start fantasizing about V8 Northstars in the engine bay…cut rate Ferrari performance….etc.

    Then my wife screams at me that we have too many cars already!

  • avatar
    nino

    I think that the Pontiac G6 is a handsome design (in the CamCord sense), but extremely poorly executed.

    Given an interior upgrade and a name change (Grand-Am?), I believe this car can be a hit.

    Of all the cars based on this platform, I believe it be the best looking. The availability of a coupe and convertible are big plusses.

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