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Requiescat In Pace, Pontiac

When GM decided it needed an easier step-up from Chevrolet, the Pontiac brand was born.

by on Apr.29, 2009

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, was Sloan's first step up marketing ploy.

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, was Sloan's first "step up" marketing ploy.

In truth, the Pontiac brand is not yet dead; it’s only had its death sentence pronounced by General Motors, in an April 27 announcement about adjustments to its February plan for survival that was rejected by the U. S. Treasury Department. The pronouncement came after months of rumors and speculation. 

In addition to announcing that Pontiac would be “phased out by the end of 2010″-20 months from now-GM said it would dispose one way or another of Saab, Saturn and Hummer by the end of this year, a mere eight months distant, in the process targeting a 42% reduction in dealer count by the beginning of 2011. 

When all these cards are dealt, or dealt with, GM will still have a viable “step-up” product system with Chevrolet car and truck, Buick, GMC truck and Cadillac. Many of GM’s dealerships lately have been Pontiac-Buick-GMC and Cadillac. I’ll be willing to bet that for 2011 Buick will get some entry-level models, as they once had beginning in the Sixties, and it is conceivable they could be called Pontiacs or even have familiar Pontiac model names.  

This announcement is very hard on GM people whose pride is grievously wounded whether or not they still have jobs and benefits. To the legions of Pontiac fans, especially the boomers who came of driving age just as Pontiac changed is image from stodgy to racy in the late Fifties, the news is nothing short of cataclysmic. 

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, became the first major, uh, product step in Alfred P. Sloan’s strategy to create “step-up” marketing of motorcars. Notably both Pontiacs were “closed” at a time when “open” cars were still the majority of those sold, one of many “firsts” known to Pontiac enthusiasts. 

Three years earlier, by means of price adjustments, Sloan had rationalized GM’s crazy quilt organization of different brands and companies acquired by founder Billy Durant starting in 1908. 

In 1922, GM’s car lineup consisted of five brands: Chevrolet, priced at $510 to $1,395, Buick from $865 to $1,395, Oakland from $975 to $1,545, Oldsmobile from $1,095 to $2,145, and Cadillac from $3,100 to $4,600.

This confusing overlapping stew was corrected a year later with this lineup: Chevrolet $490 to $795, Oldsmobile $750 to $1,095, Buick Four $935 to $1,495, Oakland $945 to $1,395, Buick Six $1,275 to $2,285, and Cadillac $2,985 to $4,600. Later came product feature step-ups, a straight eight in the Buick, for instance.

But GM decided it needed an easier step-up from Chevrolet-offered then only with a four-cylinder engine–so it introduced Pontiac as a one-price ($825) model with a standard six-cylinder engine, a companion to the pricier Oakland.

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs were noted for their often heavily chromed waterfall front end appearance. Generally they shared GM's Fisher "A" Body with Chevrolet.

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs generally shared GM's Built by Fisher "A" Body with Chevrolet.

After international promotion around its quintessentially American “Indian” name, it could be said that Pontiac was an overnight success, but so were Plymouth and DeSoto a couple of years later. By the depth of the Great Depression in 1932, Oakland-a Durant acquisition in 1909–was gone but Pontiac lived on in its place.  

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs were noted for their often heavily chromed waterfall front end appearance. Generally they shared GM’s Fisher “A” Body with Chevrolet.

A flat-head straight-eight engine was added. Pontiac claimed to be first with a column shift, in 1938. For 1949 an “Indian” moniker, Chieftain, was introduced for the upper series.  (more…)

Gone, Gone Little GTO…

Pontiac, we hardly knew ye.

by on Apr.27, 2009

The original Pontiac GTO gave the GM claim to its long-running ad tag line, "We Build Excitement."  But there hasn't been much excitement in recent years.

The original Pontiac GTO gave the GM claim to its long-running ad tag line, "We Build Excitement." But there hasn't been much excitement in recent years.

It seemed like the proverbial no-brainer when General Motors announced plans, early in the decade, to revive its legendary muscle car, the Pontiac GTO.  After all, few automobiles had become so entrenched in American lore, inspiring songs, like Ronnie and the Daytona’s “Little GTO,” and countless appearances in film, TV and other corners of popular culture.

First launched in 1964, the “Goat,” as its fans liked to call it, was arguably the first true American muscle car, derived fromthe expediant and wildly profitable formula of stuffing a full-size V8 engine in a mid-size car and charging  a premium for it. 

The creation of General Motors’ mad genius, John DeLorean, the GTO dominated road and track until it was summarily abandoned in the wake of the first Mideast oil crisis.  But with muscle making a comeback, GM’s new “car czar,” Bob Lutz, was convinced the muscle car could reverse the fading fortunes of the flailing Pontiac.

Subscribe to TheDetroitBureau.comBut the return of the Goat proved to be just the latest in a long series of setbacks for the once-popular brand.  Potential Pontiac buyers did little more than yawn over the blandly-styled 2004 GTO and despite a series of frantic efforts to prop up the retro nameplate, disastrous sales forced the automaker to once again pull the plug less than three years later.

Now, it seems, GM is ready to toss Pontiac itself onto the automotive rust heap.  On Monday, the ailing automaker unveiled its latest turnaround plan, this one triggered by President Barack Obama’s refusal to authorize a second round of federal aid for GM until it came up with a more acceptable business strategy.  The plan the president rejected would have jettisoned Hummer, Saturn and Saab, but maintained Pontiac as a low-volume niche brand, paired with Buick and GMC.

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