Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Sad Farewell to Pontiac

When it was recently announced that General Motors was pulling the plug on its Pontiac brand, more than a few people who had love affairs with some of their great cars over the years felt a deep sense of loss. Including me.

A number of articles like
What killed Pontiac attempted to make sense of it all.
The Pontiac car brand, once marketed as General Motors' "excitement division," will be killed off by the end of next year, the carmaker announced Monday.

Pontiac's problem was not sales, GM Chief Executive Fritz Henderson indicated during a conference call Monday. In 2008, Pontiac was the company's third-best selling brand behind Chevrolet and GMC and sold twice as many vehicles as Buick, a brand that will apparently survive the changes at GM.
The problem was that Pontiac had become a neglected brand in the GM stable. Instead of the distinctive models of old like the GTO that became legendary, GM more recently sold cars under the Pontiac label that were not distinctive enough from those sold under other GM labels and thus not profitable enough. And some of those models were downright mediocre at best.

While GM put all of their recent efforts into the Chevy Malibu to successfully compete in the family sedan market, they left Pontiac to compete in that same market with their G6 for which Consumer Reports offers this blunt assessment:
The G6 isn't a very good car. Handling gets sloppy at its limits, but the steering has been improved on V6 models. Interior quality is unimpressive.
It wasn’t always this way.
The Top 10 Greatest Pontiacs of All Time takes us on a nostalgic visit to some of the iconic models like the GTO and Trans Am.

Back in the early 80s, Pontiac took aim at the performance sedan market that was dominated by Audi and BMW with the
6000 STE. The tremendous amount of praise from the automotive press coupled with the wow factor in just sitting in the car at an auto show convinced me I just had to own one. So with GM building something like this that excites the automotive community, what do they do? They follow up by making it as tough as possible to buy one, only making about 6,700 of them in its first model year.

But as much as I loved the styling and performance of my STE, like so many cars that Detroit built in the 80s, they were incredibly unreliable. Back then, there were still many Americans who would not even think of buying a Japanese brand car. That changed as people got tired of unreliable US autos and discovered that Honda and Toyota made cars that were reliable and lasted. And many of those people never came back to buying domestic cars. Starting in the 90s, Detroit started to make more reliable cars. for example, my ’97 Pontiac Bonneville was tremendously more reliable that the 6000STE it replaced. But the damage was already done to GM’s market share. And with its reduced market share, it could no longer afford to effectively market all of the nameplates it had so starting with Oldsmobile, GM had to drop some of their brands.

Pontiac again created excitement in the automotive press with the introduction of the 2008

Finally. In 2008, Pontiac once again lived up to its long-forgotten image as GM's performance brand. The new G8, which is currently available at your nearest Pontiac dealer, is an extremely competent vehicle that can be mentioned in the same breath as the standard-bearing sport sedans from Europe, but with a price tag that's considerably lower.
Despite the critical acclaim, the G8 hasn’t sold very well at all. Perhaps it was a result of bad timing in the way of rising fuel prices that made performance cars less attractive. But it is just as likely the result of years of mistakes in GM’s marketing of the Pontiac brand.

Hopefully, some of the know-how that produced some of Pontiac’s better efforts will show up in future Chevy or perhaps Buick offerings. General Motors which at one time had a
near monopoly on the US car market is now fighting for its life so it will need to use all of the resources it has to survive.

So soon, we will have to bid a sad farewell to Pontiac in new car showrooms. And while it may soon be gone, it will not be forgotten by those who remember the ‘excitement’ these cars gave us!

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