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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Soul Survivor or just Dust in the Wind?

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Soul Survivor or just Dust in the Wind?

Peter DeLorenzo

Detroit. The legendary Pontiac names alone could power a rollcall from Detroit's golden era - Bonneville, Catalina, Tempest, Le Mans, GTO, "The Judge," Grand Prix, Firebird and Trans-Am. The rich additions to the automotive lexicon were legendary too - "389," "421," "455SD," "Tri-Power," "eight-lug" aluminum wheels, Royal Bobcats, "Endura" front bumpers, hood-mounted tachs, and on and on. And the marketing and advertising hooks were equally memorable - with the famous "Wide Track" campaign still resonating to this day. But Pontiac has suffered from neglect and abuse for years, and now GM's maverick division is on the edge of oblivion.

When the recently returned GTO (which suffered from so many built-in handicaps I lost count) faded into the woodwork, Pontiac was left with only one car that even remotely resembled their swashbuckling cars of the past - the Solstice two-seat roadster. The G6 is far too tame to carry Pontiac forward on its own - GXP guise or no - and everything else Pontiac has to offer - the Torrent (which is a badge-engineered Chevy Equinox), the Vibe (shared with the Matrix from Toyota) and the G5 (the badge-engineered version of the Chevy Cobalt) - is too mundane to even ponder. Now Pontiac dealers find themselves anticipating the new G8 performance sedan, the first car on GM's new rear-wheel-drive architecture and the latest and greatest "new" Pontiac designed to "wake up the echoes" for the once proud brand. We'll see.

Pontiac has suffered mightily from the bureaucratic gravitational force field that has churned and stirred the traditional GM divisional structure over the years. While GM marketers scrambled to prop up seven other brands, Pontiac always seemed to be left out on the fringe with product initiatives that often fell woefully short of what the brand deserved. After resurrecting Cadillac to the tune of $5 billion, GM marketers launched Hummer. After dumping a boatload of money in a desperate attempt to save Saturn a few years ago, GM finally got around to worrying about Chevrolet. While GM is trying to pump life into Saab and Buick, Pontiac is left to fight over crumbs for its product plans. Now, GM's launching the most aggressive new product push in Saturn's history - and Pontiac finds itself left out in the cold again.

For every dollar that was thrown at Saturn, Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Hummer, GMC and Saab over the years - Pontiac got short changed and got further and further removed from its core strengths. GM's maverick division had now been reduced to picking up scraps from Chevy's product lineup and wallowing in such "smoke-and-mirrors" marketing exercises like the dismally tedious "Apprentice" TV show, featuring America's poster boy for vacuous vapidity - Donald Trump. Or underwriting Jimmy Kimmel's show while it was here during the Super Bowl, which provided a real boost to the Pontiac image. Not. Where did GM go wrong with Pontiac? I could fill a dozen issues of Autoextremist.com delineating the division's downfall, but as someone who was intimately familiar with Pontiac's last brief fling with positive notoriety during its "Excitement" years (I was a writer at Pontiac's ad agency for five-and-one-half years in the early '80s), it pains me to see the downward spiral of one of America's most compelling automotive brand names.

It's clear to me that GM's struggle to apportion product and marketing attention to all of its divisions is killing the company - and unfortunately, Pontiac finds itself closest to the door at this point. Until GM's "too many models, too many divisions" situation is somehow mitigated (which I doubt will ever happen unless GM blows itself up and starts over), I fear for the long-term viability of Pontiac.

To understand the travesty of Pontiac's current state you have to go back and understand the impact Pontiac once had on the U.S. market. It's hard to believe this now but at one point during its glory days in the '60s Pontiac was the hottest car company in the country, breathing down Ford's neck in third place in sales. If ever a car company defined "swagger" - Pontiac was it. Pontiac was GM's "pirate" division, and if they could have raised a "skull and crossbones" flag over its headquarters in its heyday, they would have. On any given day, Pontiac was always pissing someone off down at GM headquarters because they just couldn't help themselves from bitch-slapping Chevrolet and sending Chevy executives whining to the 14th floor like little school girls over some perceived transgression.

