By on February 24, 2009

What to do with all of GM’s brands? That’s one of the big questions that will vex the Presidential Task Force on Automobiles, as it makes its final determination on Chrysler and GM’s fates. Robert Farago’s branding guru Al Ries thinks The General should give Buick, Saab, Saturn, HUMMER and Pontiac their discharge papers. Keep Saturn for entry level cars, Chevy for the mass market, Cadillac for luxury cars and GMC for trucks. Coincidentally, while RF was talking to his marketing maven, I was exchanging emails with Paul Earle, president and founder of River West Brands. Earle specializes in revitalizing distressed, orphaned and ghost consumer brands.

River West’s properties include Coleco, Bonwit Teller, Underalls and Brim, among others. River West and similar companies (e.g., the Himmel Group) identify strong brands whose current owners have allowed them to languish or lie dormant. They buy or license the distressed or orphaned brand, resuscitate it, manage it profitably or sell it, sometimes back to the original owner.

If any company has squandered brand equity it’s General Motors. I asked Earle what he’d do with GM’s brands. Interestingly, he disagrees with Al Reis and thinks that GM shouldn’t dump the majority of its brand portfolio.

Earle said that he’d seen a lot of articles and remarks about discontinuing Buick and selling off Saab. The challenge for GM shouldn’t be having an “attic sale,” but rather how to manage the company’s intellectual property, specifically its brand names and trademarks. He thinks the current crisis is “an innovative development opportunity” and that GM’s brands “could be great platforms for learning labs for new concepts.”

Instead of thinking about which brands to keep, which to sell and which to kill, GM should be thinking about what opportunities there are to repurpose those brands down the road. GM needs to identify which are its core brands and which are non-core brands and then use the non-core brands as “springboards to new ideas.”

Using an existing albeit dormant or moribund brand for a new idea provides consumers with comfort, familiarity and trust. Introduce a new concept with a familiar name. Once the idea is proven in the market, you have data points to work with. The concept can be transitioned to the core brand.

With Earle’s model, GM may have been wiser to make the Chevy Volt a Pontiac or Buick. If successful, the electric/gas hybrid could have helped revive these distressed brands. GM could then have moved the cutting edge technology to its core nameplate (Chevy) or its premium brand (Cadillac).

I asked Earle if he was euphemizing. Were GM’s “distressed” brands actually “damaged”? “Not per se,” he answered. “GM needs to identify what each brand is on it’s own, what each brand is as a member of a family of brands and how those brands can enhance technologies . . . GM still has a treasure trove of IP in terms of brand marks, designs and technology. GM can leverage that IP with partnerships inside and outside the auto industry.”

Earle strongly disagrees with the idea of killing off any of GM’s eight US brands. “Killing off a brand means walking away from an asset.” Earl says the value of the brand may be diminished without the core industry, but any brand with name recognition has intrinsic worth, whether that’s inside or outside its home territory (e.g., Buick in China) or within or without its core products area (HUMMER camping equipment).

Earle notes that introducing a new Chinese or Indian automobile brand to North America would be a far greater/more expensive marketing challenge than restoring the Buick or Pontiac brand, whether that restoration is done by GM or by someone else. Lest we forget, it’s taken Hyundai and Kia 15 to 20 years to establish brand names in the US, at a cost of billions of dollars.

By the same token, even orphan and ghost brands long off the market still have brand equity. Earle says automotive brands may have even longer shelf lives than consumer products. Studebaker and Packard are still recognized by consumers 50 and 60 years after they disappeared from the US market. Though Chrysler does nothing with the IP, since buying American Motors and Jeep, it’s continuously maintained the trademarks on Willys.

Brands are valuable things even if squandered. Killing a brand can create uncertainties about trademark ownership as well. Earle thinks it’s prudent to maintain doing commerce with a brand to avoid losing IP rights.

Many people believe that brands like Saturn, Pontiac, HUMMER and Buick are irreparably tainted. Earle, on the other hand, would relish the opportunity to revive them. It’s something Rick Wagoner, Congress and/or a bankruptcy judge should keep in mind.

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74 Comments on “Editorial: Restoration Hardware...”


  • avatar

    I couldn’t agree more. GM doesn’t need to cut brands. It needs to manage them better.

    The irony is they only recently figured out a key enabler, the consolidation of dealer channels. As long as each brand had standalone dealers, there was too much pressure to give every brand one of everything.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    A 2008 NYT article on River West: Can a Dead Brand Live Again?

    Those GM brands aren’t all necessarily tainted, but are horrifically expensive to maintain, as Ken Elias stated yesterday.

  • avatar

    GM both needs to cut brands AND manage them better, not just one or the other.

    There is nothing any other GM brand does that Chevrolet and Cadillac isn’t already doing or couldn’t do better.

    Everything aside from GM’s two core brands is an extraneous waste and creates a branding mess of overlap and confusion.

    It has to come to end one way or another.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    This is an interesting view.

    I could see this…each brand has only a couple models, to more narrowly fit within their brand “scope.”

    But Earle has said nothing that would make me “unswear off” GM the company. I’ve owned and driven Pontiac, Chevy, and Oldsmobile models, and not just one of each. To somebody like me, after having owned other brands from other manufacturers, and having experienced cars with better design and a better dealer service model, the GM cars are off my list.

    I cannot be the only one who feels this way, so my question is: How does one go about repairing a problem this bad?

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I agree completely. And that’s also what I’ve said all along. The problem with GM is not all the brands per se, but the giant overlap between all the brands and models. You don’t have to kill Pontiac or Buick, just let them build cars that ties in with their core values, and only that and nothing else, and let those cars be availavble at Pontiac and Buick, and nowhere else.

    Sloans model of “a car for every purse and purpose” worked great when all the GM brands had only one or two lines of cars each. there was a natural simple hierarchy, that everybody could understand. Comparing today with that model, it’s obvious that the problem is a giant overlap.

    The point is , Pontiac and Buick are effectively niche brands in GM:s portfolio. When they worked at the greatest in GM:s heydays, they where also niche brands. All brands does not have to be all things to all people. The point of a Buick is that it is more expensive and refined than a Chevy, but less opulent than a Cadillac. Something we today call “stealth luxury”. But let it be that way, then. Buick and Pontiac does not have to have a complete line up, with searate dealerships. They have to be refined and differentiated in the portfolio, so that what’s left is uniquely intrinsic to the brands, and then let the brands make only that and absolutely nothing else.

  • avatar

    If brands were necessarily horrifically expensive to maintain, then smart and MINI would not be viable.

    A larger number of brands provides the potential for more focus. Properly managed, Pontiac could signify cars for enthusiasts better than Chevrolet can ever hope to, given the range of products it must cover.

  • avatar
    Subifreak

    GM in my opinion only needs 2 brands…Chevy & Cadillac (GMC models are still Chevy clones for the most part) with all other brands either being sold off or killed (I’m sure the Chinese will pay a decent price for Buick however). I’m on the fence about Saturn being an entry level brand….but it might work.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    When everything you see is a nail, then you always carry an assortment of hammers. Especially when identifying nails is your profession.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The GM branding concept is totally archaic in the modern era.

