General Motors Death Watch 167: The Not So Gr8 Pontiac G8

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
general motors death watch 167 the not so gr8 pontiac g8

Media-wise, the new Pontiac G8 is a hit. Obviously. The Aussie four door conforms to the pistonhead paradigm: a powerful, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan. According to the jobbing journos flown to a first-class California hotel to test the new machine on local roads, the G8 GT isn't aesthetically offensive, goes like stink and handles well. While hooning hacks are celebrating the return of the [imported] American muscle car, they seem to have forgotten the fact that the muscle car is dead. As is Pontiac. And, by extension, GM.

The Dodge Charger is the obvious, indeed inescapable, template for the Pontiac G8's prospects. While enthusiasts may balk at the comparison– citing important [to them] differences in power, handling, interior fitment, etc.– the G8 and the Charger live in the exact same niche. They sell at the same price, offer the same driven wheels configuration and boast the same aggressive style. Last year, the Charger sold a not-inconsiderable 119,289 units.

The billion dollar question: can the G8 make those numbers, or better? Although the initial plan is to import limited numbers (20kish) of G8s, given the cost of production, there's only one way this car will ever make money for GM: if it sells in sufficient volumes to justify larger, and more local, production. At least that WAS the plan…

The Pontiac G8 may find some measure of sales success simply by stealing buyers from the Charger and its other logical competitor, the Chrysler 300. But even if the G8 scams 20 percent of these two ‘merican-style machines' customers, the Pontiac can't thrive on defectors alone. To make its nut, G8 buyers have to come from… somewhere else.

The chances that loyal/satisfied owners of transplant sedans will opt for the new Pontiac are small. While the new G8 may embody the erstwhile carmaker's old "excitement division" selling point, Pontiac destroyed that brand equity decades ago in a torrent of poorly-built, badge-engineered cars and minivans. In spite of (because?) the flame-out success of the Solstice roadster, Pontiac has no cachet upon which the G8 can draw. The company itself has moved on to a new motto: "Pontiac is car." How great is that?

So what about SUV escapees? Perhaps the G8 will tempt mainstream truck buyers to return to the large American-style cars of their youth. For years, pundits have predicted that SUV refugees will eventually opt for comfy sedans (remember Ford's Year of the Car?). Unfortunately, lackluster large sedan sales lead us to conclude that most SUV escapees are "trading down" to slightly more fuel-efficient CUVs or "all the way" to four-cylinder sedans.

Truth be told, the most likely customers for the new Pontiac G8 are consumers considering another GM sedan. What's the bet people looking at the Chevrolet Impala and/or Buick Lucerne/Lacrosse and/or a lower-spec Cadillac CTS will opt for a G8? In other words, once again, cannibals loom large in GM's sales schemes.

Alternatively– and this is the best case scenario– the overall market for the G8-type of vehicle will expand. In a shrinking new car market beset by rising fuel prices, any hope that the audience for a relatively thirsty rear-wheel-drive sedan will suddenly enlarge is destined to remain unfulfilled. The fact that sales of the Dodge Charger and the fleet-bolstered Chrysler 300 are flat does not bode well for the Pontiac.

While the G8 may get off to an auspicious start (the thrill of the new), it's highly unlikely G8 sales will have "legs." The Pontiac G8's "killer app" is American muscle. But it should be remembered that the V8 variant accounts for just 24 percent of the Charger's total sales (24,630 vs. 90,659). So, while the G8 GT offers remarkable bang-for-the-buck, the "normal" V6 version will make or, more likely, break this car.

Yes, the G8 V6 is rear wheel-drive and significantly faster than the Charger V6. But the bread-and-butter model G8 is slower than both the V6 Accord and V6 Toyota Camry. The base Pontiac's sloth leaves the Australian-built sedan with no appreciable advantage for the average American sedan buyer.

In fact, when it comes to evaluating the "average" G8, the average U.S. car buyer couldn't care less about horsepower, driven wheels, handling or speed. They want brand rep, reliability, comfort, a competitive sticker price and maximum fuel efficiency– and not necessarily in that order.

Speaking to that point, The base Pontiac G8 gets 17/25mpg. The Honda Accord V6 gets 19/29; the six-pot Camry clocks-in at 19/28. And anyway, six-cylinder Accords and Camrys do NOT account for the majority of the models' sales. They are easily and completely outsold by variants with more fuel efficient four-cylinder engines; which the G8 doesn't offer.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Pontiac G8 is the wrong car at the wrong time for GM. Whether or not there's any profit in importing a $30k car from halfway around the world, what GM really needs to survive is a single, highly competitive four-cylinder sedan. Instead of adding the G8 to their line-up, GM should have improved what they had.

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  • Slingshot Slingshot on Jun 14, 2008

    PowerPro01: Not to belabor the point but I was responding to Dr. Old's post immediately before mine, where he stated the G6 was a fine car. CR didn't like the Aura either. The Malibu seems to be much better liked and I think they did make some improvements. BTW, my family owned Pontiacs for years as one of our customers was the local Pontiac dealer.

  • PowerPro01 PowerPro01 on Jun 16, 2008

    Also not to belabor the point, but after CR's "admission" of using questionable reporting methods specifically related to new Toyota products (and how past history was used to rate their new products' likely future results, and how that practise would cease...), it makes you wonder how "objective" they've been with others' products at New Vehicle Launch...specifically the G6 and Aura, as compared to previous Grand Ams. "Perception is Truth" (about Cars?). Seems that even the mighty CR is not above resorting to "opinion" on occasion...they've said so, themselves...and other "methodology", used by them, is highly suspect, as well. Witness their "roll-over" testing... As to comments regarding the "coarse" V6, I believe those were with regard to the 3.5 OHV when run up to maximum rpm (which, of course, we ALL do every moment of every day), NOT the World Class, widely used (throughout GM's vehicles) and well-regarded 3.6 OHC. The fact that the 3.5, "in the real world", generally returns actual fuel economy rivalling Camry's and Accord's 4-cylinder engines with superior power and torque, at very competitive price$, seems to be lost on the automotive press and public at-large... You don't have to "whip" 3.5 high-torque liters nearly as often as the 2.4 four to "git 'er done"...

  • Jalop1991 I'm sure they knew exactly who the modern Cherokee buyers were, and responded with the Hornet.
  • CoastieLenn I'm wanting the keen readers among us to pay attention to the comments in this article compared with the one that immediately followed it. They contain the exact same amount of usable information yet, because one is Ford and one is Toyota, we're seeing the Ford get chit on and the Toyota will be seeing praises. Toyota isn't exactly the shining star they once were and the newest generation of Tacoma was outdated 6 months after it began production... pertnear 10 years ago.
  • Ajla @Arthur: Yes if you are the first reply to a comment and then someone else replies in the same thread it is about 75% odds your comment will disappear.
  • Deanst Any skoda station wagon. But I guess the issue is just making the vehicle available in North American.
  • NJRide Yea the Compass took its place. Probably something more rugged between the Bronco/Bronco Sport in size (and electrified) is the best bet.I don't see the nearly 60-year old Belvidere plant in high-tax Illinois getting another product though. Stellantis will drop to 5 US Assembly plants