Starting with Bunkie Knudsen, Pontiac pushed the envelope and marched to a different drummer. Pontiac tweaked their cars to the point that they didn't even seem like they were part of the GM family. More than any other American car company, Pontiac delivered cars to the market bristling with a maverick, rebel attitude, edgy appeal and genuine soul - a commodity so far removed from most of Detroit's products today it's appalling. The street "buzz" around Pontiac was undeniable - and it was fueled by some of the most memorable advertising ever done for an automobile. For one fleeting moment in time, product and advertising came together in such a way that it created an American sensation. If you drove a Pontiac, it definitely said something about you. You were different from the crowd and you went your own way. And the aura that was created around the brand translated into gold in the marketplace, sending Pontiac sales soaring.

Now, Pontiac is a mere shadow of its once glorious self. Except for the Solstice, it has been relegated to cribbing seconds from Chevrolet - a revolting development that must have Bunkie Knudsen and John DeLorean spinning in their graves. To top it off, even the Solstice wasn't exclusively left to Pontiac, because the Saturn Sky added to the confusion and left Pontiac grasping for footing in the market again. The fact that Pontiac's most recent downward spiral was hastened by famed product guru Bob Lutz might be a surprise to some people, but that's exactly what happened. Maximum Bob always fancied Pontiac as GM's "euro" division, a cut-rate BMW for the people who couldn't afford BMWs. And that simply couldn't be further removed from what Pontiac was and should be. That might more closely describe where Saturn is going, but it certainly isn't Pontiac. If any car appealed to the all-American maverick spirit and to the wide-open American attitude, Pontiac was it - and confusing the whole thing with European driving sensibilities is a monumental waste of time. The pure essence of Pontiac was there for all to see, but the current stewards of the brand either forgot it - or never did have a clue to begin with.

Pontiac is on thin ice right now. With a next-generation "authentic" GTO slated for sometime in 2010 as a 2011 model (if GM's new fuel-economy push doesn't kill it), what the hell are they going to do in the meantime? How many different variations of the Solstice and the G6 can they do? Who's going to notice the G5? And the upcoming G8 could be good, but it's far too early to really tell. At any rate, I'm looking at my watch and right now the 2009-2010-2011 time frame sounds like an eternity in this market, especially for Pontiac.

GM can go two ways with Pontiac at this critical juncture. They can keep starving it to death with brand engineering and clone cars, or they can start over with an all-new mission that adheres to the core essence of what a Pontiac was - and should be. It shouldn't be hard. All it would take is a total commitment from GM and the right people in place to make it all happen. But then again, those two key ingredients are the two things necessary in bringing focused, desirable products to the street no matter which company we're talking about.

Back in '81, I did a print ad for the Firebird Trans-Am that had the headline, "Soul Survivor." That ad set the tone for the "excitement" era that followed and started Pontiac on its way back. But Pontiac has unfortunately careened in and out of relevance ever since.

The time is now for Pontiac. The division deserves better. Much better. GM needs to get in touch with the essence and soul of Pontiac and put it on a plan not only for survival - but for revival. If done exactly right, Pontiac's marching to a different drummer persona could have tremendous appeal today in this market of bland-tastic Asian transportation appliances and German techno-wonders.

But if GM can't muster the will to do the right thing with one of America's most famous automotive nameplates, then they might as well just take it out back and put it out of its misery.

I'd rather see that than watch it fade away like dust in the wind.

Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.

source:

http://www.autoextremist.com/index.shtml

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What pontiac, apart from the Fiero, hasn't been blatently ripped from some other division for the past... oh 30 years or so?

