Welcome to Derailed Design, and yes once again, I'm using a feature that was started by another writer here at Car Throttle, James. This particular feature will illustrate the top 10 Reasons why Pontiac Failed as a car company. Yes we all know Pontiac isn't dead yet. However, it is no longer a GM Division, just a "niche" brand, according to General Motors executives. Most of the failures at Pontiac happened within the decade, but there were at least a couple of real stinkers that happened earlier. Counting backwards from 10 to 1, here's why Pontiac Failed. 10 - Badge Engineering: The Excitement division of General Motors was doing quite well throughout the 80's, even with a questionable product line. Advertising of the period showcased the Firebird and Trans Am, the Hot little Fiero, the Sunbird Convertible, and Pontiac's best seller, the Grand Am. Each of them were styled just a bit different than their corporate siblings, with specific engines, wheels, trim, and interior furnishings. The Grand Am was the same as the Buick and Oldsmobile versions, with just a little more visual eye candy on the outside, and blazing red instrumentation on the inside. Same for the Sunbird (Cavalier), and the Firebird (Camaro). However, when the 90's dawned, and on into the new millennium, the unique Pontiac styling started to fade. The difference between a Pontiac Torrent and a Chevy Equinox is only the head and tail lamp fixtures, and a grill. Even less so between a Cobalt and a G5 coupe. The only distinguishing Pontiac available today is the Australian Import, the G8 Sedan, while the G6 is offered in a 2 Door Coupe, and a Convertible, neither is shared with any other division. The Solstice GXP Coupe is also Pontiac Only. But it's too little, and way too late to help Pontiac now. 9 - The Fiero / Solstice The Fiero was never suppose to be a sports car, as it was sold to GM Management as a 2 seat commuter car. The parts borrowed to make this mid-engined commuter car were decidedly bottom of the barrel; Chevette steering and suspension components, a wheezing 2.5 L 4 cylinder engine, and was distinguished as having plastic body panels on a space frame chassis. There were engineering shortcuts to get this car into production, but it was starting to become a true performance bargain with the introduction of a V6, and new chassis componentry. It was discontinued after a short 5 year run. The Solstice picked up the 2 Seat Pontiac Sports Car banner in 2006. This was a unique chassis (The Kappa) designed just for this car, with the excellent EcoTec 4 cylinder engine in either normally aspirated, or Turbocharged versions. Unfortunately, General Motors decided that the Solstice can't survive on it's own, and so a "Badge Engineered" version was created for the struggling Saturn Brand called the Saturn Sky (There is also a version created for GM's European brands, Opel & Vauxhall). This is another lesson in the dilution of the Pontiac brand. 8 - Body Side Cladding Pontiac Styling was taken into a new direction with the introduction of the 1985 Pontiac Grand Am. GM Stylists wanted a bold look for the Grand Am, and this usually clashed with Accounting and Engineering, who wanted to save as much money as they could by sharing as many body panels and components with sister divisions. Therefore, to have the distinctive character the stylists were looking for, while maintaining whatever they could to cut costs, the answer was to use plastic body cladding. This wasn't the first time that body cladding was used, but Pontiac was the division that used it the most, and on almost every model. It was used on just about every Grand Am from 1985 right up to 2004. It was used heavily on Pontiac's Bonneville from 1987 until it was discontinued in 2005. It was even used on the Pontiac Minivans and the unloved Pontiac Aztek. It became a styling cliche, and while the latest G6, Grand Prix, and G8 have almost no plastic cladding whatsoever, this styling exercise will be permanently associated with Pontiac for years to come. 7 - Bonneville and Grand Prix updates Pontiac's roster of great nameplates is really the stuff of legend. Cars with memorable names like Firebird, GTO, Catalina, Tempest, Grand Prix, and one of the most successful names of all, Bonneville. This name was chosen in 1957 for it's premiere performance edition of a full sized convertible, with one of the industries first Fuel Injection system. The name was chosen because of the location in which high speed records were set, the Bonneville Salt Flats. Throughout the years, Pontiac affixed the name Bonneville to their top of the line models. There was a period from 1971 to 1975 in which Pontiac's upper models were named Grand Ville, whatever that meant, and there was a time, from 1982 to 1986 in which the Bonneville name was attached to a smaller mid sized car, while the full sized one had the name Parisienne attached, but I digress. The Bonneville re-emerged in 1987 on the GM FWD Platform, with distinctive styling, and a new top-shelf offering, the