    When Sloan tiered the brands, a “brand” consisted of just a model or two, with various body styles. There was no overlap in part because each brand didn’t have many vehicles in the first place. It’s easy to avoid overlapping, when you sell only one basic car with a variety of body styles.

    That system doesn’t make sense today. Now, automakers offer diversified lineups under a given single brand. They use their nameplates in the same way that GM once used its brands.

    Had everyone followed in GM’s footsteps, then it might make sense. The modern equivalent would be if Toyota was operating Corolla dealerships, devoted to selling various styles of Corolla, in addition to Camry dealerships offering a variety of Camrys, and so on. Had that happened, then perhaps it could work.

    But that obviously didn’t happen, and there’s no point in pretending that it did. To maintain all of the brands while keeping them in the spirit of Sloan, a GM brand such as Chevy would have only 2-3 cars, competing a brand such as Toyota with its 15 or so. GM would be trying to do with three, four, or five brands what Toyota already does better with one or 1 1/2. What exactly would the point of that be?

  • avatar
    Gunit

    One of the limiting factors is how many brands can a buying public differentiate in their mind? How many fast food brands are there, how many soft drinks, how many clothing companies can you name? The growth of import brands, and the fact that they’ve been making better cars, has reduced the amount of brand space.

    You could differentiate by making wildly different cars, but then you lose platform sharing and economies of scale.

    And not all brands are positive, they may have ‘mind share’, but it may be negative. GM brands stand for ‘cars that aren’t as good as other manufacturers’.

    Also, didn’t Saturn try something different? Experiments are extremely expensive, especially in the automotive industry.

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    It’s not brands that are expensive to maintain, it’s dealership networks

    So, I’d still can Saturn, and then combine every other brand under one GM dealer roof.

    Every brand outside of Chevy and Cadillac would only have 1, 2, or 3 models, but it could work well if GM had the focus to do it.

    There’s been talks about Chrysler enthusiast circles about bring back Plymouth as ChryCo was planning to use it before Daimler killed, for small unique niche cars. See the PT Cruiser, or the Pronto Sypder concept. Another good idea since now almost all dealers are full-line Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep, but Chrysler definitely has bigger fish to fry at the current moment in time.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    This is the kind of thinking which gives us the Polaroid label on cheap DVD players and a host of crap with the Westinghouse label on it.

    What shall we have next, Pontiac tricycles and Buick iPod clones?

    The world has changed, GM has not. GM used to enjoy well over 50% US market share, now it struggles to stay above 20%. In the 1960s GM had three competitors of any consequence, only one of which ever posed a serious threat (Ford). Today GM-US faces at least three world class competitors (Ford, Toyota & Honda) plus a bevy of scrappy pretenders like Nissan and Hyundai. Then there is the much more complex environment of today’s consumer. In 1960 there were very few consumer goods which really engaged the loyalty and fantasies of the customers. Today the automobile has to compete with iPods, Facebook, fashion, gaming, extreme sports and more for customer’s passions. The millions of teens who are spending their money and time immersed in computer games are not getting into fist-fights over Ford vs. Chevy. Cars are just another part of the complex landscape of modern life and are a focal point for an ever shrinking minority of us.

    Finally, these Dead Brands Experts are really just scavengers who look to make a profit by pumping a little bit of life into industrial waste. Sometimes they make a few bucks, but not a one of them has ever taken a dead brand and made it back into a leader. GM’s size requires mass market appeal and leadership, not being the best-little-recycler-around.

  • avatar

    If the Toyota brand could do everything, then there would be no Scion.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    This is an outdated idea.
    If GM didn’t produce garbage, there would be no need to “compartmentalize” it in a different brand where its catastrophic failure wouldnt damage the core.
    Every other auto maker is able to introduce new technology under a single brand. If, and only if, there is a radical departure from a tightly defined brand image (ie, Mini with BMW) should you go this route.
    Further, the problem with GM is that they insist on fully populating every brand with a distinct dealer network, half-assed unique product line, etc etc. Way too many cooks in that kitchen.
    I would agree that GM could mothball some of these, and down the road if the prove they can competently manage ONE brand then they try their hand at one or two more.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately GM has become a brand and that brand has tainted any product they produce. I simply don’t trust what they make.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    The question is not whether a particular GM brand has any value. The question is whether GM can successfully differentiate the brands, both with substantially different marketing and substantially different products.

    The answer is no.

    You want proof? Look at how badly GM was failing and losing money even before the financial crisis.

    The large number of redundant brands is one of GM’s largest cultural problems.

    The business models of the people cited sound very similar to the business model of Cerberus.

    And Indian motorcycle has had how many failed attempts at revival?

    The cutthroat auto business requires a focus that having 7 brands just distracts from.

  • avatar
    Luther

    Entry Level = Zero Profit.
    Saturn can’t survive as it is…An entire division for Entry Level is a money loser almost by definition.

    Buick is pointless…What is “Near Luxury”? Is that like “Almost Competitive” (Oh, Wait, It’s GM)? If Buicks didn’t sell in China then Buick would be gone now.

    Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Pontiac can all be made healthy if the societal parasite GM didn’t own them (infest them?)

    Chevrolet = Mass Appeal
    Cadillac = Large Luxury
    GMC = Truck/SUV Commercial
    Pontiac = Sport

  • avatar
    Ken Elias

    GM had a branding guru…Ron Zarella. Didn’t understand the first thing about cars and how people buy them. Thought marketing could cure GM’s ills. Wrong…it’s about the product.

    GM doesn’t have the money to provide unique, brand-specific vehicles for each of its eight domestic brand lines. While the brand’s themselves might be ok, there’s too much badge-engineering going on which makes the brands incoherent.

  • avatar

    The long-term problem isn’t a lack of money. It’s a lack of ability to create profitable products. If GM had this ability, they could get the money. Product development is an investment, not an expense.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    “Chevrolet = Mass Appeal
    Cadillac = Large Luxury
    GMC = Truck/SUV Commercial
    Pontiac = Sport”

    This doesn’t work unless the Corvette becomes a Pontiac!
    That’s why this whole discussion is futile – there is no point making tiny little boxes (brands) for each sub-sub-category of vehicle you can think of.

    Chevy doesn’t need a sport brand and doesn’t need a truck brand. Chevy is already both!

    Chevy. Cadillac. Done.

  • avatar
    shabatski

    RetardedSparks : Yes, the realist in me(mostly) agrees. GM would never be able to keep everything in expensive little boxes.

    My previous post should be filed in the fictional section…

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Any discussion about viability presumes that GM has the time and money resources to invest in brand resuscitation. Which it don’t. So the resuscitation argument is moot. If GM has assets it can sell, such as certain iconic brands, it better sell them soon, or the whole, totterin’ house of cards goes. This was the argument for C11 8 months ago, when it could possibly have found DIP financing, and bought time to decide which brands to keep, which to sell or purge.

    That resource of time, like many other hard and soft assets GM once had, has been frittered away.

    The iceman cometh.