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The fact that Pontiac's most recent downward spiral was hastened by famed product guru Bob Lutz might be a surprise to some people, but that's exactly what happened. Maximum Bob always fancied Pontiac as GM's "euro" division, a cut-rate BMW for the people who couldn't afford BMWs. And that simply couldn't be further removed from what Pontiac was and should be. That might more closely describe where Saturn is going, but it certainly isn't Pontiac. If any car appealed to the all-American maverick spirit and to the wide-open American attitude, Pontiac was it - and confusing the whole thing with European driving sensibilities is a monumental waste of time. The pure essence of Pontiac was there for all to see, but the current stewards of the brand either forgot it - or never did have a clue to begin with.

Edited by Dodgefan
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The Pontiac you all knew <in your minds> and loved is dead. It died years ago. You're not getting your endura noses back, you're not getting RWD division wide, you're not getting a V8 option in every model, it's not happening.

I often wonder about the "memories" that some of the Pontiac lovers have. Take the Firebird out of the mix and nearly ALL the other divisions had just as many, and just as good, performance options on their cars. For every GTO there was a 442 and a GNX and a Nova. For every Bonneville there was an LSS or some 88 performance variant, Turbo Lesabres and an Impala SS.

Every time someone starts droning on about Pontiac Performance, all I can think about are the whitewalled and landaued Parisienne and 6000s. Sunfires, Sunbirds, Astres, Grand Prixes with the 3.1, and old G-body Bonnevilles come rushing back to my mind. These are the cars that support the mantle of "Pontiac Performance"???

Sure Pontiac had the GP GXPs, the Firebirds, the Fieros.... and that AWD 6000 that all of 3 people bought... Is that enough to support 30+ years of "Pontiac Performance"? Heck in the 80s, the top of the line sports car this side of the 'Vette was built by Buick! With the early W-bodies, the Cutlass and Lumina got the better performance engines. The Bonneville was out powered by a V8 Aurora. The Reatta, while FWD, had more power than the Fiero... and came in a convertible.

So... what other than Fiero... could I buy from Pontiac over the last 30 years, that wasn't also available or out classed by something at my local Chevy/Olds/Buick dealer?

Edited by Oldsmoboi
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A good article, and it makes me sad. I wish it were the rallying cry from within GM's product planners. Pontiac's greatest success came when the division had the most autonomy to do what they did best, innovate with a lean toward performance. The time is NOW for GM to commit to an all-RWD lineup for Pontiac, to give the brand the relevance it richly deserves.
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A good article, and it makes me sad. I wish it were the rallying cry from within GM's product planners. Pontiac's greatest success came when the division had the most autonomy to do what they did best, innovate with a lean toward performance. The time is NOW for GM to commit to an all-RWD lineup for Pontiac, to give the brand the relevance it richly deserves.

Agreed.

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So... what other than Fiero... could I buy from Pontiac over the last 30 years, that wasn't also available or out classed by something at my local Chevy/Olds/Buick dealer?

GTO

Turbo Trans Am

SLP Firehawk

6000 STE AWD

Sunbird GT Turbo

Mclaren Turbo Grand Prix

Grand Prix GTP Comp G

Grand Prix GXP

Vibe (well, you couldn't! :P )

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Firehawk and GTO for two.

If you're referring to the most recent GTO... I didn't count that.... since none of the Pontiac fans did.

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If you're referring to the most recent GTO... I didn't count that.... since none of the Pontiac fans did.

This one did.

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GTO

Turbo Trans Am

SLP Firehawk

6000 STE AWD

Sunbird GT Turbo

Mclaren Turbo Grand Prix

Grand Prix GTP Comp G

Grand Prix GXP

Vibe (well, you couldn't! :P )

GTO doesn't count ... too many haters calling it "not a pontiac" or "lame" or "not a GTO" sorry, you don't get it both ways.

Grand Prix GTP had no more power than a Regal GS or Impala SS Supercharged of the same era.

Grand Prix GXP is also available from your local Chevy dealer in Impala SS form

Sunbird turbo was available at your local Buick dealer in Skyhawk form

So... you're down to a few F-bodies <overlooking the Camaro somehow>, a 200hp Turbo GP that sold for 2 years, and an AWD A-body with a 3-speed auto and a neck snapping, pavement shredding, 135hp - 145hp. I'm not even going to touch the Vibe.