SSE. The car was a solid sales success, and was re-designed in 1992 with a greater emphasis on safety and performance, including a Supercharged V-6. Unfortunately, the Bonneville was once again re-designed for the 2000 model year, and the designers tacked on a lot of body cladding, with different surface textures depending on the trim level. The look of the car changed considerably, and sales tumbled, with the final year tally (in 1995) of only 12,000 units. There were significant upgrades in this generation, but nothing could distract from the appearance. The GXP model (in which Pontiac re-introduced a V8 equipped Bonneville) had most of the body side cladding removed, but it was priced out of the budget of what Pontiac Buyers were willing to pay. The Grand Prix has a very similar story to the Bonneville, with this storied nameplate goes back to 1962, attached to a luxuriously appointed Pontiac Catalina 2 Door Hardtop. The Grand Prix name continued on for another 45 years, mostly as a Personal Luxury 2 Door Coupe, but eventually placed on a 4 Door, FWD Sedan in 1988, diluting the brand, but increasing the sales. The 1997 - 2003 Grand Prix models logged record setting sales numbers with clean styling, and a new supercharged V6 installed in the GTP version. The coupe was starting to get outsold by the sedan, and was eventually retired in the 2002 model year. However, Pontiac saw fit to re-design the Grand Prix for 2004, and it was actually nothing but a new body on an existing chassis. The styling was cartoonish, with larger headlamps, smaller grill, and coupe like styling on a 4 door sedan. Visibility suffered, interior furnishings were substandard, and it was one of those cars in which the re-design was actually worse than the car it replaced. The Grand Prix is now out of production. 6 - Renaming Product Line Lately, the Detroit car makers seem to be on a kick as far as re-naming their models, and the Pontiac Division of General Motors seems to be on the same page. Once great names like Bonneville, and Grand Prix are being substituted for G6, G5, or G8. Why? It does nothing but confuse the car buying public. Pontiac did this years ago, and it worked about as well then as it did today. For example, Pontiac sold a line of Chevy Monza Coupes called Sunbird. While the cars were utter crap, the name was quite appealing. Then in 1982, the new GM FWD "J" car was being introduced, and Pontiac decided to call it the "J 2000", and took it a few steps further, calling their new "A" Body Midsized car the "6000", and a badge engineered "Chevette" the "T 1000". These were crap names for what turned out to be fairly crap cars. However, Chevy was selling virtually every "Cavalier" they could build, so Pontiac eventually renamed the "J 2000" the Sunbird, while dropping the "Chevette" clone. The 6000 actually turned out to be a decent car, with an Import Fighter "STE", and eventually offering AWD. Anyway, with sales trailing off, now is not the time to start re-naming your product line with silly letters and numbers. Notice that they kept the names of the Grand Prix until last year, the Torrent (until this year), and the Solstice. Great names will always trump meaningless numbers in my opinion. Just take a look a Lincoln, or Acura if you want to see problems. 5 - The Holden Monaro / New Pontiac GTO This was a great car, that was never launched right. Basically, all GM did was to re-work the car for left hand drive (in which this was no small task), and then replace the grill, add badging, and that was it. Unfortunately, just replacing the grill made the rather pricey GTO look like the Grand Prix or Grand Am that you could pick up at the rental counter on your next business trip. It never really stood out from the crowd. The car was also priced above expectations, with a retail price above $33,000. Dealers also tacked on a surcharge for the first ones in the country, though that didn't last, and 2004 models were selling at deep discounts late into 2005. The 2005 and 2006 models received a different hood that helped, and a new 6.0L V8 made standard in the car, but sales failed to live up to the 18,000 per year target, with 15,780 of the 2004 model year imported, a little over 11,000 for 2005, and just under 14,000 for the last year of 2006. 