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Sunday, March 27, 2005

GM: Kill Pontiac

Recently, Bob Lutz said in an interview that he was open to the idea of killing Pontiac or Buick if they do not improve sales. From Reuters:

GM's Buick and Pontiac are both "damaged brands'' due to lack of investment over the years, and GM is working to correct that with an array of new vehicles coming to market, Lutz told a Morgan Stanley automotive conference in New York.

But if some of its brands fail to meet sales projections, "then we would have to take a look at a phase-out. I hope we don't have to do that. What we've got to do is keep the brands we've got.''
GM should kill Pontiac and keep Buick.

Pontiac has no real identity--it is the "driving excitement" brand, but the cars are just not that exciting. Until recently, they were just warmed over, plastic clad versions of GM's platforms. Barely disguised Chevys and Buicks. Consider the new G6, it is a nice car, with sharp design and a nice interior. But it has no real cohones. If you want something close to a performance G6, you have to wait for the G6 GTP, which promises a 240HP 3.9L-2V pushrod V6 and a manual transmission. But even a decidedly un-exciting Honda Accord V6 comes with a base 3.0L-4V SOHC V6, with variable valve timing. The 0-60 time on the Accord is 6.6s (Motortrend), the G6 GTP is estimated at 7.0s.

There are no Pontiac cars which are unique to Pontiac, which are iconic for Pontiac, and there apparently are no plans for any. The Solstice platform will be also used for the Saturn Sky. The GTO, which was a serious attempt at creating a halo car for Pontiac, is an unexciting (but fast) jelly bean, and a sales flop. Pontiac has no soul, and not much of a pulse.

What should GM do with the new G6 and the Solstice? I would re-badge them as Buicks, and instantly give Buick a younger side. The Vibe could become a Saturn. The SUV and Minivan I would kill. Buick would then fill the role that Mercury does at Ford--nicer than the main brand, but not yet luxury. Chevrolet would remain the mainstay.

Consumers are losing interest in pretenders. A sporty looking car that isn't all that sporty is doomed to poor sales, when faced with competition from the real thing. GM should either fix Pontiac, or kill it and save money.

UPDATED: Bob Lutz clarifies.

Many of you probably read something to the effect that "GM is considering
shedding a brand." Let me say it now, for the world to hear: No, we have no
plans to shed a brand. Period.

...

Mark LaNeve, our sales and marketing vice president for North America, had
it exactly right in an e-mail he sent to our dealers last week regarding this
matter. "We are not discussing or planning the elimination of any of our brands.
On the contrary, we're investing more heavily than ever on new products and
marketing programs – GM is investing in all of its brands."

In the same memo, LaNeve also cited our intentions to "reignite Pontiac's muscular design and street credibility" and build Buick as a brand with vehicles that are the
"quietest and highest-quality in their segment."



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15 comments:

Bye Bye Buckeye said...

Orrrrrrr, you could drop those Sherman-tank-like Buicks and stick with the new Pontiacs. The Solstice, G6, GTO and a few SUV's are pretty sweet. The Buicks are for old-folks. I just read that the "average age" of the Buick owner is 62!!!

The Auto Prophet said...

GM nees a "near luxury" brand, similar to Mercury at Ford. Pontiac ain't it. Pontiac is no more luxurous than Chevy ro Saturn, it is just more "sporty".

Also, there is nothing wrong with selling cars to old folks--they are making up a lerger and larger part of our population. That's why Social Security is doomed.

Anonymous said...

It is clear that Pontiac is the one to go. Buick has the old folks and in addition is a PREMIER brand in China.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I think Buick is the one that needs to be killed off. Buick puts out mediocre cars and thinks "younger" folks (average age of buick customer is well over 50 years of age) will buy if the marketers play Aerosmith, and street race. Not a chance. The folks in The Tubes have lost their way. Marketing and large advertising budgets will not overcome poor producs. And if I were to pick who had worse products; Buick or Pontiac? Buick is the one holding the poor hand. Sorry, Buick. Time to go.

Anonymous said...

WOW, your really an Auto Prophet, NOT!!! It's kind of hard to believe anything you say when you can't even get your facts right. The Honda Accord's base V6 doesn't have 255hp, it has 240hp, and it's a SOHC design. CHECK YOUR FACTS!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Pontiac has product (GTO, Solstice, the slightly-better-than-mediocre G6), Buick doesn't.

As for the theory that there are lots of soon-to-be old folks who will want Buicks, it should not be assumed that these are your grandfather's old folks.