We build excitement..... right?..... right?

Edited by Oldsmoboi
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I'll go you one better on the 04-06 GTO: It is the best all around car Pontiac has EVER sold.

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I'll go you one better on the 04-06 GTO: It is the best all around car Pontiac has EVER sold.

I'll completely agree with you on that. It's one of the best cars GM has ever sold in the US.

So was the Aurora...

Look where they both are.

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I'll completely agree with you on that. It's one of the best cars GM has ever sold in the US.

So was the Aurora...

Look where they both are.

Well, the GTO will return and the Aurora won't.

Still, It just adds to my disgust with my fellow countrymen. Right now, American taste really sucks.

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GTO doesn't count ... too many haters calling it "not a pontiac" or "lame" or "not a GTO" sorry, you don't get it both ways.

So what? They can live in a hole for the rest of their lives

Grand Prix GTP had no more power than a Regal GS or Impala SS Supercharged of the same era.

Wrong. The GP GTP Comp G, to this day, is the only vehicle to receive the Gen III S.C. 3800 with 260hp.

Grand Prix GXP is also available from your local Chevy dealer in Impala SS form

Wrong again. The GP GXP is more than just a W-body with a 5.3L V8, unlike the Impala SS.

So... you're down to a few F-bodies <overlooking the Camaro somehow>, a 200hp Turbo GP that sold for 2 years, and an AWD A-body with a 3-speed auto and a neck snapping, pavement shredding, 135hp - 145hp. I'm not even going to touch the Vibe.

The Camaro is not being overlooked. The Camaro was relegated to the SS. It never recieved the factory tuning of the Firewirk. Same with the Turbo Trans Am. Those are both Pontiac exclusives.

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Well, the GTO will return and the Aurora won't.

Still, It just adds to my disgust with my fellow countrymen. Right now, American taste really sucks.

I bet we can get you a job in Germany also.....

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Ok... so assuming I accept everything you said BV, Pontiac is up to 7 cars in 30+ years?

edit: Even poor dead Olds can come close to that number....

Edited by Oldsmoboi
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The Pontiac you all knew <in your minds> and loved is dead. It died years ago. You're not getting your endura noses back, you're not getting RWD division wide, you're not getting a V8 option in every model, it's not happening.

I often wonder about the "memories" that some of the Pontiac lovers have. Take the Firebird out of the mix and nearly ALL the other divisions had just as many, and just as good, performance options on their cars. For every GTO there was a 442 and a GNX and a Nova. For every Bonneville there was an LSS or some 88 performance variant, Turbo Lesabres and an Impala SS.

Every time someone starts droning on about Pontiac Performance, all I can think about are the whitewalled and landaued Parisienne and 6000s. Sunfires, Sunbirds, Astres, Grand Prixes with the 3.1, and old G-body Bonnevilles come rushing back to my mind. These are the cars that support the mantle of "Pontiac Performance"???

Sure Pontiac had the GP GXPs, the Firebirds, the Fieros.... and that AWD 6000 that all of 3 people bought... Is that enough to support 30+ years of "Pontiac Performance"? Heck in the 80s, the top of the line sports car this side of the 'Vette was built by Buick! With the early W-bodies, the Cutlass and Lumina got the better performance engines. The Bonneville was out powered by a V8 Aurora. The Reatta, while FWD, had more power than the Fiero... and came in a convertible.

So... what other than Fiero... could I buy from Pontiac over the last 30 years, that wasn't also available or out classed by something at my local Chevy/Olds/Buick dealer?