    I agree with ShermanLin….GM’s completely unprofessional denial of reality has tainted whatever good vehicles it has….this situation has been beyond recoverable for a few months now.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Michael Karesh: I couldn’t disagree more. Scion was Toyota’s traipse down the primrose path of branding to its own detriment. The entire Scion branding exercise was both a failure in its own right (you see as many old folks in them as young despite the comically “youth oriented” branding) and a detriment to the Toyota brand. Why on earth couldn’t small, efficient, quirky little cars be sold as Toyotas? Creating Scion was a self-perpetuating admission that Toyota = boring. If Toyota had said “the Toyota brand can do it all” (except luxury where service/dealer expectations are different)I would bet that they’d have sold considerably more Scions.

    Which, as I see it, is the same as saying that Chevy isn’t “sporty” enough, necessitating Pontiac as a brand. Chevy has done sporty as well or better than Pontiac for decades. Where’s the Pontiac Corvette? Again, more dead weight (Pontiac) at the expense of a viable brand.

    I guess I’m arguing that mainstream brands must embrace diversity. This is the genius of Chevy. They can sell everything from a Korean shitbox to a classic (and competitive) American sportscar under the bowtie without confusing folks as to what a Chevy is.

    Also, there is no shortage of iconic/vaguely familiar defunct auto brands out there. The only possible advantage the Pontiac brand has over (say) Hudson or Nash (or take your pick) is recent exposure in the market. In this case I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. I’d rather try to rehab one of the long-gone brands than a Pontiac or Buick.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    The most coveted and desirable car of today is the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. There’s no one on this earth, that can not say that it isn’t at least a little bit beautiful. And no one in their right mind would say no to having one. And it is effectively a factory-made boutique car.

    It’s an anomaly within the Alfa brand, as it is technically not an Alfa, but built on a shortened Maserati GT platform. It’s a maser in a more voluptous suite. Does it steal sales from Maserati GT and Ferrari California? Hardly. All three cars have three very different demographics, they turn to different needs.

    My point is, this is what Buick could be. With little effort, turning a dream into the most desirable car of today. I can see the future for a downsized Buick brand, catering that special Buick-need. I can see a Buick Roadmaster, reminicent of days gone by, and looking like a sleeker Maserati Quattroporte. I can see a Buick Riviera, competing in the Mercedes CL and Lexus SC category. Big cars, sleek cars, black cars, elegance not seen since the ’61 Conti. With portholes. Like Lexus, if Lexus had style.

    The point is not what Buick is today, but what Buick could be turned in to tomorrow. Buick is far from dead as a brand, it has only been mismanaged for some forty years in a row. And the point is, the very idea of Buick is bigger than what they have on offer today. Buick can be saved, with the right mind, by the right people.

  • avatar
    Stein X Leikanger

    Ken Elias :
    February 24th, 2009 at 11:11 am

    GM had a branding guru…Ron Zarella. Didn’t understand the first thing about cars and how people buy them. Thought marketing could cure GM’s ills. Wrong…it’s about the product.

    GM doesn’t have the money to provide unique, brand-specific vehicles for each of its eight domestic brand lines. While the brand’s themselves might be ok, there’s too much badge-engineering going on which makes the brands incoherent.

    Spot on. This is precisely what GM decided to do. Their accountant mentality chose to make near identical cars across a number of brands, choosing badge engineering and marketing differentiation as the tools to “help” consumers distinguish between the brands. Five different names for the same car does nothing for the value of each.

    And it was Mr. Zarella’s doing.

    BTW – can someone please help me prove or disprove an “egg in the face” rumor making the rounds here in Scandinavia: that GM doesn’t own the SAAB brand. The rumor claims to point to the finer print in the SAAB/GM contract, and says that GM bought the right to manufacture automobiles under the SAAB brand, but did not get to buy the brand itself, as this was also being used for the SAAB holding company’s other divisions.
    If GM chooses to walk away from making SAABs, it’s got nothing to sell to anyone else, it can’t transfer the brand — which explains why interested buyers have been getting in touch with the Swedish gov’t, not GM …

    Someone?

  • avatar
    jurisb

    It is not about brands or money, as Michael Karesh stated, it is about engineering abilities to create a competetive product. You see, I don`t give a shit what brand is Peugeot, but if they build a good minivan, people will buy it anyway, no matter what the freaking brand stands for. You should ask a question not about which brand to euthenize ,but why none of your brands containing US engineered parts can compete.How many Chevys you could sell if it wasnt german opel or korean Daewoo underneath? How many Saturn`s you could sell if not using german opels?How many pontiac Vibes could you sell if Toyota wasn`t there? What chassis would your camaro have, if not german opel and aussie Holden did their engineering input? If lexus built minivans you think people would not buy them? But somehow people buy hyundai LCDs , peugeot bikes, Mitsubishi plasma Tvs and BMW motorbikes. It is about product! has always been! Why instead of concentrating on what brand value this or that Gm leftover has, concentrate on gaps between your panels and for a change build your own platforms like the `silly` koreans do!

  • avatar

    Edward Niedermeyer: I personally haven’t a clue what a Chevy (or Ford) is. There’s a role for a broad, diffuse brand. But it cannot serve the whole market.

    Because Toyota has been successful as Toyota doesn’t mean that if every other brand copied Toyota’s marketing strategy they’d be just as successful. Toyota serves a large segment, but it it still a segment and not the whole market.

    Scion is floundering because they failed to develop new products that were as distinctive as the original xB, not because of the concept. Like Saturn, Scion failed to achieve sufficient independence from the parent company.

  • avatar

    Brave New World

    The Northeast urban Chevy dealer, where I work , is a marketing microcosm of GM right now (other than the fact that we are well capitalized.) The Chevy stores to the west of us (long time family held) and east of us (motors holding) have closed. We bought a Buick/GMC store from one old time dealer and a Cadillac/ Pontiac store from another old time dealer and were able to combine them in one location and NOW are planning to combine them with the Chevy store in that same location – all with the encouragement of GM . We could have had a Saab franchise as well but passed on it; the current dealer actually thought he could get some blue sky for it. Big mistake on his part… great break on ours! We already have begun to recognize the strengths and sweet spots of both Chevy and GMC full sized trucks and have already begun to order from each line accordingly. We still have two separate GM field reps calling on us but it doesn’t take much vision to see where one would suffice. Welcome to the brave new world of GM retail.

  • avatar
    TireGuy

    I disagree with the idea of keeping the 8 brands. This is only feasible by supplying a sufficient number of different products for each brand – which does not make sense. GM has too many types of cars anyway.

  • avatar
    peteinsonj

    Quick note — Zarella was a brilliant marketer. However, next to nothing of what he really wanted to do ever happened at GM. The brand silos, dealer issues, and funding screwed the whole thing up. Dealers thought they owned the customers, division managers were loathe to spend $$ on cross selling, and the IT infrastructure was so archaic that GM has no clue who owned what, when, what they paid, etc.

    Unfortunately, at the same time GM had no real product leadership — and so the ship sank deep in those years.

  • avatar
    menno

    I agree fully with Ingvar. Buick should not die. In fact, with the current economic crisis unfolding before our very eyes, the “position” that Oldsmobile used to hold, and Buick once held successfully in the GM heirarchy of brands, would be a better bet than Cadillac.

    I’ll put it this way, short & sweet. In really tough economic times, those wealthy folks who still have money (not the top 1/10th of 1 percent – they buy what they want) historically shop “downscale” for their goods, especially cars. Why? They don’t want undue attention brought to themselves.