It's a fallacy to believe that because the passing octegenarian generation liked Buicks, boomers and subsequent retirees will want them as well. The popularity of the Old Fart-mobiles, I would suggest, is simply to do with the fact that these vehicles are dynamically and dimensionally similar to cars most of the current Old Farts grew up owning. Accordingly, you can't assume that boomers who bought Miatas, 911s, SVT Lightnings and M3 cabrios as evidence of their mid-life crisis are suddenly going to want to drive a Buick LaBoat. More likely, they will either stick to their prior purchasing patterns, or buy larger or more sedate versions of the vehicles they have previously owned.

The Auto Prophet said...

Oops, I accidentally quoted the HP specs for the Hybrid Accord. The Accord V6 has a 240HP 24 Valve motor with VTEC. And you are correct, it is SOHC not DOHC--I was not aware that they were running a 4 valve head with one cam.

It is still a more complicated engine design than GM's hoary old pushrods.

The Auto Prophet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joe At Ardsley said...

I went to the New York Auto show on Friday and have to say that I'm not impressed with either Pontiac or Buick, but at least Pontiac had foot traffic with the Solstice and new G6 convertible. Pontiac may be salvagabel, but Buick is dead.
The Lacrosse and Lucerne are too little too late. And the Reineer SUV is just a Trailblazer.

While it is true that Pontiac has been a collection of rebadged GM products over the years, that can be said of all GM products with the exception of the Corvette. GM for too many years, shared too many platforms with body trim marketing and is doing it again with SAAB. Saturn had a promising start, with all unique products, but now most of the lineup shares structures with other GM cars, such as the ION and Cobalt, Vue and Equinox, and their new car based off the Epsilon platform shared with the Malibu.

The GTO is a nondescript car that could have been so much better.

Cadilac is the shining star of GM and Chevrolet will always be a strong brand, but they will run Saturn and Saab into the same black hole that Buick and Pontiac are in now.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, how much stronger is GM without Oldsmobile today than GM with Oldsmobile was in 2003? And how much stronger will GM be without another division in 2007 than it is with today's group? GM's design and engineering resources and talent are arguably stretched pretty thin, but just hacking away at the diseased limbs does not replace a coherent strategy.

The most profitable (and I am open to other measures of success, but none seems to work as well) brands in the auto industry today have a small number of core brands, with well-defined models, and they continually put resources into developing products people want to drive and be seen it. Autoextremist.com had a really good point recently in noting that when Chevy has sales success Equinox, instead of using the available resources to refine the product and make it more appealing, they put them toward a Pontiac grill. This is not a strategy toward improving the product, regardless of how many divisions die.

Bye Bye Buckeye said...

Buick, IMHO, is the ugliest of all GM lines.

Joe Ego said...

Pontiac certainly will not be relevant with badge engineered platform vehicles, that is very obvious.

I do, however, believe there is room for Pontaic.

First it needs a coherent design style. The G6, Vibe, and Grand Prix appear approximately similar. The GTO looks totally out of place. The Solstice looks wonderful but still different from the rest. Let's not discuss the Torrent or SV6 because Pontiac shouldn't even be selling those vehicles at all.

Second, Pontiac needs to be positioned as a mid-level performance brand. Compete directly with Nissan (Z & Maxima) with regards to performance and content.

No dirt cheap Sunfires. No badge-engineered minivans. Leave that stuff to Chevy and Saturn.

The Auto Prophet said...

I agree.

Anonymous said...

You are right. The GTO does look out of place because it is a re-badged Holden. (Holden Motors, PTY. - General Motors of Australia) The new Saturn Vue is also a re-badged Holden vehicle. These transplants are supposed to be very well-made cars, but I agree that parts of GM-America are having an identity crisis, and this might be part of a larger problem that results when large companies become globalized.

Anonymous said...

Pontiac should drop the Solstice and just bring back the Fiero. Mid engine, rear drive, give it an all-aluminum-alloy chassis based off of the original chassis, give it a nice new body, new interior, a bit of electric-assist power steering, an LE5, LNF, and an LLT V6 offering for power, and your selection of 5-speed auto or 6-speed stick. 173 horsepower for the base, 260 for the GTP, and 302 for the GXP. A lightweight, fast, good-handling car to offset the loss of both the Solstice and the G8... and using those engines, it would actually get decent mileage as well, helping them to conform to the newer CAFE standards. A win for GM, and a win for us consumers...

It'll never happen, that'll make for a loss to the Corvette.