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A Decade Later: Olds Was the Canary in GM’s Coal Mine

Last Alero rolled down the line on April 29, 2004.

by on Apr.28, 2014

Lansing workers watch the last Oldsmobile Alero as it comes off the assembly line.

It was supposed to be the car that would help save the troubled brand. But instead, it was the last car Oldsmobile would build.  This Tuesday marks the 10thanniversary of the demise of the once popular brand, a decade since a dark red Alero sedan rolled off the line at the old Lansing Car Assembly Plant as the last car Oldsmobile would ever build.

Lansing had been the home for the brand for more than a century, Ransom Eli Olds cobbling together his first motorized carriage in his father’s shop in Michigan’s capital city in 1897. The Curved Dash Oldsmobile he started producing four years later was to become the country’s first truly mass-produced automobile, an early pop culture sensation that inspired the 1905 hit song, “In My Merry Oldsmobile.”


Purchased by General Motors in 1908, Oldsmobile would eventually sell as many as 1 million vehicles a year. But as the new millennium approached, the brand was clearly past its prime, and like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, it was sounding the alarm for a crisis that would ultimately drive GM itself into bankruptcy.


We Built Excitement: Pontiac Pulls the Plug

After 83 years, the last G6 reaches the end of the line.

by on Nov.30, 2009

"We Build Excitement"? Not anymore. The last Pontiac has rolled down the assembly line.

"We Build Excitement"? Not anymore. The last Pontiac has rolled down the assembly line.

It’s a cliché we seldom think twice about, but when workers at the General Motors’ Orion Township assembly line finished up a white G6 sedan, just before the long holiday break, last Wednesday, it really was the “end of the line.”

More than a century after the first time the name of the powerful Michigan Indian chief was used on a car – and 83 years after GM formally adopted the brandname – the last Pontiac automobile was getting ready to be shipped to a dealer.

There were no banners commemorating the event, nor the black crepe bunting that might have more appropriately served to mark the sad occasion.  It was little more than business as usual.  Or, if you prefer, business as it’s become for post-bankruptcy General Motors.

We Deliver News

We Deliver News

For more than a decade, the automaker’s top management, notably former CEO Rick Wagoner, forcefully resisted calls to kill Pontiac and several other troubled GM brands in a bid to curb expenses and focus on the core marques most likely to survive.  They had given in just once, and the long and costly process of killing off the once-successful Oldsmobile had proved so hard, Wagoner confided in a close friend, “I never want to go through that again.” (more…)

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…)