GM isn’t killing the “Excitement Division” completely, but the brand will be seriously scaled back in the years to come. The New York Times explains how badge engineering – slapping a new grille and some ugly body cladding on a Chevrolet and calling it a “Pontiac” – neutered the marque:
…when General Motors asked the federal government for more bailout money, it also announced a reorganization plan that included demoting Pontiac to a “focused niche brand,” signaling that its lineup of vehicles would shrink and that it would no longer be a separate division.
To industry analysts and Pontiac’s longtime fans, the downgrade provides a case study of the product missteps that helped put G.M. in its precarious state, and a reminder of the dangers in straying from a successful formula.
By many accounts, Pontiac started to falter when G.M. pursued a cost-saving strategy of providing the same cars to different divisions.
It gave Pontiac vehicles like the TransSport minivan, and the Sunbird, Sunfire and Phoenix cars that were barely distinguishable from models sold by Chevrolet and Oldsmobile.
Pontiac also garnered unwanted publicity in 2001 with the Aztek, whose tag line declared, “Quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet.” Its bulky looks landed it on lists of the world’s ugliest cars. Indeed, Aztek won top honors in that category from The Daily Telegraph of London last year.
Pontiac’s current plight is reflected in its Vibe, a well-regarded crossover vehicle that shares underpinnings with the Toyota Matrix, as part of a joint venture between Toyota and G.M.
While the Matrix holds 67 percent of its resale value after three years, according to Kelley Blue Book, the Vibe retains just 54 percent. (via Jalopnik)
If Pontiac is reduced to a handful of specialty models – the Solstice, the G8, perhaps a redesigned G6 – and the likes of the G3 (Aveo), Torrent (Equinox) and G5 (Cobalt) are dumped, that might improve the brand’s image considerably. (I take issue with people who complain that the Holden-based 2004-06 GTO didn’t look flashy enough, though. The original GTO didn’t look much different from a regular Tempest.)