27 April 2009

Yet Again, We Pay for Overvalued "Top Talent"

This morning, GM announced its restructuring plan that includes the closure of the Pontiac Motor Division. Here is the Wall Street Journal article. This makes no sense to me, considering that this chart from WSJ shows Buick, Cadillac, Hummer and Saab each selling less than Pontiac for 2008.

This illustrates the "new" math behind GM's decision to cut Pontiac.

I expected some sort of correction would happen years ago when luxury brands started selling SUVs. The different marks at GM used to make sense. When you wanted an "every man's" car or truck you bought a Chevrolet. When you wanted performance you bought a Pontiac. Ready for something more? Buy an Oldsmobile. Need sophistication without pretense? You would really rather have a Buick. Prefer luxury and innovation? You'd buy a Cadillac. As a kid, I remember hearing loyal GM followers say they'd work their way up the General Motors ladder just like one might with career or a home.

In the last few decades the leaders of GM have lost sight of what the marks meant.

The news outlets, today, are mentioning Pontiac's storied 82-year heritage. In my opinion this figure could be shaved a few years. The arrowhead may have been around for just shy of a century, but for the last several decades looking too far past that logo on the grille would reveal a bowtie. True Pontiac heritage ceased sometime in the late seventies when GM stopped production of PMD engines and began substituting Chevrolets. Since 1926, the Pontiac has been a symbol for affordable performance. If the leadership at the GM had stuck to this core value after the oil embargo, and found ways to create efficiency while maintaining what made a Chief a Chief, they might not have had to pull their proverbial heads our of their asses only to have them land on the chopping block nearly forty years later.

GM saves money by building similar sized cars on the same chassis. I get that. I understand that it would be redundant to "reinvent the wheel" when sharing some of the basic parts of automaking. But putting differently shaped body panels and interior fabrics on a Vega and calling it the "all new Astre" doesn't a Pontiac make.

A Chevy engine with differently tuned exhaust is still a Chevy. Hello, Malibu.

It's been a damned shame to watch Pontiac deteriorate to an overly-styled, funky and just plain weird brand. As I watched the ugly, bulbous, overdone blobs clad with rubbery door "refinements" and oddly-designed taillamps give way to the a cleaner, sleeker designs of the last few years I thought I was beginning to see a glimmer of the Pontiac that I remember -- one that I'd grown to love. Unfortunately, now, I'll never know if they were headed in the right direction because there simply hasn't been enough time for the transformation to be embraced. It was too little, too late.

GM has a big task in turning the what's left of the company around. And it's going to be complicated, costly and leave many out in the cold. It's sickening.

I am interested in seeing if anyone makes an attempt to keep Pontiac alive under a new umbrella. In the meantime, I can take pride in my little piece history. The Grand Prix has become a bit more special to me as it joins the ranks of fallen horses like Deusenberg, Packard, Studebaker and Oldsmobile. I'm happy that it didn't sell after two, week-long listings on eBay.

Read more GM news here. And here.


ZenDenizen said...

What a well written post about the different GM classifications. I never cared for American cars but that's because I'm super petite and when I was learning to drive (way back in the day), the domestic boats just weren't as comfortable as their little Japanese counterparts. Oh well...

David said...

Thanks, Zen. :) I understand the petite issue with American Cars. My mother has always sat on a pillow in her cars and still does in her Buick even with the seat pulled as far forward and up as it will go. The only cars I don't remember her having to do this in were a 1967 VW Type 1 (Beetle), and a 1974 Opel Sport Wagon.