Editorial: General Motors Death Watch 252: The Truth About the Pontiac G8 GT

Ken Elias
by Ken Elias
editorial general motors death watch 252 the truth about the pontiac g8 gt

I’ve just purchased a Pontiac G8 GT. Sport red metallic with every option. I paid too much (even though it was a below-invoice deal). The car just begged me to buy it. Yep, car guys make the dumbest deals when it comes to their own personal transportation. And I love it. I will drive the wheels off this car, and enjoy every torque-rich moment. But enough about me. Now about Pontiac, and GM. With fewer than eleven days to go before what was once the largest corporation in the world files for bankruptcy, with the Pontiac brand disappearing (what exactly is a “niche” brand anyways?), the G8 GT is a reminder of what could have and should have been. But is it also an indication of what will be? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

As good as it is, the Pontiac G8 GT highlights GM’s greatest failing: the formerly world’s largest automaker’s unshakable tendency to take the path of least resistance. Remember: the G8 is an Australian import. Originally, this state of affairs was supposed to be a “temporary” fix: a quick way for Pontiac to sell a suitable product in the American marketplace. As with the Belgian Saturn Astra, the G8 was sold internally (and to the UAW) as a “place holder.” After the models succeeded, production would switch to American soil.

Did GM really think that would happen? Who knows? If laziness was GM’s worst sin, self-delusion was its second (followed closely by ADD). Importing cars for a mainstream brand from high cost countries is an inherently risky proposition. (One of the main reasons Toyondaissan builds here.) And sure enough, surprise! GM got nailed on the exchange rate before either car crossed either ocean. More importantly, instead of developing an American Pontiac G8, GM hit [what looked like] the easy button. In so doing, they sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Again.

It’s important to remember that the American automaker has always a deep bench of world-class design and engineering talent. GM also enjoyed complete access to the marketplace. And it had billions to spend on advertising. GM could have fostered strong brands with domestically built, highly competitive profits. But that would have taken genuine commitment from a management team committed to product excellence, rather than the Peter Principle.

How many Pontiac G8’s died because GM’s CEOs and “car czars” sat back and allowed the company’s divisions to expend their energy fighting each other; executives jockeying to generate the quickest, easiest and largest profits, rather than facing their real enemies outside the gates?

GM’s endless internecine warfare led to less competitive products. A growing number of divisions mortgaged their future by offering copy-cat (i.e., badge engineered) vehicles across multiple brands, using aging platforms and retro engines. Why? Why not? And so GM’s products fell behind their Japanese competitors’ reliability, build quality and value for the money.

At some point, GM simply forgot that it was in the car business. It forgot the fact that people buy cars from strong brands that meet or exceed the brand’s underlying promise. How cynical and lazy does a car company have to be to change its brand promise—“Pontiac is car”—rather than build vehicles that deliver the original premise?

In truth, there was nothing wrong with Pontiac’s mantra “We Build Excitement.” There was everything wrong with Pontiac’s products, and, by extension, the corporate culture that provided them. The Pontiac G8 GT is a “true” Pontiac: a poor man’s BMW. Aztek? Montana? Wave? It’s far too late to convince consumers to come back.

The Pontiac G8 GT I drove home last night gets it right. The Aussie sedan lacks a luxury interior and some “surprise and delight” features (e.g., rain-sense wipers, HID headlamps, and power reclining seats). But it delivers excitement at a price the average working stiff can afford (more so every day). It is a Pontiac. Perhaps even “the” Pontiac; a car that completely surpasses the performance and handling of the parts-bin specials from which the brand was born. The G8 does exactly what a Pontiac’s supposed to do.

That’s the lesson for the New GM. Demote the bean counters to their rightful position as guardians of profit, not destroyers of initiative. Elevate the engineers and designers. Build a limited range of vehicles that fulfill their brand’s promise (although God knows what a Buick is supposed to be). Cut all the models that fail to fit the remit.

If you want to know if the post-C11 GM will make it, that’s where you need to look: at the vehicles GM doesn’t build. In that sense, the Pontiac G8 GT is both a clarion call and a warning. In today’s bloated, highly competitive automotive industry, if GM does the easy thing instead of the right thing, nothing can save them. Nothing.

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  • on May 22, 2009

    [...] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/editorial-general-motors-death-watch-252-the-truth-about-the-pontia...They keep their lineups somewhat small (compared with Toyota and GM) and concentrate on those vehicles. Toyota has a Rav4, Venza, Highlander, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, Sequioa, and Land Cruiser (and RX, GX and LX for lexus) while Honda has … [...]