Good point - sad, but good point. Nostalgia is very, very strong: it lures us to what we believe were "better" times in our yesteryears. A lot of the ugly, personal fights that break out on this, and other boards, are largely based on the emtional pull that one person or the other may feel for the vehicles they grew up with - or lusted after when they were younger. (Unless of course, you are YOUNGER, in which case, honey: THESE ARE THE GOOD OLD DAYS! :P )

I have fond memories of Pontiacs that my parents or family had in the SIXTIES. Personally, my addiction, my weakness, is Mopar products of the '60s - that is what I grew up on. The other point about GM's greatest strength stemming from an era when each division had a great deal of autonomy is also quite valid. Unfortunately, Wall Street is far less forgiving today and the competition better financed. The breathtaking model changes of the '60s (GM's peak, IMO) just could not be afforded today. The armies of lawyers and government agencies just wouldn't permit it.

We all need to try and live in the here and now.

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Ok... so assuming I accept everything you said BV, Pontiac is up to 7 cars in 30+ years?

Well, no one is saying they were granted with many great, Pontiac only vehicles... but you asked what there were, and I answered. :P Edited by blackviper8891
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>>"When the recently returned GTO (which suffered from so many built-in handicaps I lost count) faded into the woodwork...<<

Uh-oh, I read more than once the fading was due primarily to styling and early dealer gouging. That's only 2 handicaps. How many of these near-'countless' other handicaps does the G8 suffer from??

>>"...the Torrent (which is a badge-engineered Chevy Equinox), the Vibe (shared with the Matrix from Toyota) and the G5 (the badge-engineered version of the Chevy Cobalt)...<<

How come Pontiac has "badge-engineered' Chevies, but only "shares" with toyota?? Is it merely that toyota doesn't do badge-engineering?? :rolleyes:

>>"I could fill a dozen issues of Autoextremist.com delineating the division's downfall, but as someone who was intimately familiar with Pontiac's last brief fling with positive notoriety during its "Excitement" years (I was a writer at Pontiac's ad agency for five-and-one-half years in the early '80s)...<<

Most Pontiac enthusiast's would unilaterally agree than Pontiac's "downfall" began in the early '80s. Hm-mmm.... co-incidence?

>>"The street "buzz" around Pontiac was undeniable - and it was fueled by some of the most memorable advertising ever done for an automobile."<<

Just to be clear, this was in the 1960s, not the early '80s.

>>"GM can... start over with an all-new mission that adheres to the core essence of what a Pontiac was - and should be. It shouldn't be hard. All it would take is a total commitment from GM and the right people in place to make it all happen. But then again, those two key ingredients are the two things necessary in bringing focused, desirable products to the street no matter which company we're talking about.

The time is now for Pontiac. The division deserves better. Much better. GM needs to get in touch with the essence and soul of Pontiac and put it on a plan not only for survival - but for revival. If done exactly right, Pontiac's marching to a different drummer persona could have tremendous appeal today in this market of bland-tastic Asian transportation appliances and German techno-wonders."<<

No arguement here; he's right on the money.

>>"Back in '81, I did a print ad for the Firebird Trans-Am that had the headline, "Soul Survivor." That ad set the tone for the "excitement" era that followed and started Pontiac on its way back."<<

Again, Pontiac began a long interval of stumbling starting in the early '80s, in no way was Pontiac "on it's way back" on the back of one ad. The "Excitement" era was an era of "smoke & mirrors" built around an ad tagline. I have it in my collection, BTW, and it's exciting, oh boy: the central logo is a Pontiac Arrowhead with "MPG" superimposed over it, usually saying "More Pontiac know-how to the Gallon", but in DeLorenzo's ad it says "More Pontiac know how for the Great Ones". Wow. And to refresh: this was an ad for the '81 Turbo T/A, a car woefully down on performance compared to the "Back in the '60s... big V-8s that pulled like a rocket' the ad mentioned, the last year of a Pontiac-engined T/A, the beginning of the near-end and the beginning of Pontiac being "relegated to cribbing seconds from Chevrolet" with the Chevy-engined '82 Firebird / T/A.

"On it's way back" where??

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6000 STE AWD

ELL OH ELL!

That's really reaching. :P

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