DETROIT – When General Motors was bailed out, the Pontiac brand died. General Motors customers, dealers and employees were stunned. The decision cost money, and Pontiac was well on its way to a revival. Sales just disappeared, and they were not replaced by other brands that were preserved, such as Buick. The reality was that ALL of GM was struggling and losing money, so Pontiac was the sacrificial animal.
This week, Robert Lutz, then a GM exec, confirmed as such:
“And, when the guy who is handing you the check for 53 billion dollars says I don’t want Pontiac, drop Pontiac or you don’t get the money, it doesn’t take you very long to make up your mind.
Of course, GM had made its stew back in 2000 when Oldsmobile was canned. It set a precedent, and killing off a brand seemed to be the step that made people think that big change was coming to General Motors. Of course, part of the reason GM was struggling was that when it went broke, it no longer had the car volume to justify its existence. Indeed its business model was all about having a bunch of different brands to sell to different segments. You took the same innards, dressed them up carefully, and sold them to different sorts. The problem with GM in its misery was that it had killed off its Olds and then replaced it with odd niche brands like Hummer, which was never really a car company, and Saab, which was a wonderful niche car but something so odd as have its brand appeal ruined by being part of the GM family.
And then with the regular GM brands, the problem was that the innards were bad, and the outer brand designs were ugly and lacked any sort of connection to the brand story. Ergo, Pontiac made odd junk cars like the Aztek, ostensibly appealing to a younger consumer, but ignoring the Wide-trak and racy heritage of Pontiac.
The good news is that there is no reason Pontiac can’t come back with some special edition cars sold at GMC dealers. There is still a great heritage there, and if Fiat can successfully re-enter the U.S. market, so can Pontiac.
If you watch the below interview, you can see his quotes, and see why there was impatience with the situation. At one point, Lutz talks about the spacing between door posts and pieces on the dash; GM left large cracks, a relic of the era when production was not so mechanized, and gaps were needed to keep the discrepancies from making the car not fit.
“it was just a whole bunch of stupid stuff like that.”
Below, the interview.