    This means Cadillac is at a disadvantage, and had GM a brain in their entire HQ, they’d have not let Buick rot on the vine.

    Look at what happened to Buick sales in the great depression; luxury car sales cratered entirely, while Buick did relatively well and sales sank somewhat less than all of the other brands in the GM portfolio.

    Likewise, Packard survived by going upper-middle-market with the 1936 120 series, and Pierce-Arrow, their worthy competitor, could not make the move downscale quickly enough and perished by 1938. Cadillac “doing a Packard 120” has proven in the past to be a mistake. (Cimmaron? Catera? I rest my case).

    Buick is needed, but a revitalized and living Buick is what is needed. Pontiac is dead. Buick-GMC can cover the middle market. Selling small cars as a Buick won’t work in the US, but “speaking of marketing names” the old Opel brand still is remembered to be tied with Buick (sold at Buick dealers from 1959-1978 or so).

    Chevrolet
    Buick-Opel-GMC-Cadillac

    That’s all GM need. Two dealer networks.

    The Opel Astra, Vectra and Zafira “tall station wagon” could be brought in (the latter from Brazil?, Vectra would be US built alongside the Malibu but with Opel sheetmetal, interior and suspension tuning) as “niche Euro-flavour” products at low cost. Buick could be Buick without being sullied by lower priced Buicks elbowing the more upscale products.

    Why keep GMC? a) it’s inexpensive to do GMC since it is not that much money to tool up specific trim and grills b) if there were not a market for GMC trucks, they wouldn’t be outselling some other major brands in the market, would they? c) some folks just do not like the Chevrolet brand and/or dealers and would move to Ford if GMC went away

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Another point…..capability moves hardware, not marketing. Neidermayer makes a good point….the market today does not follow predictable paths….you can’t assume members of a certain demographic want ONLY vehicle type A, nor can you assume vehicle type B appeals exclusively to a certain demographic niche.

    I think auto marketing misses the point. When you design a vehicle, it has capabilities. Those capabilities may appeal to a broad spectrum of the population which crosses, age, gender, income barriers, etc. If you “target market” to only a limited segment of those barriers, may miss a bunch of sales, because you are limiting your appeal to a fairly strict age, gender or income bracket. Some people will find the vehicle anyway, because they are shopping for capability, they see beyond the marketing. This is why you have boomers near retirement in vehicles like the Element, the Xb, etc…..the buyers looked beyond what the company hyped to find the vehicle they wanted, based on what they, the buyer, determined what their needs to be….not what the marketing mavens TOLD them they should be buying.

    The way to market to fragmented population is to talk hard facts about capability, not sell “lifestyles” or image in soft focus. Make a quality, capable product and the market will find you. GM lost this plot decades ago, and all their fumbling for the last 50 years about brand hasn’t gotten it back.

  • avatar
    ccd1

    Earle’s approach could be the answer to the problem that every car manufacturer eventually faces. As a manufacturer grows and expands, it becomes harder and harder for your brand to stand for something. Porsche is facing this issue as it makes SUVs and now the Panamerica sedan.

    I suppose that the overall brand need not stand for anything in particular if sub-brands have a strong identity. So if I walk into a Chevy dealership, I would know the entry level cars because they are Saturns and the performance cars are Pontiac.

    The problem with this issue is two-fold. First, the sub brands cannot and should not be full model lines. Second, the manufacturer would have to be very disciplined about not allowing one brand to “spill over” into another brand. GM has failed on both counts in the past. The most I think GM can handle is having Pontiac as the performance sub brand within Chevy. Buick in the US is damaged beyond repair as is Saab. You could have a Hummer sub brand within GMC trucks, however. As for Saturn, that brand need to go as well as a Saturn is just an entry-level Chevy. To make Saturn worth saving, it would have to be repositioned as Scion like models for the Xgen.

    All of this could be done, but it would require far better management and product planning than GM has demonstrated in decades. Complex strategies are harder to execute than simpler ones. GM needs as simple a formula as can be constructed which give the company an opportunity for success. To my mind, that means Chevy, Cadillac and GMC in this country and Buick in China. Chevy would have entry and mid level cars, Caddy is your premium brand and GMC is trucks. To this, I would only add a “V” performance division like the BMW “M” cars. That’s it.

  • avatar
    Luther

    90% of Chevy buyers are not looking for “Sporty”…They want smooth and cushy rides/appliances (Mass Appeal)…Pontiac could compete easily with BMW if GM/UAW were evolved enough to not shit where they eat.

    GMC is GM’s best selling brand after Chevrolet…Do you understand why?

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    (Luther :
    February 24th, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Entry Level = Zero Profit.
    Saturn can’t survive as it is…An entire division for Entry Level is a money loser almost by definition.

    Buick is pointless…What is “Near Luxury”? Is that like “Almost Competitive” (Oh, Wait, It’s GM)? If Buicks didn’t sell in China then Buick would be gone now.

    Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Pontiac can all be made healthy if the societal parasite GM didn’t own them (infest them?)

    Chevrolet = Mass Appeal
    Cadillac = Large Luxury
    GMC = Truck/SUV Commercial
    Pontiac = Sport)

    I agree with you 100%

  • avatar
    peteinsonj

    I recall shortly after Scion was first introduced, I went to the grocery store late at night (very few cars in the lot) — and noticed a new Scion and new Corolla parked nearby.

    Then the shoppers came out — a young guy, maybe early 20’s, an older woman, probably retired or close to it.

    She got in the Scion, he got in the Corolla. Completely opposite what Toyota would have wanted. Of course — in this case, they each selected the “Toyota” that best suited their needs — she wanted a boxy wagon, he a sedan.

    Scion — complete mistake as a new brand for Toyota.

  • avatar
    Ken Elias

    I’d only add one point. Marketing types always think that great marketing can move the needle on a mediocre product. Car guys always want more performance, better engineering, more “gee whiz” stuff. During the Zarella years, marketing trumped engineering – and that was the big mistake when companies like Toyota and BMW did the opposite of building better engineered vehicles.

    At a fundamental level, I think the general public can recognize a well-engineered vehicle, especially in the areas of NVH, fit and finish, and creature comfort. There’s no question that during the 1980s and 1990s, GM fell behind much of the competition at least in North America.

    My view is that good branding supports great products and bolsters the purchase decision. But branding cannot make a bad car great ever over the long term.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Pch101:
    To maintain all of the brands while keeping them in the spirit of Sloan, a GM brand such as Chevy would have only 2-3 cars, competing a brand such as Toyota with its 15 or so. GM would be trying to do with three, four, or five brands what Toyota already does better with one or 1 1/2. What exactly would the point of that be?

