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Blast From the Past: Detroit Automakers Looking to Revive More Old Nameplates

Barracuda, Bronco, Ranger among models that could return from rust heap.

by on Aug.27, 2015

An original Plymouth Barracuda.

Coming up with an all-new name has become a major headache for automakers around the world. It can be difficult to find a name that hasn’t already been taken, and it then can be extremely costly to build consumer awareness.

So, it seems, a number of carmakers are looking back into their past to see if there are once-popular nameplates that can be revived. And with the successful revival of the Chevrolet Camaro, a few years back, it seems that even more manufacturers are going to take this route.

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Among the once-popular names we may soon see back in showrooms are the Grand Wagoneer, Barracuda, Ranger and Bronco, it seems. And still others may follow – though looking for a blast from the past does carry some risks, industry analysts warn.

As TheDetroitBureau.com reported this week, Ford Motor Co. is expected to bring back the Ranger pickup, a nameplate it abandoned in the U.S. in 2011, though it continued offering an all-new model overseas. The Ranger would fill a gap in Ford’s line-up now that there are signs American motorists are returning to the once-huge midsize truck segment.

(Click Here for more on the return of the Ford Ranger.)

Ford is now expected to offer a U.S. version of the midsize Ranger pickup, a model it dropped in 2010.

The revival of the Ranger would follow the return of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models that briefly went out of production while General Motors worked up a more modern and competitive redesign of the compact trucks.

Ford also is said to be toying with the return of another once-popular model, the Bronco SUV. It was once a leader in the sport-utility segment but was replaced by more car-like models, such as the Ford Explorer. A new Bronco, sources suggest, would be roughly the size of the latest Explorer, but instead of riding on a car-like crossover platform it would share the chassis of the new Ranger pickup.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has brought back a number of model names in recent years, including muscle car mainstays like the Dodge Charger and Challenger. And it may add one more old-is-now offering to that high-powered segment, a revived Barracuda. In its heyday, the ‘Cuda was marketed through the now-abandoned Plymouth brand. Going forward it also would be sold through Dodge.

The sibling Jeep brand is also expected to bring back an old model, this one the big Grand Wagoneer. Though often credited with creating the modern SUV boom, Jeep hasn’t kept up with some key rivals in filling every possible model niche. The revived Grand Wagoneer would be a full-size model to take on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GL, among others.

(Chevy, GMC hope to expand appeal of Colorado, Canyon twins with new diesel drivetrains. Click Herefor the latest.)

The return of the Chevy Camaro was one of the industry's most successful relaunches.

FCA reportedly is filling in dealers on its future product plans during a meeting in Las Vegas. Ford, meanwhile, has reportedly clued in the United Auto Workers Union on some of its plans as part of its ongoing contract negotiations. Formal public announcements could follow in the weeks or months ahead.

There are several reasons why manufacturers reach into their histories to revive old nameplates. For one thing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with good names that aren’t already in use or at least registered by a competitor. That’s one reason many makers have gone the alphanumeric route. But they also know that it’s hard to get worked up about something called an ABC123.

Launching an all-new nameplate, meanwhile, is extremely expensive, a mainstream model often requiring a marketing investment of $100 million or more to establish in the market, notes analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting.

But when it comes to these blasts from the past, some of those old model names still carry a lot of positive heritage that automatically tell a story in the collective public mind. That was the case when General Motors brought back the Chevrolet Camaro in 2009. The muscle car went on to dominate the so-called pony car segment for the next five years.

The retro-styled Ford Thunderbird didn't deliver on the maker's high hopes.

On the other hand, GM’s effort to bring back the once-revered Pontiac GTO name flopped a decade ago. Unlike the retro-styled Camaro, the new “Goat” had a bland and largely forgettable design that failed to connect with consumers.

The same was the case with the Thunderbird, the two-seat roadster Ford tried to launch a decade ago. Over the decades, the T’bird went through a variety of incarnations, from the original 2-seater to a bloated coupe and then into a quirky but less-than-compelling 2-seater again. A variety of product weaknesses resulted in mixed reviews and weak sales, and the Thunderbird was again pulled from the market.

So, while a grand old name can give a new product a head start, it’s not enough to fix a bad vehicle design.

(New Jeeps, including next Grand Cherokee, Grand Wagoneer, delayed. Click Here for more.)

Birth of the Muscle Car: the Pontiac GTO at 50

The unlikely story of how the "Goat" came to market.

by on May.13, 2014

Pontiac initially started out by stuffing a big V-8 under the hood of its little LeMans to create the new GTO.

News about the GM ignition switch recall debacle is a stark contrast to a time when it was the unrivaled automotive leader that built cars people wanted – no, desired.

A reminder of those heady days recently occurred at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, California in celebration of the 50th anniversary of a GM car that turned heads, tore up the streets and became an icon – the 1964 Pontiac GTO.

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It came to market within months of another legendary model also celebrating its Golden Anniversary, the Ford Mustang. But while that “pony car” is still going strong, the GTO – or “goat,” as it was known to fans — has faded into memory, despite a failed attempt to revive the nameplate on one of the last products Pontiac produced before it, too, was tossed onto the automotive rust heap following GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.

But there was a time when the GTO tapped into the needs and desires of young people who were just reaching driving age, becoming an icon of the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Ironically, it almost didn’t get made.


Chevrolet Confirms New, Australian-Made SS Performance Sedan

U.S. showrooms will get Chevy version of V-8, rear-drive Holden VF Commodore.

by on May.17, 2012

Chevy confirms it will add this new Australian-made, rear-drive sedan to its line-up as the SS in 2014.

Chevrolet’s performance portfolio is about to get a bit bigger.  General Motors’ largest brand has confirmed it will bring a version of the new Australian-made Holden VF Commodore to the States where it will be sold as the limited-edition Chevy SS.

The long-rumored rear-drive, V-8-powered SS will reach U.S. showrooms in 2014, Chevrolet officials confirm.  But potential buyers will get a good look at the new offering ahead of time, the new model debuting at the 2013 Daytona 500 in its role as the maker’s new NASCAR Sprint Cup racecar.


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“As a passionate race fan and performance enthusiast, I am thrilled that Chevrolet will deliver a true rear-wheel-drive NASCAR racecar in the SS that is closely linked to the performance sedan that will be available for sale,” said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America.  “The Chevrolet SS is a great example of how GM is able to leverage its global product portfolio to deliver a unique performance experience that extends beyond the track. I am personally looking forward to driving it.”


Farewell Pontiac

The last Pontiac dealer signs off.

by on Nov.01, 2010

The 1964 Pontiac LeMans GTO Convertible built excitement...and sales.

The muscle car king is dead.  Long live the muscle car king.


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The long, lingering final act of Pontiac final came to an end, over the weekend, when dealers sold off the last new cars bearing the once formidable Pontiac logo and General Motors let its franchise agreement with the brand’s final remaining dealers expire.

The brand once known by its catchy slogan, “We build excitement,” expired with a whimper rather than the squeal of tires.


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.

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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…)

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.