4 - The Pontiac Grand Am For years this was Pontiac's best selling car, but the last versions, from 1999 to 2005 were truly horrible cars. On paper, they looked like a good value, but their ergonomics, structure, and reliability were substandard. They had issues with their braking systems, electrical system shorts, and that body cladding had a tendency to fall off. On top of all of these issues, Pontiac decided to remove standard features and make them optional, like ABS, and Traction Control. One good move was to replace the 2.4L Twin Cam 4 cylinder with the excellent 2.2L EcoTec which produced greater mileage ratings, and was much smoother. The interior looked sporty, but was rather uncomfortable after spending time in the drivers seat. The dash was over styled with multiple circular air vents, deep instrumentation, and complicated audio controls, all glowing red at night. The ride was nothing to write about, and the handling was just so-so. The car was basically sold on style, and the Grand Am had every styling feature tacked on. Useless driving lights, redundant reversing lamps located in the lower rear bumper, exaggerated rear deck spoiler, ribbed bodyside cladding, unidirectional alloy wheels, and a lot more. There were virtually no repeat buyers for the Grand Am. 3 - The Discontinuation of the Firebird and Trans Am This was Pontiac's Signature Car. When you thought of Pontiac in the 70's, the 80's and the 90's, this was inevitably the car that popped into your mind. This was the car that was used in all those "Smokey and the Bandit" movies, the campy "Knight Rider" television series, and was the car in front of all those "We Build Excitement" television commercials throughout the 90's. This is an iconic brand, one in continuous use since 1968, and it all came to a halt in 2002 when the Camaro and Firebird were euthanized. Though Pontiac still made acknowledgments in its advertising during the 2003 and 2004 model years, it was more of a holding pattern until the GTO became available, and we all know how that turned out. With the pending introduction of the new Camaro, a new Firebird and Trans Am should have been on the drawing board, at the same time. However, it's just another missed opportunity. 2 - The Pontiac Transport / Montana The Original TransPort concept was in keeping with the Pontiac Tradition of an exciting people mover. In reality, the production version of the original TransPort, along with it's corporate cousins, the Chevrolet Lumina APV, and the Oldsmobile Silhouette, proved to be anything but exciting, or even practical for that matter. They received some unfortunate names in the market place, from Ant Eater, to Dustbuster (taken from the name of a Black & Decker hand held compact Vacuum cleaner). They had an extraordinary windshield, and were uncompetitive with other minivans as far as seating capacity, room for cargo, or even fuel economy. The re-designed vans, introduced in 1997, went in the opposite direction as far as practicality, styling, and capacity. They went from outlandish, to down right boring, but they sold a lot better. Pontiac went the route of adding a lot of Body Cladding (what else) to distinguish it's van from the other corporate siblings from Chevy and Oldsmobile. They also decided that a van should be a semi SUV type of vehicle, and was the only van to offer raised white lettered tires on a van, and about a year later, renamed the Transport to Montana. However, Pontiac should have never introduced a Minivan in the first place, since it was diluting the "excitement" of the division, and the public saw right through the facade, and purchased an almost identical vehicle from the Chevy Dealer, for less money. GM face lifted the vans in 2005, and the Montana became the Montana SV6, but was only sold in the US for another year, though it continues on in the Canadian and Mexican markets. 1 - The Pontiac Aztek This is arguably the number one reason for the failure of the Pontiac brand. Unfortunately, like the Original Transport Concept, the Aztek Concept was actually pretty radical, and would have fit into the Pontiac Stable quite nicely. However, after the production engineers and the cost accountants had their say in cutting the budget, the end product was one of the most horrendous products ever to be put on sale. When conceived as a concept, the planning engineers and stylists were visionary. They saw a market for a car based SUV, available with AWD, flexible seating, with plenty of cargo room, but with a car like ride, and fuel economy. The basic concept was quite sound (with vehicles like the Highlander, Murano, and Edge taking pages from this playbook), but the execution was anything but a success. The vehicle was based on the GM Minivan Platform (the Montana to be precise), with an uncompetitive 3.4L V6, and 4 Speed Auto. The AWD system was to be an electronic one, mounted within it's own aluminum subframe, and never really worked as advertised. The body was covered in every Pontiac Styling cliche, from an overabundance of cladding, to the split grill, and an over styled spoiler at the rear. The interior, equally over styled, actually had a couple of good ideas, including a drink cooler as a part of the console, and an available tent that could be used for camping. However, this particular car will be used as an example of bad decisions in business schools across the country for years to come. And it's a lesson in how to dilute a once proud brand, into one that has outlived it's usefulness. Instead of remembering Pontiac as the car company that produced the sleek Trans Am, the muscular GTO, the popular Grand Prix, or even the little Fiero, it will always be associated with the horrible Aztek.
Sign in to your Car Throttle accountContinue with Facebook