    You have nailed it. Even if GM had carefully tended its garden of divisions (now brands), it would have 6 or more sales channels of 2 or 3 models each. How can you possibly sell, say, 20 models through 6 separate systems and compete with Toyota (or even Ford.)
    The fact that GM completely screwed up its model allocation among the divisions (beginning no later than the 1961 introduction of the Buick Special) is beside the point. The point is that the multiple brand structure is no longer a valid business model. No matter how sentimental we may get (I still mourn DeSoto) the modern automobile template is two brands – a mass market brand and a luxury brand. Toyots/Lexus, Honda/Acura, Ford/Lincoln, Chevrolet/Cadillac.
    Car lines are not like Bromo Seltzer or BrylCreme. Nobody stopped buying Buicks because dealers stopped carrying them and the company stopped supporting it with ads and promotions. People stopped buying Buicks because the cars have been lacking in appeal and quality for years.
    The brand comparison is not something like Barbasol shaving cream. Think Peanut Corporation of America.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Michael Karesh :
    February 24th, 2009 at 10:09 am

    If brands were necessarily horrifically expensive to maintain, then smart and MINI would not be viable.

    My understanding is that smart is a consistant money loser, so that’s bad. All MINI dealers are also BMW dealers, so that’s good.

    That is, it’s not the brands per se that’s the problem, it’s the seperate dealer network. Scion is another example of a brand that is not a problem, because all Scion dealers are also Toyota dealers.

    This also means that Buick, Pontiac, and GMC should not be thought of as three seperate brands; they should be thought of as one dealer network.

    Saab is a tiny, seperate, failing, dealer network. Kill it (or spin it off, which is what looks like is going to happen). Hummer is a tiny, seperate, failing, dealer network. Kill it. Saturn is a small, seperate, and failing dealer network. Kill it.

    Pontiac-Buick-GMC is a large, seperate, failing dealer network. Keep it. Cadillac is a small (but high-end and high profit per unit), seperate, failing dealer network. Keep it. Chevy is a large, seperate, failing dealer network. Keep it.

    Size of the dealer network is what matters here, not the size of the individual brands within that network.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    peteinsonj :
    February 24th, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I recall shortly after Scion was first introduced, I went to the grocery store late at night (very few cars in the lot) — and noticed a new Scion and new Corolla parked nearby.

    Then the shoppers came out — a young guy, maybe early 20’s, an older woman, probably retired or close to it.

    She got in the Scion, he got in the Corolla. Completely opposite what Toyota would have wanted. Of course — in this case, they each selected the “Toyota” that best suited their needs — she wanted a boxy wagon, he a sedan.

    Scion — complete mistake as a new brand for Toyota.

    Wrong. Ancedote does not equal data. On average, the average age of a Scion driver is something like a decade younger than a Toyota driver.

    Besides, even if old people start buying Scions en masse, that’s not really a failure. A sale is a sale. Provided the sale is a profitable one, who gives a shit?

    GM’s problem is that nobody is buying their cars. Period. Toyota doesn’t have that problem (well, at least before the economy went plop plop fizz fizz).

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Menno:
    Likewise, Packard survived by going upper-middle-market with the 1936 120 series

    The problem was that it worked for about 6 years, bringing enough volume to Packard to survive the depression. However, once production started after WWII, most of Packard’s sales were in Buick territory and the brand’s luxury reputation suffered for it. Lincoln suffered from this problem all through the 50s, being priced down in the Oldsmobile-Buick area in the early 50s. It never recovered until the early 60s.
    I could see Buick as a de-conteded jr. Cadillac (much as LaSalle was in the 30s) sold through Cadillac dealers, but I don’t think this does it. What are Lexus BMW and Benz buyers buying now? Certified used Lexus, BMW and Benz cars. If Cadillac is making good enough cars to have a Certified used program, then this would be the new Buick.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If the Toyota brand could do everything, then there would be no Scion.

    I would differ with this comment on a number of levels.

    For one, it misses the point that Scion was meant in part to be an experiment with using aspects of Japanese-market sales and product management techniques in the US, with an emphasis on product customization. Toyota is a large company, which can afford to experiment, so no harm was done by trying this out on a sub-set of customers.

    For another, Scion is intended to be a youth sub-brand, meant to reach a younger audience that can be cultivated for Toyota ownership. Since Toyota had failed miserably using the Echo as a youth gateway model — old people liked it too much — they tried again, but this time with separate branding.

    Overall, I would not judge Scion by whether it sells a lot of Scions, but on whether it ultimately sells a lot of Toyotas over time. So far, I’d say that the marketing/channel concept is neither here nor there for American consumers, and that customers aren’t necessarily willing to cooperate with the demographic targeting of the company doing the selling, but the average age is nonetheless among the lowest in the industry, so all has not been for naught. The effort has not particularly hurt Toyota nor lost it any customers, and it may have expanded its base in future decades.

    That’s a far different situation from GM’s, which has blurred its brands together so badly that they all have lost meaning and lost sales as a result.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Menno:
    Why keep GMC? a) it’s inexpensive to do GMC since it is not that much money to tool up specific trim and grills

    Have you noticed that new GMC and Chevy pickups have completely separate sheetmetal for front fenders, hoods and rear quarters? Plus a whole separate doghouse for the Suburban/Yukon. This is like Taurus/Sable in the 80s. Different sheetmetal that nobody noticed. But expensive.

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    Zarella followed the wrong consumer products model (All toothpaste is the same, it’s all about marketing).

    Instead, GM needs to follow the typical Sears/Wal-Mart/Bed, Bath, & Beyond model: Good, Better, Best.

    Good = Saturn
    Better = Chevy
    Best = Cadillac

    Then tack on…

    GMC = trucks
    Pontiac = performance-oriented Chevy

    Let Cadillac have stand-alone dealers (a la Lexus), all the others are sold by combined dealers.

    If the GM/ChryCo merger happens, split the dealerships as Cadillac, GMC/Jeep, and Saturn/Chevy/Pontiac. GM/Chryco. keeps Jeep and maybe the minivan designs. Buick dies or gets sold to China (low-price Cadillac is not a brand), Hummer dies (Jeep with extra gonad compensation is not a brand), SAAB dies (too small, too quirky, too un-GM), Chrysler dies (Chevy = Chrysler, not a separate brand). Dodge dies or gets sold to Nissan (Dodge=GMC, not a separate brand).

    Outside of gearheads, not enough people care about cars enough to remember more than 3-4 distinct brands in one company.

  • avatar
    McDoughnut

    Great comments everyone!

    All this talk about branding is very forward looking and trying to position the product for the future. Let’s not forget that we still have to deal with the baggage of the past…..

    Here’s an example –

    I was talking to my 75 yr old Dad several weeks ago about the situation at GM and how many people thought that one of the brands that needed to go was Buick.

    He was stunned that this would even be considered, and he responded –

    “Buick closing?…. But that’s a doctors car!” Exact quote.

    While my response was along the lines of ‘If you see a doctor driving a Buick then make sure there is another doctor following closely – in Lexus – ’cause the Buick doctor is liable to vapor lock from old age any minute now…’

    It just goes to show how much more then ‘positioning’ future products will need to be done to salvage some of these brands.

  • avatar

    It’s interesting that in the 1920s, Alfred Sloan tried introducing “companion” brands to slice the price points more finely. Cadillac had LaSalle, Oldsmobile had Viking, Buick had Marquette and Oakland had Pontiac. The Pontiac brand was supposed to be a step up from the mass market Chevrolet and the first Pontiacs were basically Chevy designs with Oakland 6 cyl engines. Except for Pontiac, none of the companion brands survived the depression, which took out the Oakland nameplate as well.