  • Armadamaster Armadamaster on May 24, 2009

    "JEM : May 20th, 2009 at 4:53 pm Having had occasion to observe and drive Antipodean Ford and GM product in its native habitat, I’ve long thought that the Aussie market product of the past couple decades were really alternative-universe US cars, a prime case of evolution observed in the wild - the same 1960s ancestry, but evolved without CAFE and without genuflection to snow-belt product managers. And as such, untainted by the poison that is front-wheel drive, adapted to rough outback conditions and tailored for a customer base that prizes room and durability, they were a much better product than any of the generations of junk their parent companies foisted upon American customers. Even the most basic six-cylinder stick-axle Falcon rentacar of a decade ago had that knows-where-the-road-goes feel and thousand-mile seats of good German hardware, and if the material quality wasn’t Audi neither was the price. Then GM went and wasted the jewel Impala nameplate on a front-drive fleet-disaster. Oh, that fleet thing sells, I guess it’s a matter of the biggest barge for the least money, but would it have sold any worse under a different name? I doubt it. One of GM’s myriad problems is that at least in the US there’s really two different groups of Chevrolet customer. There’s the ones for whom it’s just a cheap car, and then there’s the ones for whom there’s history behind the brand. A Camaro or a ‘Vette or even an upmarket truck is a tougher sell when the showroom’s full of Aveos. " Well said and amen especially to the Wimpala part. "Bigsby : May 20th, 2009 at 8:40 am It is no accident that the only GM cars worth having today are the CTS and the G8. For anyone with even a bit of interest in the car as a driving machine rather than a utility Rear Wheel Drive is basic. The worst mistake GM ever made was to go entirely front wheel drive for all their non truck platforms. It may have saved money in terms of assembly process and was a help with CAFE but it instantly took away any sort of drive cred away especially with regard to performance and luxury. " FWD is as much to blame for GM's failure as CAFE, UAW, management, etc. "The Pontiac G8 GT I drove home last night gets it right. The Aussie sedan lacks a luxury interior and some “surprise and delight” features (e.g., rain-sense wipers, HID headlamps, and power reclining seats). But it delivers excitement at a price the average working stiff can afford (more so every day). It is a Pontiac. Perhaps even “the” Pontiac; a car that completely surpasses the performance and handling of the parts-bin specials from which the brand was born. The G8 does exactly what a Pontiac’s supposed to do." BAH! The last true Pontiac was the 2002 Firebird/TransAm. If I wanted an import, I'd buy one, or move to AU.

  • SPPPP Aggression is pretty much the reason that racing exists, so I am going to call this an unsolvable problem. It's a contrived scenario in which you take risks to get rewards. You may be able to improve it ... but never eliminate it.
  • MaintenanceCosts This is now our fourth 20th Anniversary GTI, and the third of those four that had major structural modifications for purely aesthetic reasons. I didn't picture Tim as the type to want to join the STANCE YO crowd, but here we are?
  • JMII This is why I don't watch NASCAR, it just a crash fest. Normally due the nature of open-wheel cars you don't see such risky behavior during Indy car events. You can't trade paint and bump draft with an Indy car. I thought it was a sad ending for a 500. While everyone wants a green flag finish at some point (3 laps? 5 laps?) red flagging it is just tempting people too much like a reset button in a game.The overall problem is the 500 is not a "normal" race. Many one-off competitors enter it and for almost every driver they are willing to throw away the entire season championship just to win the "500". It sure pays way more then winning the championship. This would be like making a regular season NFL game worth more then the Super Bowl. This encourages risky behavior.I am not sure what the fix is, but Indy's restart procedures have been a mess for years. If I was in charge the rule would be pit speed limiter until the green flag drops at a certain place on the track - like NASCARs restart "zone". Currently the leader can pace the field however they wish and accelerate whenever they choose. This leads to multiple false and jumped starts with no penalty for the behavior. Officals rarely wave off such restarts, but that did happened once on Sunday so they tried to make driver behave. The situation almost didn't happen as there were two strategies in the end with some conserving fuel and running old tires, driving slower with others racing ahead. However the last caution put everyone on even terms so nobody had advantage. It always gets crazy in the last few laps but bunching up the field with a yellow or red flag is just asking for trouble.
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  • Jalop1991 I say, install gun racks.Let the games begin!