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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Demise of Pontiac and Saturn

Update: I have a more recent post on this subject here.

The pundits were predicting that GM would have no choice but to plan to cut brands, and so it wasn't a surprise that they announced, effectively, the end of Pontiac and Saturn. We don't know what a "niche brand" Pontiac will look like, but it might be limited to roadsters and Australian transplants.

Saturn is probably just dead, because there isn't much there to sell. When Saturns were assembled at their own plant, it may have worked, but now that they are variants of other GM models, built in shared plants with shared parts, it doesn't seem like there is much to sell. "Strategic options" seems to me like it means that Saturn will be put down like Oldsmobile.

I wrote 3 years ago that GM should kill Pontiac and keep Buick, you can read the earlier post here. And GM did some things to improve Pontiac, by bringing out the audacious Solstice, and the G8, and the upcoming Sport Truck. But they also shot themselves in the foot with such decidedly unexciting vehicles as the G3, G5, and Torrent. The G6 is a handsome car that just needs some sportier tuning, in my opinion. The Vibe has the same problem--it is a decent car, very practical, but not very exciting to drive.

Saturn is unfortunate, because GM worked very hard to give them a sharp, well defined character and fresh products. The Aura won NA Car of the Year with its sharp looks and much improved interior. The Astra, a Euro transplant, is also a sharp car with good handling. But somehow, the brand just couldn't take off.

I hope GM recycle's the Saturn dealer network, because they are what gave Saturn half a chance to begin with. I shopped for one once, and I liked how I was treated.

7 comments:

Andrew said...

Buick is definitely the brand that needs to go. The market for ''soft luxury'' is almost completely gone, hence Cadillac's recent switch to Euro tuned suspensions. Pontiac is on the right path with the Solstice and G8, and they need to just kill the Torrent, G3,and G5.Then when the next generation G6 comes around, make it rwd if possible so it's like a poor mans 3 series in the same way that a G8 has been called a poor man's 5 series. If it's not possible to do rwd, at least make the suspension very sporty, and offer a stick in every trim level with the 3.6 liter v6, and maybe the new naturally aspirated DI 4 cylinder planned for use in the next Equinox as engines.

Charly said...

The Solstice continues to be the bottom rated sport two-seater but when you consider the much superior competition in the Miata, BMW and Honda, it is not surprising. I personally think GMC must reduce its divisions to just Chevrolet and Cadillac. They can cover the field of necessary models and all Buick's, Pontiac's & GMC Truck's are nothing more than re-badged Chevy's anyway. Even the Cadillac's are just Chevy's with 20K grills and taillights.

jussnap said...

Are you kiddin me Pontiac should go?? I cant even name one Buick model!! And Im a gear head. Pontiac G6,G8, and Solistice are all popular models. Buick has always been a poor mans Caddy and they havent built a car worth mentioning since the Regal/GN model more than 20 years ago. I know pontiac was down to 250,000 units in '08 but how much better could Buick possibly be? However I would like to take this time to thank GM, Ill never have to lose 15-20% of my hard earned money again as I drive off the lot in a new Pontiac. They fixed that problem for me. Thanks and good night.

Michael R. Bednarz said...

Buick will stay because it's the top-rated vehicle brand in China (preferred over Lexus,Mercedes,Toyota,BMW et al) and GM needs that market. Sad to say that American's have abandoned the U.S. auto industry and brands at a time when they are producing the best vehicles ever, on a par with any make, brand or import from anywhere. Unfortunately their perceptions were formed comparing 70's-80's and even 90's big three quality to Japanese and Euro imports. Times have changed, perceptions have not. That to some extent is the Big 3's fault. As an industry they and the UAW should have been educating and marketing that. Hyundai went from junk to flying past Toyota and Honda on J.D. Powers ratings in a decade. They have made their case and raised awarness. U.S. brands have done the same, but they have failed to instill that confidence of quality or educate people to the "new" quality attained.

I know, I am an auto-wholesaler engaged in the business of buying and selling 20-30 cars a month.. well 20 mostly these days. Over the past 4 days, I have driven for a good distance an 05 VW Jetta TDi, 08 Toyota Yaris, 07 Hyundai Accent, 07 Nissan Altima, 06 Jetta GLI, and 08 Chevrolet Malibu. All great cars, offering great warranties and great safety. The Chevy was every bit as good as the rest, and had the best warranty.

But, I digress. Chinese buyers top vehicles are Enclaves and Lucernes. They had no "pre-conceived" notions about quality based upon past experiences. Lexus, Honda, Toyota, Buicks and Fords start landing in China over the past 7 years or so and they all started with a clean slate. No previous experiences with Vega's, Pinto's, or Cimarrons from 3 decades back to try and compare with the contemporary Accord or Corolla. So given that the gap has closed so far, they love Buick and GM. This Chinese market is a huge market that is growing and expanding as the U.S./Canadian market is depressing. If not for the China customer and market; GM would be gone right now. That is their only profitable market currently. They must prop up the Buick brand for that reason alone.

Anonymous said...

GM's problem is that there brands sell against themselves. The dealerships should all be badged as GM stores and the brands should be deminshed to trim levels.Badging on the trunk lid would still carry the brand and model. All stores would then be able to purchase and distribute each trim level by their local demographic. They should pick one set of sheet metal for each platform thereby reducing tooling costs.Administration personnal would be thinned saving again. For example tailgate emblems Enclave by Buick would be loaded, Outlook by Saturn medium level, Traverse by Chevrolet base.
This way GM will not aleinate loyalists.I still have an uncle who dispises GM for dumping Olds.Of course dealerships would have to be reduced and thinned out, but they are dropping like flies now.All brands would be retained keeping the loyalists.
Cadillac would be kept seperate.

Anonymous said...

Good riddance to Pontiac. Everything a brand can do wrong Pontiac did wrong. This is why American cars have no balls to compete with the likes of imports. The new GTO was a joke and owners of classic GTOs saw their cars value dwindle with the comeback of this pieceof garbage GTO. These G model cars sucked. Why is it Subaru has profitied in spite of the crisis? How come Toyota and Honda aren't so affected? Because they are smart in marketing and sell what people want. Buick needs to go. I see nothing but old people driving Buicks. Rumors of a Grand National comeback were just that, rumors. GM has no balls whatsoever. Look at how the Cavalier ended its life looking like a piece of crap, and the Sunfire that was Pontiac's biggest laughingstock. I would phase out GM altogether. No AWD cars. Wow they put a turbo in a Cobalt finally. FWD & RWD cars are gay. Subaru for me is the best. Can't go wrong with an STI. GM is Garbage Mobiles. They will never be like the old days. Don't turn into Dodge and start reviving every classic car now (Charger, Challenger) also pieces of s*it. Japanese cars are the best in performance. But I give German cars the edge in engineering. American cars don't belong on the road. Imports you see in the states and beyond. I was here in the Philippines, not one american car in sight. Cus they suck. Anyone who works for GM better just find another job cus all GM is gona do is kepe laying off more people. The end of an era. Godo riddance I think. My heart goes out to those who lost their jobs. but i will not drive such a bad product. worst cars ever to work on in terms of tuning. especially Z24 cavy. yuk. no horsepower no guts. goodbye pontiac, saturn hummer, and saab isnt far behind either. peace!

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say I am sick to death of heariing how China will 'save GM'. Most GM sales in China are thru their 'Wuling' jt venture, which produces cheap tin-can 6ooo dollar mininvans. This venture is majority owned by the Chinese partner. Buick has done well in China, but that lead is starting to evaporate as they switch to smaller cheaper cars.