    As was pointed out in the thread, in theory the Sloan concept works as long as the brands don’t compete directly with each other. When I interviewed Earle, he kept citing Proctor & Gamble as a company that manages its brands well and that they have 30 different brands in the oral care market.

    GM started departing from Sloan’s model in the 1960s. Roger Smith’s elimination of the divisions and creation of large car and small car groups further diluted brand distinctions. Also, the role of dealers can’t be ignored. The Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick dealers have always clamored for their own versions of cars to compete in every segment. Hell, it was partly Cadillac dealers’ desire to have a small, fuel efficient car that resulted in the Cimarron. GM can’t put all it’s efforts into the Buick Enclave because the Chevy, Saturn and Buick/Pontiac/GMC dealers want their own versions.

    In any case, like Earle said, it’s not the number of brands but how well you manage them.

  • avatar

    A larger number of brands provides the potential for more focus. Properly managed, Pontiac could signify cars for enthusiasts better than Chevrolet can ever hope to, given the range of products it must cover.

    Michael, the problem with that is that Chevy already has two well established performance brands, Corvette and Camaro. A while back I wrote a long piece about how the small block Chevy V8, the Corvette and muscle cars helped break down brand distinctions for GM. While Chrysler could sell a Barracuda without the Plymouth nameplate, I’m not sure that GM could successfully transition Camaro and Corvette to Pontiac. In any case, there are way more Chevy dealers than Pontiac stores and the Chevy dealers would never let GM take away the Corvette from them. The most they’d tolerate is spinning Corvette off as its own brand with existing Chevy dealers getting rights to sell that brand.

    Pontiac started out not as a performance brand but rather as a fancier Chevrolet / cheaper Oakland. It got the performance image in the 1950s through involvement in racing. When GM corporate banned racing in the early 60s, John Delorean came up with the GTO to keep up that performance image. The thing is that by the time the GTO was introduced, the Corvette was already GM’s performance king, and Chevy was already selling proto-muscle cars like the 409 powered Impalas. Also, by the time the GTO was on the market, ushering in the intermediate body muscle cars, the compact based pony cars were starting to appear, w/ the Mustang and Barracuda coming out within days of each other in April 1964. GM had to play catch up, and since the Chevy dealers wanted something to compete with the Ford stores, Chevy dealers got the Camaro and the Firebird was almost an afterthought.

    In the pre Roger Smith days when the brands were actual divisions, brand demarcations may have suffered due to rivalries and competitions, but the brand identities were distinct enough to provide a clear choice in those cases where there was direct competition. Choosing between a Camaro and a Firebird in 1969 was a sharper distinction than choosing between a 1985 Bonneville or Caprice.

  • avatar
    sillyp

    I think the main problem with GM is that they’ve spent so much energy and money on marketing the “GM brand” – it’s so stupid it’s infuriating.

    Instead of spending that money on marketing models for Pontiac, Buick, or Saturn, or perhaps throwing it to R&D to offer refreshed product every 3 years instead of 7…. they chose to highlight GM. WTF? Putting little GM decals on each fender? Does anyone care? What are they trying to accomplish?

    Running TV ads about the GM family of brands. Really? Again, does anyone care? Buying ad time for a big sale that encompasses all brands (ie, President’s Sale, or March Madness) and then using the exact same ad – but changing the logo and the car featured.

    It’s absolute insanity. I will never buy a vehicle from GM again because they insult me with their hubris and sheer stupidity. Disclosure – I’m in marketing and design.

    As an aside, does anyone remember the commercial from a few years ago about GM and their new impressive technology available on ALL models: daytime running lamps. They actually ran an ad with people yelling “Your lights are on!” to drivers and they spun it like GM was on the cutting edge of tech wizardry and safety. What an f’ing waste.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    I find all the armchair strategizing going on here highly amusing. Revitalize A, euthanize B, create a niche for C, subsume D as a subentity of E. If all else fails, sell it off to China. Whatever.

    Talking about branding puts the cart before the horse. Simply building a superior product is what matters; the “branding” of that product is what falls out when the product becomes successful. The product creates the branding, not the other way around.

    If you create a “must have” car/truck that transcends the competition, call it the Baloney On Mayo, and sell it on street corners in the industrial section of town, people will catch on and buy it.

  • avatar

    And Indian motorcycle has had how many failed attempts at revival?

    The most recent attempt is by Stephan Julius, who turned around boatmaker ChrisCraft. The new Indians just went into production a few months ago and are being delivered to dealers, of which there are about a dozen at this point.

    http://indianmotorcycle.com/Portals/0/Indian_Article_from_August_2008_Cycle_World1.pdf

  • avatar
    Stein X Leikanger

    Ken Elias writes:
    Marketing types always think that great marketing can move the needle on a mediocre product. Car guys always want more performance, better engineering, more “gee whiz” stuff. During the Zarella years, marketing trumped engineering – and that was the big mistake when companies like Toyota and BMW did the opposite of building better engineered vehicles.

    Yes, agreed (as a marketing guy!)
    Many brands allowed themselves to get lazy, losing their competitive edge, believing they could compensate with marketing, and GM is one of the worst offenders in that respect.

    It’s important to distinguish between communicating products, and creating products that communicate.
    The companies that did the latter, as BMW and Porsche, have done well (though all are feeling the financial crunch now.)
    The Prius is an extreme example of a product that communicates within the category.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Ronnie Schreiber:
    GM had to play catch up, and since the Chevy dealers wanted something to compete with the Ford stores, Chevy dealers got the Camaro and the Firebird was almost an afterthought.

    I think that in the 60s GM got suckered into playing on Ford’s turf and got creamed. Before then, it was GM with all the divisions and all the market share. Ford was always a two brand company (Mercury was a perennial 3rd place seller in its slot, always following Pontiac and Dodge, and always so weak as to be a non-factor).

    Ford started to move up-market in 1957 – most folks don’t remember that the 57-58 Ford was on two wheelbases. Chevy followed with a bigger 58. Ford went up-market with T-Bird. Chevy didn’t follow this one, but it improved Ford’s image. After the Falcon, Ford made the larger Fairlane. Chevy followed with the Chevy II and later the Chevelle. Ford did the LTD – upmarket for its full sized sedan. Chevy – Caprice. By 1970, Chevy did the Monte Carlo as a junior TBird. Both Ford and Chevy got bigger in 1969 and again in 1971. All of these moves made sense for Ford – it had no other division to bring these products out. GM let Chevy compete model for model with Ford, bringing out several models that should have been Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles or Buicks. By the 90s, both Ford and Chevy could credibly sell a $40k SUV. Ford’s gains cost it nothing (Mercury is still a weakling). Chevy’s gains came at the expense of the other brands farther up the price ladder who had no product to sell, or product that was no different than Chevys. The Ford-Chevy rivalry has succeeded in making GM’s upmarket brands (short of Cadillac) irrelevant. I believe that it has only been Ford’s own periodic quality missteps (which appear to be resolving) that have prevented it from passing GM in share.

  • avatar
    John Williams

    I think the main problem with GM is that they’ve spent so much energy and money on marketing the “GM brand” – it’s so stupid it’s infuriating.

    A big change from “every car is it’s own brand” of the mid to late 1990s, but just as well. The only credible solution in this case is to simply reformulate all the other models into one large make — GM. Keep Cadillac around as a luxury marque.

    GM and Cadillac. It seems to be what the RenCen heads are aiming at, so why not actually turn it into a useful plan?

  • avatar
    geeber

    jpcavanaugh: The problem was that it worked for about 6 years, bringing enough volume to Packard to survive the depression. However, once production started after WWII, most of Packard’s sales were in Buick territory and the brand’s luxury reputation suffered for it.

    Packard had gone “downmarket” before the advent of the 120. The Packard Six of the 1920s sold in what we would today call the “near luxury” market. Sloan of GM developed LaSalle specifically to compete with it. As long as Packard sold plenty of straight eights with custom body work, buyers still considered Packard to be a luxury marque.

    Packard made four big mistakes. The first was the introduction of the six-cylinder 110 in 1937. That car temporarily boosted sales, but it took the Packard nameplate TOO far downmarket.

    The second was making the senior cars look too much like the junior cars.

    The third was virtually abandoning the luxury market to Cadillac when production resumed after World War II. When cars were scarce, Packard could have more heavily emphasized the true luxury cars. Those cars still would have sold, but at a higher profit margin, and Packard would have better protected its image as a maker of luxury cars.

    The fourth was in approving the bloated, unattractive styling for the 1948 models. Packard would have been better off keeping the prewar Clipper in production until 1949 or early 1950, and bringing out specialty body styles (a hardtop, a 60 Special-type ultra-deluxe, “sporty” sedan and a formal limo) to burnish its image until it could get its first true postwar car in production.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    geeber:

    You know your Packards. I would add a 5th – the merger with Studebaker. Packard thought it had found a savior, only it turned out that Studebaker was in much worse shape than anyone had thought. In retrospect, they could not have picked a worse partner.

  • avatar

    I agree with John Horner, 10:41am.
    These guys remind me of the polish+paint dudes on shows like “Flip This House”.


    +Earle’s theories & this post are an exercise in Theoretical and not Applied Science.

    Nobody in Detroit has the smarts or ethics to make any of Earle’s stuff actually happen.


    +And, people who buy outside-branded crap like Jeep fanny-packs and Hummer tents are the superficial, idiotic Fad-Heads who think Shaquille O’Neal’s music was fantastic.

    They’re not the ones who buy Gregory packs, North Face tents and Limmer Boots.

  • avatar

    If you could revive a dead automotive brand which would it be and why?

  • avatar
    geeber

    jpcavanaugh: Thank you. Interestingly, after World War II, Nash wanted to merge with Packard, and almost did. But it didn’t work, and Packard tried to go it alone, until Nance merged the company with Studebaker…which was one of the final nails in Packard’s coffin (the other being the numerous production and quality control problems with the 1955 models, which ruined the firm’s reputation, and caused a huge sales drop for 1956).

  • avatar
    mtypex

    Doctors drive Benzes. They don’t even want to be seen in BMWs. Pontiac is so blue collar that I wouldn’t put BMW in the same zip code, although Joe Sixpack and Joe Q. Esquire both appear to like split grilles.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I always love the branding editorials – interesting how differently people see the issue.

    I’m going to dispense with my usual Chevillac comments, but there are a couple other items to comment on.

    Toyota has 3 brands, yes 3, count ’em, 3.
    Many people want to pretend that Toyota’s Scion brand somehow doesn’t really count, but it counts. Toyota felt it couldn’t get the youth market with it’s Toyota brand, hence, Scion. Mistake or not, Scion stands for the principle that a brand can only be stretched so far. Those who want to make the mass market/luxury – 2 brand argument must stop using Toyota as an example. Toyota doesn’t follow the two brand principle, and my guess is that someday they’ll have 4 or 5. Toyota also has a combined sales channel consisting of Toyota and Scion. Not that different really than GM’s BPG channel.

    To a large extent, models have replaced brands. Corvette, for example, is a brand, and nobody imagines it has any relationship to the Colorado 4×4 pickup. I’m not sure that positioning a brand is all that different than positioning a model. I don’t really see any problem with GM having a handful of brands as long as they take pains to make them different from one another.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    “If you could revive a dead automotive brand which would it be and why?”

    Talking about Packards, GM could buy the name and rebrand Buick as Packard tomorrow, and sales would go up. How’s that for a brand cachet in a brand that died fifty years ago?

    I’ve always been fond of E.L. Cords empire. Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg. Pierce-Arrow, Peerless, Studebaker and Stutz are some other dead nameplates that could be resurrected.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    “Toyota has 3 brands, yes 3, count ‘em, 3.”

    Yes, but then again, Toyota has a gazillion models on its home market, ranging from kei-cars to the Lexus-surpassing Toyota Century, and everything in between. All things to all people.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    “If you could revive a dead automotive brand which would it be and why?”

    This is just an exercise in nostalgia. There is little reason to think dead brands could be revived.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @mtypex: not that many Mercedes fans with the docs I know. BMW and Lexus are the most popular, but non-lux vehicles are common among those who can’t deduct business expenses (i.e. not self-employed).

  • avatar
    Stein X Leikanger

    Borgward – just to make it hard to relaunch.
    http://www.autowallpaper.de/Wallpaper/Borgward/Borgward_Isabella_Coupe/Bilder/Borgward_Isabella_Coupe_i.jpg
    ===

    Packard is a name with strong brand energy, I’d buy a Packard.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    The biggest boner that GM did for all their brands was killing the independent engine. That was the one thing that differentiated a Chevy from a Pontiac from an Olds.

    Anyone can tell you that it was the engines not the bodies that were the soul of each Brand which is why GM got sued in the 70’s because Olds had Chevies in them.

    Olds almost got it back in the 80’s when the excellent 3800 V6 was designed and they had it a full year until the other divisions could have it but it was the last hurrah.

    Now, no one cares what the plate says unless you want that ‘Vette engine.

  • avatar

    GM has been trying to fix it’s brands for nearly 20 years and has 20 years of utter failures as a track record. Everyone knows the definition of insanity I’m sure.

    Every attempt GM has made to redefine a brand, right any perceived past wrongs, or genuinely improve or invest in a name has flopped horribly.

    The latest example is Saturn. 3 billion+ invested in completely restyling and offering an all-new lineup and it fails. People don’t want them. How do you fix that? You can’t.

    It’s the same over at Pontiac, every new Pontiac model the past few years has been a terrific failure from those awesome Holden cars to the good looking Solstice to their mainstream G6. Nobody wants them, nobody cares, people like whatever they are buying better.

    There isn’t a market to justify GM having so many brands. Their branding goose is thoroughly cooked and further attempting to prop up the likes of Pontiac and Buick is simple madness.

    That money, that time, that effort could be so much better spent at Chevrolet, which is 60% of GM’s overall sales and is strong enough to grow. That certainly isn’t the case with Pontiac and Buick.

    You can’t fix what is blown to smithereens and burnt beyond recognition.

  • avatar

    Dimwit, the 3800 and is actually a Buick-designed engine. And in it’s time it was a very good engine. My family owned numerous cars with them and it was a big selling point to us.

  • avatar

    I think Checker could be revived making purpose built taxis.

  • avatar

    To maintain all of the brands while keeping them in the spirit of Sloan, a GM brand such as Chevy would have only 2-3 cars, competing a brand such as Toyota with its 15 or so. GM would be trying to do with three, four, or five brands what Toyota already does better with one or 1 1/2. What exactly would the point of that be?

    I’m not sure that would be a problem. They all overlap so much anyway. You could differentiate them partly by size, partly by lux, and partly by personality (appearance). In the ’60s, the five GM brands all had very distinctive personalities. Of course, today, cars look so much alike that this might be impossible. Or maybe not.

    Some potential niches: Saturn could go back to being the practical person’s sporty car. They sold 286k in ’94 with one basic style. With this niche, they could do it again. Chevy could be mass market entry level. Buick couild compete directly with Acura. Etc.

  • avatar
    T2

    Trishield re that 3800 V6 – the story as I remember it was that this Buick designed engine was rebadged and put into Oldsmobile vehicles as the genuine article as well. I guess that way both Pontiac-Buick and Chev-Olds dealerships could benefit from the new engine.

    The trouble started when engine shortages at one Buick plant resulted in some Olds’ badged engines being shipped over to make up the shortfall. Things went swimmingly well, I presume, as this temporary arrangent worked out OK for some time.

    With GM’s attention to detail it is almost unbelievable that they would overlook the small but potential problem of leaving the dealership mechanics out of the loop. Consequently, as you would expect, it wouldn’t be long before Houston was going to have a problem.

    So these Buicks came in for their “40 point” inspection service which spurs the dealership mechanics into getting their first serious looky loo under the hoods of these vehicles. I’m assuming. Needless to say they report back on the unusual findings. To suggest that the owners were overjoyed at this good news would be hyperbole. Or an understatement. Or possibly that’s yet another word I think I know the meaning of, but in actuality I probably don’t.

    Anyway, I can only leave the reader to imagine the subsequent conversations at the main sales offices in those Buick stores. My own vocabulary of “inauspicious” words, limited as it is, would be unable to render the situation justice. But for some of you regular TTACers out there , yours just might.

    Turns out Buick owners weren’t to be appeased by dealers’ assurances. They wanted nothing less than complete new cars with all the right bits this time, please and thankyou. To cut a long story short, the story got to the media. Who, no surprise here, made it long again. It was but a gift to the media who relished playing up the part of the Buick brand supposing to be positioned a tad upscale from that of Oldsmobile.

    GM nay have been embarrassed but not quite humiliated yet. However a plethora of disgruntled owners were on hand ready, willing and able to interview and would soon fix that. Good human interest with a large corporation brought to its knees. What’s not to like about that ?

    Later on I seem to remember the story referenced on a prime time drama or it may have even been a skit on SNL with the following line :
    “tell me the truth now, you’re not trying to Buick me with an Olds engine are you ?”

  • avatar
    Morea

    Dimwit : Olds almost got it back in the 80’s when the excellent 3800 V6 …

    I think Oldsmobile engines in the ’80s are remembered mostly for the Quad 4.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    I don’t understand why any of the brands have to be killed off or why there has to be separate dealer networks. Give each division a couple unique products and do them REALLY well and then sell them on GM lots. These GM lots would sell ALL GM products. They would service ALL GM products.

    Yeah it’s going to kill off some redundant products and yeah some dealers are going to fail but in the end it would create a much stronger product lineup.

    There is no reason at all for a full brand lineup.

    Pontiac doesn’t need a G3. Doesn’t need to be both GMC AND Chevy trucks unless the Chevy trucks are limited to mid-size and 1500 series trucks and GMC trucks are limited to 2500 and up.

    Anything else is rebadging again – UNLESS there are truly two unique products.

    I’d rather see Chevy sell a unibody truck (see Holden for midsize, see Opel for four-cylinder compact) and mid-sized trucks and SUVs (see the Colorado and S-10 series) and leave the GMC trucks be full sized trucks and SUVs.

    Yeah a few guys will cry in their beers over it all but sell them rebadging kits to make their GMCs look like Chevys or something. Yes this might kill off a few “classic” names like the Chevy Suburban but the product will still be there. We’re talking about reorganization tactics so ALL of the GM products don’t disappear.

    Give Caddy a CTS sedan AND wagon. Maybe a larger Caddy as well. Keep them sporty. Make them REALLY good. BMW or Merc style cars – not looks but in performance and features.

    Keep Saab. Give ’em a sedan, wagon and ‘vert. Because the lineup doesn’t have a dedicated dealer network, Saab doesn’t need a full lineup. Because folks are in a GM dealer to buy a vehicle they can cross shop right there. I came in to buy a mid-range sedan but I REALLY like this Saab ‘vert. And they buy upscale. Or they do it next time. Head slapper – I ‘coulda had a Saab…

    Give Buick a sedan, wagon, and SUV and make them really, really soft and floaty. The current Lacrosse and whatever their SUV is would be fine.

    -OR-

    Kill Buick, make Caddy the big soft cars and make Saab the sporty upscale products.

    Keep Saturn. Give ’em Opels just like GM has BUT build them here so there is some profit to be had. Build Cobalts, Saturns, and other small vehicles at SpringHill together.

    ADVERTISE the damn things.

    I have YET to see an Astra in person around here and the Saturn commercials I have seen seem to AVOID showing the Astra. One I recently saw showed every Saturn product BUT the Astra. Again MAKE THEM GOOD. Aura sedan, Astra 3 & 5 doors, the Zafira, and maybe the Corsa. Kill the Ion and whatever else they sell now. Save the roadster and sell it as a Pontiac.

    Pontiac – keep the G8 and G6 coupe and sedan. The roadster. Kill off any others. Possibly sell the Holden Ute as a Pontiac instead of a Chevy. It it is a Pontiac then it gets sporty wheels (no hubcaps), dual exhaust, and so on. No economy Pontiacs. Not against 4-banger Pontiacs but the 4-banger has to be REALLY good – like Quad-4 good (in it’s day). Maybe turbo four bangers only.

    Don’t have a problem with the HHR or the Cobalt (except I don’t want one). Sell ’em as Chevys. Don’t have a problem with the Aveo but I’d kill it off in favor of the Corsa sold as either a Chevy or Saturn. Remember b/c all these GM products would be sold on the same lot, each division does not need a small car.

    This would give them a 18 products or so and they would have a full lineup of products though not under one division or under some odd dealer lineup split.

    It obvious to me that alot of what GM has chosen to do over the years was to satisfy the dealer network regardless of how short sighted it looked to the consumer.

    I hope they go broke b/c I don’t see any other way that they can make the tough choices that need to be made. NO I don’t want to see the unemployment b/c even if times were good we’d all feel the hurt and right now we’ll likely REALLY feel the hurt. Either way, the gov’t will simply print up some more money and hand it out. Not a question of political parties to me – I think either side would be doing the same thing. Bush was and Obama is…

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    There’s no real place for “mid-level” brands anymore. They’ve been superseded by the high trim levels of the mainstream brands. Buick has been more or less replaced by LTZ Chevies, Mercury by SEL Fords.

    I believe Cerberus is trying to turn Chrysler into a sort of almost-luxury Acura and Vovlo level brand. They’ve been chopping all of the lower end trims recently.

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